GREENEVILLE, Tenn. — Forgotten chapters of Greene County history gather dust in attics and basements.
The T. Elmer Cox Genealogical and Historical Library looks forward to recovering and preserving records and other documents so that the information is available for future generations.
Christopher Gose, deputy director of the Greeneville/Greene County Public Library and the Cox Library, hopes a recent example of a citizen presenting “a significant donation” will inspire others to do the same.
An 1893 Greene County tax record was recently donated to the Cox Library, which is a repository for all things county history.
Gose and the donor discussed the winding journey of the tax registry.
Gose was working one day at the Cox Library at 229 N. Main St., when John Haynes stopped by.
Haynes, who operates the Davy Crockett Trading Co. antique store on East Andrew Johnson Highway in Limestone with his son Nicholas, brought the tax register with him. The book contains names, addresses, property square footage, and tax amounts assessed to those listed, ordered by the 25 electoral districts of Greene County in 1893.
The information offers valuable insight into Greene County from 129 years ago.
“It’s a fascinating book. It shows who owns the property, but it also shows who owns the adjacent properties,” Gose said.
Haynes said he and his son Nicholas went to an estate sale in March in Hendersonville, North Carolina. The tax register was among the items for sale.
“We knew he had to come home, so we bought him,” he said last week.
The Haynese paid $250 for the well-preserved volume.
“We’re not rich or anything. We thought it was to give back to the history of the county. The love of history is why my son and I had an interest in getting into antiques,” said John Haynes. “We thought it would be helpful for people doing family history.”
The tax records book came with a bonus. Inside was a flyer advertising a December 1975 antique show in Kingsport, sponsored by the East Tennessee Antique Dealers Association. This gave Haynes a clue as to where the buyer acquired it.
How the book appeared at a Kingsport antiques fair nearly 47 years ago is a matter of speculation.
“I have a theory about it,” Haynes said. “The Greene County Courthouse was remodeled and remodeled in the 1970s. I believe it was thrown away or donated. I really think they didn’t realize the importance of (historical) information at that time.
Haynes and his son “knew it was important and needed to be brought home.”
Gose was pleasantly surprised when he saw what Hayneses brought to the library.
“When I picked up the book, it was great to see the excitement when he saw the book. It was pretty cool,” Haynes said. “He just seemed thrilled.”
Gose opened and carefully turned the pages of the tax records book one day last week.
“It helps with the genealogy, who owned the land and who it was passed down to,” Gose said. “It would have been stored at the courthouse.”
The scope of the book quickly becomes apparent. June Pinkston, who has worked at the Cox Library for nearly 20 years, opened it up to a section detailing landowners in the 21st District, a northern section of Greene County. Her finger slid down the page and stopped on a line with a handwritten name and other notations in the columns to the right.
“Jacob Fleming Morisson. He’s my great-grandfather,” Pinkston said.
“The 21st arrondissement is where he lived. Cross anchor. The property is where North Greene High School is located today,” Pinkston said.
Pinkston lives on land formerly farmed by Morrison, who owned plots of 60 acres and 12 acres. The 60-acre parcel was valued at $260 in 1893, “not quite $5 an acre,” Pinkston said.
Taxes imposed on each landowner include poll tax, state tax, county tax, school tax, road tax, and “poor tax”.
Morrison’s property tax bill for 1893 was $1.38.
“Money was terribly scarce back then,” Pinkston said.
Neighbors who owned adjoining land include another family named Morrison, as well as the Kendry and Hawkins families.
“It’s the most detailed list I’ve ever seen. I was just excited to see it,” Pinkston said.
Gose is grateful that Haynes chose to donate the book to the library. He said its content far outweighed its monetary value.
“It’s invaluable to us,” Gose said. “He should be back in Greene County. That’s how he told us.”
Although the courthouse was remodeled in the 1970s, “from our city and county government perspective, it’s highly unlikely that it was tossed out,” Gose said.
Gose referenced a Tennessee law known as the “Replevin Law,” which prohibits the removal of any records created by the state, county, or municipal government from the agency’s custody.
On occasion in the past, Gose said people looking for family documents such as wills or marriage licenses would be allowed to access stored documents. Relevant pages would be torn from a book, or an entire volume would be removed from the courthouse.
The full story of the journey the 1893 tax record traveled will likely never be known, but Gose hopes the generosity of the Haynes family will inspire Greene County residents to look at what they have stored in secluded places and consider making similar donations to the library.
There is no criminal or civil liability.
“We give the possibility to return it to its rightful owner. I’m sure there are others that people have,” Gose said.
Greene County still has a wealth of historical records and documents dating back over 200 years that are safely stored. Gose worked with Circuit Court Clerk Chris Shepard for several years to help protect them.
“Our job will ultimately be to clean up each page, digitize it and preserve it,” Gose said. “It’s our mission at the Cox to preserve these things for Greene County.”
He said artifacts like the 1893 tax records book help bring a bygone era to life.
“It’s Greeneville. It’s tangible history,” Gose said. “It’s about preserving and making sure these records are preserved for generations to come.”