Disappearing Towns: Morrison City

I was raised on the Virginia side of an unincorporated community by the name of Morrison City.  It was a small village to the north of Kingsport, Tennessee, which was built up in the 1930s and 40s as a “bedroom community” of the industrial town to its south.  Morrison City was named for a pioneer by the name of Peter Morison (whose descendants refuse to add the second “r” to his name).  Peter had fought in the Battle of King’s Mountain with other pioneers of that time, and was granted land by the state of North Carolina in return for his valiant service to his country.

The little community had once been called “Flatwoods.”  The Morison homeplace was in the midst of a stand of virgin Pine forest that covered several acres to the south of the state line gap.  Several families settled in a nearby Tennessee community which came to be called “Bell Ridge,” after a hill upon which a school had been built, and whose bell gave it that name.

Smith H. Morrison and wife, a descendant of the pioneer Peter Morison, after whom Morrison City took its name

The community of Morrison City took shape at the crossroads of Carters Valley Road and the Gate City to Kingsport highway.  The highway was State Route 23, and moved through the community in three distinct routes over time.  The old routes were given names like “Tenneva Street,” “Echo Drive,” and “Lynn Garden Drive.”  Tenneva was a name that incorporated the presence of both states.  Echo reflected the parallel nature of the road once Tenneva had replaced it.  Lynn Garden honored a community across Kyle Hill, closer to Kingsport, and was named to pay tribute to one of Kingsport’s earliest leading families, the Lynns.

Carter’s Valley stretched from a hollow in Virginia’s Scott County all the way down into Hawkins County, near Rogersville, Tennessee.  Settlements in Carter’s Valley were among the first in the area in pioneer days.  Lynn Garden and its predecessor north/south corridor roads separated “West” Carter’s Valley from “East” Carter’s Valley.

The original Carter’s Valley road ran a little further north, separating the present Morrison Chapel Church from the Morrison Chapel Cemetery.  The cemetery was part of the original grounds given to the church by a descendant of Peter Morison.  George W. Morrison stated in the deed of gift that it was “for the love and affection I entertain for the Methodist Episcopal Church, South,” that he was willing to give the land to the church.  The deed describes a church building standing on the property, giving credence to the idea that this property had been a place of worship in the Morrison family for some time previous.  The Morison/Morrison family members are buried there along with Colonel John Anderson, who maintained a Block House fort in East Carter’s Valley as a stopping place for the people who traveled Daniel Boone’s famous Wilderness Road trail.  These Scotsmen were staunch Presbyterians in their day, but the Methodists won out in1851 when George deeded the place to the church.  However it wasn’t until 1857 that members were recorded as having joined the church there.

Morrison Chapel in the 1880s

Perhaps the Methodists won out because a daughter of the Morison/Morrison family, Nancy, married a circuit riding preacher, the Reverend Samuel Patton, who had come to the area from Alabama, and was known for his fiery defense of the Methodist doctrines.  In 1823 he married the young Nancy and they settled on a farm called “Springplace” about a mile down Carter’s Valley to the west of Morrison City.  Their home was a double two story log house with dog trot. It stood in place until the mid 1980s when it was dismantled and moved, although it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places at the time.  Patton was a close friend of Governor William G. Brownlow (also known as the “Fightin’ Parson” of the Methodist Church), whose vitriolic pen helped shape unionist sentiment in east Tennessee and southwestern Virginia during the Great War.

The first families farmed just enough to feed their families.  It wasn’t until after the Civil War that they tried to make money in the valley.  W. T. Larkins began a large logging operation and cleared several hundred acres.  There was a sawmill placed along the north-south road at the state line that operated into the early twentieth century with a steam engine for power.  Soon the acreage was cleared and larger farms appeared.

Lumber Crew in the days of W. T. Larkin

The logging operations enriched the early farmers and helped them build larger homes to accommodate their growing families.  Later a General Store went in near the sawmill at the state line, and was once run by Tom Galloway.  This store carried the goods needed by the folks in the neighborhood.  Flour, sugar, fabric, and other things kept people supplied.

School was held at Morrison Chapel’s log church house until one could be built at Bell Ridge.  Later they moved the school closer to the bottom of the hill, and in time it became a large two room building with plenty of room for the children who spanned ages from 5 or 6 through 14 or 15.  The school was a source of pride in the community and became a central hub for community activity as well as a place of origin for many courtships.  When the school became a public entity, the county built a larger brick building nearby and added on to it as the population grew, using the school up until the late 1980s, when the county closed it and a local church bought it to operate a Christian school in its facilities.

As industrial growth in Kingsport began to take off, lots were laid off in the community at the crossroads of Carter’s Valley and the Kingsport/Gate City Road.  The Carter’s Valley road was moved to the bottom of the valley, where it accommodated more lots.  Soon with rising population more businesses popped up, and new churches were formed.  A new community was being born. Mr. Emory Larkin is said to have laid out the the new Carter’s Valley Road in the late 1920s or early 1930s.

State Line Baptist Church was built in 1939 on the hill opposite the Methodist Church, and across Carter’s Valley, to the south.  This church was at the entrance to the Bell Ridge School’s new building.  It stood on the hill for many years before building a larger facility closer to West Carter’s Valley Road in the early 1970s.  At one time it was the largest church of any kind in the area, and maintained a large bus ministry, as well as a Christian School.

Morrison City Mission was a non-denominational chapel organized in May, 1936 and built in 1936-37 by Ed Jones on Tenneva.  Some folks say it was put in to keep alcohol out of an area business owned by B. C. Mullens.  The law said liquor could not be sold within so many feet of a church, so the people against the selling of such beverages built a church near enough to a business that had applied for such license in order to keep the community “dry.” The church began as a non-denominational effort, with services on Sunday afternoon and Saturday night, using area preachers from a variety of denominations. They continued in this pattern through June, 1947 when a Sunday School was organized with 25 members. Bobby Olterman was the first pastor called to the church in 1958. He was followed by Milburn Morelock in 1963, Millard Porter in 1967 and Joseph Hill in 1971. The church grew into a pretty substantial church by the time the highway took the building in the late 1970s.  It now stands on the north side of West Carter’s Valley in a new brick structure.

Morrison City Mission in the early 1950s.

An Apostolic Church was formed and occupied a building at the corner of Tenneva and Carter’s Valley.  They, too, were made to relocate when the new highway came in the 1970s.  They moved to John B. Dennis Bypass and renamed their church.

In 1943 a new pastor was sent to the Methodist Church, as their pastor had been called up to go to war.  The new pastor held a tent revival at the corner of West Carter’s Valley and Chapel Drive.  The result was a great number of folks converted, and he decided to take them and form the First Freewill Baptist Church of Morrison City.  The church was built on West Carter’s Valley Road to the south of the Morrison Chapel Cemetery.

Businesses in Morrison City included W. D. Sensabaugh’s store, at the corner of Tenneva and Carter’s Valley.  Lee’s Barbor Shop, Parker’s Grill, and Lyle Lee’s, Price’s and Willis’ fruit stands and monument companies also occupied lots in the community.  When Lynn Garden Drive was built further east from Tenneva, the business district began to dry up.  New businesses popped up on the new fourlane road.  A building stood for years facing Lynn Garden from the west, with only three walls, the fourth wall, the front of the building, never being completed.  A Bassett’s Dairy Bar was built on the corner of East Carter’s Valley and Lynn Garden.  Several businesses were near it going north bound on Lynn Garden.  Fruit stands and fireworks places popped up and closed out from time to time.

From 1949 the Tenneva Water Works was being constructed which began to serve customers in Morrison City in 1950. Later it was taken over by the North Kingsport Utility, probably in 1978 or so.

W. D. Sensabaugh’s Store

In the 1970s property was bought up for the new US 23, which becomes Interstate 26 at Kingsport.  The heart of the community was replaced with asphalt.  The businesses that were taken were never really replaced.  The school was later closed, two churches were relocated.  Several houses were torn down, with residents having to move away.  Morrison City disappeared as a community and is only a footnote in history.

The north bound lane of the new road enters Lynn Garden Drive at the state line near where Peter Morison’s log house once stood along the creek.  A metal wall lines the southbound lanes of the new route, a sound and visual barrier blocking any sign of a community.  But it remains in the memories of those who knew it.  A “welcome to Kingsport” sign greets folks about where that never-finished building once stood.

Bell Ridge School

About Brad Scott

An Appalachian CrossFitter who loves Jesus and is happily married to Tammie. I have a son and a fine little grandson. In the peak of middle age, trying to figure out the rest of this journey.
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10 Responses to Disappearing Towns: Morrison City

  1. Carolyn Cole says:

    I am a descendant of the Morrison family. My great grandfather was W T Larkin. Thank you for this post. I really enjoyed the information. To those of us who were raised in Morrison City, this means a lot!

  2. Barbara Carrier says:

    I, too, am a great granddaughter of W.T. Larkin and his wife, Mary Morrison Larkin. We now reside in the Larkin family homeplace, which was built in 1917. The lumber for this house came from the sawmill you mention, and Carter’s Valley Road used to run right at the edge of our front yard. “Pa” Larkin also had a store at some point; some of his ledgers exist to this day. My mother lived here in this house for most of her 88 years, until passing away this past November. She and many of her family were members of the Morrison Chapel Methodist Church for most of their lives. This is an excellent story about our small community! I recognize so many of the names and places you’ve written about! Thanks for writing it!

  3. Sue H. says:

    Great article.Thanks! I am descended through a Morison who I believe was the grandchild of George W. Morrison listed above. The family lived in this area for generations. Does anyone have any information on the Will of Peter or George Morison?

  4. Jane Morison says:

    Hey, Brad, thanks for the article on my husband’s Great-great-great-great-great (I think I have that right!) Grandfather! I love the way you say his descendants “refuse” to add the extra ‘r’. We put it down to Scottish frugality! Ha! If that spelling was good enough for the Scots on the Isle of Lewis, it’s good enough for us!

  5. Janice Matlock says:

    I was raised in this community just off West Carters Valley RD. on Harrison Ave and attended Bell Ridge School for eight years, and State Line Baptist Church. It was a wonderful community in which to grow up. Thanks for sharing.

  6. lois pendleton says:

    thanks so much for this infro. I too was raised in Morrison city, on east carter valley

  7. Mitzi Noel Stinnett says:

    Great article. I also grew up in East Carter’s Valley right beside Morrison City Christian Church and attended Bell Ridge. It was a great place to grow up.

  8. Nanci says:

    grew up in Kingsport in 50’s and 60’s in Sevier Terrace on Morison Avenue on property once owned by the Morison’s and remember Morison City well….great story

  9. Linda Gibson Milhorn says:

    We moved to West Carters Valley in the early 50s and went to Bell Ridge School in grades 5-8….lived on Austin Street. A great place to live…

  10. Wayne fields says:

    I grew up in morrison city. Many great memories from bell ridge.

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