I would like to thank James C. Donnelly for giving his permission to post this History of Rheatown, Greene Co., TN.
Mary Floy Katzman.
Rheatown's first settler came in 1771 followed by other settlers in 1772. Its location is in the upper east end of Greene County and is the second oldest town Jonesborough being the first in Tennessee. It was one of the stops for the stage from Washington. DC to Nashville. There was good water from a creek that all through the town and lots of springs. The early settlers were of the Anglo-Saxon race, English, Scottish and Scotch Irish. They believed deeply in the separation of church and state.
Among the early settlers was JOHN RHEA who came 1783 to whom the town got its name. John Rhea also served on a committee in the organization State of Tennessee and writing the states constitution. John was in the Revolutionary War as a staff officer. Latter he was clerk of the North Carolina General assembly in 1771. In his term as clerk he had a new act enacted. The act covered the carving of Sullivan County out of Washington County. Washington Co. was named after the first president of the USA. He was elected to Congress with the help of Andrew Jackson, a personal friend. One of his was to get Rheatown a post office which he did in 1823.
Rheatown was a thriving town and in 1856 that the 31st General Assembly finally passed an act to incorporate it the same as they did Greenville in 1846.The first mayor was Joe D. Keebler elected soon after the war. Rheatown was not a planned town but the homes were set up on long wide.streets. The business establishments lined the main thoroughfare. The main street was of laid of limestone rock with wide boardwalk on one side.
Some of the business there were the hotel operated by Mr. McKay, a mercantile owned by Major R. H. M. Donnelly, a boarding house for salesmen operated by Mrs. J. D. Keebler. The U. M. Bradley farm was the stage-stop where horses were exchanged and work done on the stages. Mr. A. N. Shoun was a Lawyer and a very good one. A tannery operated by William Aiken and shoemakers were John Grey, Bob Conn and Joe Bales.
Some manufacturing was done at Rheatown. Wilson Wagons were famous in those days and were made by Joseph B. Wilson. A chaff piler threshing machine made by William McKeehan also a large fan for threshing machines by Tom Doyle. Furniture and cabinets were made by Joe Collins. Coffins by Tom Collette. There was another wagon maker also, his name was Ed Dukes. A tin shop that made bread pans, coffee pots, water buckets and other wares was operated by Patty Farris. Blacksmiths were Bob Dukes, Henry Fisher and the Scott brothers. Hand operated corn shredders by James G. Fisher. He was also a minister. Woven carpets by Elizabeth Fisher wife of Rev. James. Hatmaker was Ezra Pierce. He also carded and dyed the wool used in the making of hats. A cannery which was the largest employer in Rheatown. Beans and tomatoes were the most crops canned, others being sweet potatoes, corn and fruits.
Merchants were Major Donnelly who ran the largest store in the area. He also had a large fish pond which was stocked by Major A. H. Pettibone, a big political figure there. J. D. Keebler also had a large store and shipped crates of chickens and turkeys to eastern markets. Turkeys by the hundreds were driven through the town to the market in Greenville as so were sheep. Another store Good and Johnson opened in 1880. Jacob Finkle was the first and only Jew to settle in Rheatown he was a door to door salesman and would carry his wares with a back pack.
The Civil War erupted and pitted family against family, brother against brother. Dr. J. R. Morley was a Confederate sympathizer but treated wounds on both sides. On September 2, 1864 about 4,000 soldiers camped around Rheatown. This detachment took part in the battle of Greenville on September 4, 1864. After the battle nothing was heard from General John Hunt Morgan so Col H. L. Giltner directed Capt J. J. McAfee to take four men from the Fourth Kentucky Regiment with several others to search the Greenville area for General Morgan. They awaited at Rheatown for a flag of truce. General Morgan's body was taken to Mrs. Williams house.
Those serving the confederacy were Mell Naff, Nat Campbell, Jim Johnson, Jim Conn and John Byerly who was killed in battle. Serving in the Federal Army were James M. Bailes, Mell Squibb, Jacob P. Hubbard, Major R. H. M. Donnelly, J. B. Wilson, Will Leib, Gideon Burkhart, John Baker, Jerri McCaleb, Joe collins, Hartsell Good killed in battle, J. D. Kebler , Charles W. Piper. and Capt. Levi Pickering.
Rheatown was doomed in 1865 when the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad was built bypassing Rheatown by a mile. The train operated from Bristol, TN to Knoxville, TN starting in 1865 when the first train was operated on these tracks. The railroad was built on land owned by James Fullens so the station was named Fullen Station. After a few years the station was renamed Chuckey. Hence the town of Chuckey was born.
There were good Physicians in Rheatown the first was Dr. William Ellis who was among the first Quakers who settle here. Dr. Reaves practice was from 1840-1845. The best known and liked was Dr. J. R. Morley who came here from Mountain City, TN. Another doctor was Joy Doyle who read medicine under Dr. Morley and later graduated from Vanderbilt University. Dr J. J. Howell practiced for 10 years in Rheatown. Dr Ed Jeffers took over Dr. Bright's practice after his death. Doctor Jeffers raised nine children and was the last Doctor to reside in Rheatown.
Rheatown Academy was built was built by Nolichuckey Lodge # 323 F & AM. The academy had two large rooms and an auditorium. Mr Fletcher was the first headmaster and was succeeded by Prof. Henry McClister. Some of the teachers were Prof. Wright, A.M. Mettetal, W. H. Armitage, J. R. Doty, John Carson, W. F. Piper, Clara Grant, Irene Keebler, Pauline Hazel, Justin and Alma Myers, Faye and Eula White. Another teacher that was admired by his students was Joseph H. Maupin ending his career when elected to County Court Clerk and later Judge. The last teachers were Caroline Donnelly, Hubert Kilday and Maude Gregory in 1915 the year the Academy burnt to the ground. It was said that the Rheatown Academy was the best in the whole country.
The Churches of Rheatown were the Methodist Episcopal Church built in 1871 which had a beautiful oak pump organ. The Organists were Mary Donnelly, Chloe Fisher, Emma Dukes and Opal Bright. The Church's bell could be heard for miles on a clear day. Ministers during the period of 1871 to 1939 were: W.C. Harris, A.T. Daily, John W. Hamiiier [sic] and Pat Horner, G.B. Draper, E.H. Boyle, J.D. Hickman, E. R. Robertson, J. R. Chambers, K. .D Munsey, E.B. Moore, J.A. Bilderback, W.D. Mitchell, W.T. Foi,leiiian [sic], S.R. Morrell, J.W. Robertson, J.M. Walker, W.W. Pylatt, A.H. Lowe, I.C. Logan.
|Anderson, J.S.||Anderson, Mike||Argenbright, A.W.||Argenbright, Barbara|
|Argenbright, C.M.||Argenbright, Cleo||Argenbright, Gertrude||Argenbright, Maude|
|Argenbright, Sallie||Argenbright, W. H.||Babb, Mabel||Babb, Mary|
|Babb, Roxie||Bail, W.H.||Bair, William||Barnes, Elmer|
|Barnes, Isabelle||Barnes, Jessie||Barnes, Opal||Beates, Virginia|
|Bennett, Bill||Bennett, Charles||Bennett, G.A.||Bennett, Julia|
|Bennett, William A.||Berrv, Josie||Bicknell, Margaret||Birdwell, Henry R.|
|Birdwell, Hubert A.||Birdwell, J.E.||Birdwell, Jas.,E.||Birdwell, Willie E.|
|Black, Allen||Black, Barbara C.||Black, Barbly||Black, John|
|Black, Mary||Black, W.C.||Bogart, Mrs. M.E.||Bowman, Lizzie|
|Bowman, V.C.||Bowman, William||Bradley, Carrie||Bradley, Lawrence|
|Bradley, Lucile||Bradley, Rowan||Branes, Bronce||Brumley, Tenny|
|Buger, C.D.||Buger, Doris||Buger, Laura||Buger, Mrs. C. D.|
|Burgner, Florence Rupe||Byerly, David||Byerly, F.F.||Byerly, Ida|
|Byerly, Kitty||Byerly, Mary||Campbell, Ada||Campbell, Alexander B.|
|Campbell, Bobbie||Campbell, Charles||Campbell, D.F.||Campbell, Eddie|
|Campbell, Elizabeth||Campbell, Emma||Campbell, Fete||Campbell, Henry|
|Campbell, James||Campbell, John||Campbell, Kate||Campbell, Laura|
|Campbell, Lizzie||Campbell, Madison||Carroll, Sally||Chambers, C.R.|
|Chambers, Elizabeth||Chambers, Mary E.||Colette, Annie||Collett, A.H.|
|Collett, Lena||Collett, Maggie||Collett, Martha E.||Collett, Sallie|
|Collette, Charley||Collette, Don||Collette, Scott||Colling, J.R.|
|Conn, James||Conn, John||Conn, Mary||Conn, Robert|
|Cox, Alice Hice||Cox, Fannie||Cox, H.H.||Cox, J.W.|
|Cox, Mariah||Craft, David R.||Davis, Racheal||Debusk, Lizzie|
|Debusk, Mary||Debusk, Rachel||Denny, Bessie||Denny, Elbert|
|Denny, Flora||Denny, Nina||Dobson, Mary M.||Dotson, Fannie|
|Dukes, Emma (Bailey)||Dukes J.O.||Dukes, Jr., William M.||Dukes, Mary E.(Fisher)|
|Dukes, Nancy Moody||Dukes, Robert||Dukes, William||Dukes, Maggie E. (Rhey)|
|Durman, W.F.||Durman, Martha E.||Durman, W.C.||Dyer, Mollie|
|Dyer, Rosa||Earnest, Betty B.||Earnest, D.V.||Earnest, Florence|
|Earnest, H.C.||Earnest, I.H.||Earnest, Isaac||Earnest, J.E.|
|Earnest, J.R.||Earnest, Mattie L.||Earnest, Victoria B.||Earnest, W.A.|
|Earnest, W.R.||Ellott, Lamyer C.||Finkle, Gladys||Finkle, Marie|
|Fisher, Campbell||Fisher, Irene||Fisher, J.C.||Fisher, J.H.|
|Fisher, Lanak T.||Fisher, May||Fisher, Ollie||Fisher, Ralph|
|Flillen, John||Ford, H. H.||Ford, H.E.||Ford, P.W.|
|Fraker, Amanda||Fraker, Dinah||Fraker, Emma||Fraker, Fredrick|
|Fraker, H.D.||Fraker, Sarah||Francis, W.C.||Fullen, A.B.|
|Fullen, Ann||Fullen, Annia C.||Fullen, Eliza||Fullen, George|
|Fullen, J. O.||Furches, Ella May||Furches, Haskall||Furches, M. Z.|
|Greogry, Orgille||Hankal, Effie||Henry, Allen||Hice, Elizabeth|
|Hice, John||Hice, Lulu||Hice, Vic||Hikay, Mariah K.|
|Hill, Steler Scott||Hubbard, William||Hubbard, Willis||Huffaker, Ada|
|Huffaker, Charles||Huffaker, Edd||Huffaker, Edd||Huffaker, Gordan|
|Huffaker, Jo Ella||Huffaker, Robert. O.||Johnson, Cordia||Johnson, Mrs.Wm.|
|Johnson, Mrs.Wm.||Johnson, Nina||Johnson, William||Johnson, Winel|
|Keebler, Clara||Keebler, Irene||Keebler, James||Keebler, James C.|
|Keebler, Joseph||Keebler, Mary S.||Kelsay, Viola||Kelsey, James|
|Lane, Charles J.||Leeth, L.C.||Libes, G.F.||Libes, Lewis C.|
|Liebes, Judith||Liebs, A.H||Liebs, J. C.||Liebs, Junalli|
|Liebs, Mollie||Liebs, William||Lilly, Odie||Lilly, W.S.|
|Lulu, White||Marshall, Gertrude Fraker||Marshall, Paul||Martin, Martlia L.|
|McAmis, Addie||McAmis, Frank||McAmis, Glen||McIntosh, M.A.|
|McIntosh, Maggie||Mitchell, Mary R.||Mitchell, N. Pearl||Moody, Cecil|
|Moody, Ernest||Moody, Randall||Moore, James W.||Moore, Mary E.|
|Moore, Minnie L.||Morgan, Thomas||Morley, J.R.||Morley, Rachel|
|Morrison, William D.||Naff, J. M.||Naff, Mrs. I.F.||Nelson, Adaline|
|Nelson, G.W.||Nelson, J.G.||Nightshirk, J.H.||Nowell, Maude|
|Oakes, Laura Bell||Patton, Eddie||Patton, H.E.||Patton, M. Belle|
|Penix, Pearl||Pickering, Nancy||Pitts, Andy||Pitts, Jimmy|
|Pope, J.R.||Pope, Mollie||Ragsdell,, Jns. W.||Range, Clara|
|Range, Clara||Range, J. Newt||Reeser, Mary||Rhea, Georgia L.|
|Rhea, J.S.||Richardson, Addie||Richardson, Belle||Richardson, Bill|
|Richardson, W.M,||Ripley, Ada||Ripley, Edward||Ripley, Frank|
|Ripley, Lillie C.,(Birdwell)||Ripley, Margaret||Ripley, William H.||Ripley, William H.|
|Robertson, Frank||Robertson, Mary J.||Robertson, Miss Annie||Robertson, Mrs. E.B.|
|Robinson, Cora F.||Rodgers, Delia||Rodgers, Glenda||Rogers, Henderson|
|Rogers, Laura||Rothrock, Mollie||Rothrock, W.G.||Rothrock, Walter|
|Rupe, A.W.||Rupe, Mr. Will||Rupe, Mrs. A.W.||Rupe, Will|
|Scott, Jessie||Scott, Mary||Scott, Stellar||Sellers, Edgar|
|Shoun, Eulalia||Shoun, Lizzie T.||Skinnell, Joseph J.||Skinnell, Mary A.|
|Smith, Adelia||Smith, Dicie L.||Smith, Frances||Smith, Henry|
|Smith, W.L.||Spangler, Lidia||Stephens, Emma||Stephens, J.F.|
|Thomas, Guy||Thomas, James E.||Thomas, Mary Emily||Thompson, Jennie|
|Weems, Mary E.||Weems, T. N.||White, Carl||White, Elizabeth|
|White, Frank||White, H. K.||White, Henry||White, J.R.|
|White, Mary||White, Mattie V.||White, Minnie H.||White, Will|
|Williams, James||Williams, James Hill||Wilson, Liza C.||Zimmerman, J. C.|
|Zimmerman, S. J.|
My Grandfather would take me for a walk in the evening and would point out the different business and introduce me to people of the town. Some times I would get a bottle of coke from one of the store owners. The Thomas' were good friends of mine. I would ride the area with Jack Thomas while he was trading in buying and selling calves. Most of the material contained in the story was from my memory and notes from aunt Caroline (Cad) she would tell me over and over how the railroad destroyed Rheatown she remembered the day and time the first train ran. The church records were given to me by Mrs. Helen Thomas when my wife and I visited her shortly before her death. She struck out a lot of names that were new to the area as I wanted the people during my father's era.
There were some wonderful people there in the 1920's when I would visit and later live with my aunt Caroline Donnelly (Cad) during the depression. I can remember taking eggs to the store for salt, sugar and other staples - all the rest of the food was provided by the farm. I remember an old gray headed black man names Bill Price. I would eat the mid day meal with him in the kitchen just to listen to the tales he would tell. His family didn't have much and he would come about every two days to get some food for his family. He would cut wood or something to earn the food. He gave me my first dog which I named Brownie.
My family lost the farm for back taxes in the late thirties. My uncle Frank from Johnson City bought it at auction and let my aunts and uncle stay there for their life time. I wasn't living there then as I was away in school in Nashville. During the summer they would send for me for two weeks. I loved to hunt in the nobs and build a dam in the creek so I could swim.
JAMES C. DONNELLY
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©1998 Mary Floy Katzman