1893 Real Estate Tax Ledger Takes Roundabout Route Tennessee News

By KEN LITTLE, The Greeneville Sun

GREENEVILLE, Tennessee (AP) — Forgotten chapters of Greene County history are gathering dust in attics and basements.

The T. Elmer Cox Genealogy & Historical Library is committed to recovering and preserving archival books and other documents so that the information is available for future generations.

Christopher Gose, deputy director of the Greeneville/Greene County Public Library and Cox Library, hopes a recent example of a citizen coming forward with “a significant donation” inspires others to do the same.

An 1893 Greene County Tax Record book was recently donated to the Cox Library, a repository for all things related to county history.

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Gose and the donor discussed the tortuous journey of the tax book.

Gose was working at the Cox Library at 229 N. Main St. one day when John Haynes came by.

Haynes, who along with his son Nicholas operates the Davy Crockett Trading Co. antique store on East Andrew Johnson Highway in Limestone, brought the tax book with him. The book contains the names, addresses, real estate, and tax amounts assessed on the list, categorized by Greene County’s 25 polling districts in 1893.

The information provides valuable insights 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 neighboring properties,” said Gose.

Haynes said he and his son Nicholas went to an estate sale in Hendersonville, North Carolina, in March. The tax book was one of the items for sale.

“We knew it had to go home, so we bought it,” he said last week.

The Hayneses paid $250 for the well-preserved volume.

“We’re not rich or anything. We felt it was to give back to the history of the province. The love of history is why my son and I were interested in antiques,” said John Haynes. “We thought it would be helpful for people doing their family history.”

The tax book came with a bonus. Inside was a flyer advertising a December 1975 antique show at Kingsport sponsored by the East Tennessee Antique Dealers Association. That gave Haynes an idea where the buyer bought it.

How the book appeared on a Kingsport antiques show nearly 47 years ago is a matter of speculation.

“I have a theory about that,” Haynes said. “The Greene County Courthouse was renovated and renovated in the 1970s. I believe it was thrown away or given away. I really don’t think they understood 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 to see what Hayneses brought to the library.

“When I received the book, it was great to see the excitement when he saw the book. That was pretty cool,” Haynes said. “He just seemed excited.”

Gose opened the pages of the tax book one day last week and turned cautiously.

“It helps with genealogy, who owned the land and who it was passed down to,” Gose said. “This would have been stored at the courthouse.”

The scope of the book soon becomes apparent. June Pinkston, who has worked at the Cox Library for nearly 20 years, opened it to an information section on property owners in the 21st District, a portion of northern Greene County. Her finger ran across the page, stopping at a line with a handwritten name and other notations on columns to the right.

“Jacob Fleming Morrison. He’s my great-grandfather,” Pinkston said.

“He lived in the 21st district. Cross Anchor. The property is where North Greene High School sits today,” Pinkston said.

Pinkston lives on land once worked by Morrison, who owned plots of 60 acres and 12 acres. The 60-acre lot was appraised at $260 in 1893, “not quite $5 an acre,” Pinkston said.

Taxes charged to each landowner include a poll tax, state tax, county tax, school tax, road tax, and “poor tax.”

Morrison’s tax bill for 1893 was $1.38.

“Money was very scarce at the time,” Pinkston said.

Neighbors who owned adjacent land include another family named Morrison, along with the Kendry and Hawkins families.

“This is 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 the content is much greater than the monetary value.

“It’s invaluable to us,” Gose said. “It should be back in Greene County. That’s what he told us.”

Although the courthouse was renovated in the 1970s, “from our perspective in the city and county government it is highly unlikely that it was thrown away,” Gose said.

Gose was referring to a law in Tennessee known as the “Replevin Act,” which prohibits all records created by the state, county, or municipal government from being removed from agency custody.

In the past, Gose occasionally said that people looking for family information, such as wills or marriage licenses, would be able to access stored documents. Relevant pages would be torn from a book, or an entire tome would be removed from the courthouse.

The full story of the 1893 tax book’s journey will probably never be known, but Gose hopes the generosity of the Haynes family can inspire Greene County residents to look at what they have stored in remote places and consider to make similar donations to the library.

There is no criminal or civil liability.

“We are giving the opportunity to return it to its rightful owner. I’m sure there are others who have people,” Gose said.

Greene County still has a wealth of historical records and documents dating back over 200 years that are safely stored. Gose has worked with Circuit Court Clerk Chris Shepard for a number of years to help protect them.

“Ultimately, our job will be to clean, digitize and preserve every page,” Gose said. “Our mission at the Cox is to preserve these things for Greene County.”

He said artifacts like the 1893 tax book help bring a bygone era to life.

“This is Greenville. This is tangible history,” Gose said. “It’s all about preserving and making sure these records are preserved for generations to come.”

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