|The Dye Plant
By Belle Gardner Hammond, September 1998
Some of the following information was handed down in my family. Some was taken from a book, “Kingsport, Tennessee - A Planned American City,” written
by Margaret Ripley Wolf. A lot of the information was given to me by different people. Unfortunately, when information is handed down and is taken from many
different sources, there are apt to be errors. I hope there are few errors in what I have written.
I am writing about some things that happened in Kingsport many years ago. Most of what I write is about the “Federal Dyestuff and Chemical Corporation”.
The people in Kingsport called it the “Dye Plant”. I am writing about the Dye Plant because it is a part of Kingsport’s early industry that has almost been
Tennessee Eastman has been in Kingsport for many years but the Dye Plant was here even before Eastman. The Dye Plant was the beginning of the
chemical industry in Kingsport.
The men at Kingsport Improvement Company wanted the Dye Plant in Kingsport. They donated two hundred acres of land to the company. Construction
was started on the plant in November 1915. In early January 1916, the plant filled its first order for dye. It was a small order totaling just $600. The dye was
shipped to Taubel Hosiery Mills in New Jersey. The mill’s next order was for twenty tons of dye. The Dye Plant was soon a busy place. The company
employed one thousand people and for a brief time, more men worked there than any other place in Kingsport.
The plant manufactured dye and high explosives. The government was the plants largest customer for explosives. My daddy, Perry Hugh Gardner, worked at
the plant. The plant used his formula for making some of their dye. The company erected a building where this dye could be made. I have a ledger that has
some of the notes he kept about work in the dye department during World War I.
There was a housing shortage or crunch as it was often referred to in Kingsport during the war. It was said that the meadows of Kingsport were white with
tents during that time. By 1918-1919, there were tents near the area where White City was later built. There were large boarding houses on Dale Street. The
boarding houses were a convenient place for the out of town men who worked at the Dye Plant to stay.
During the war, there were important businessmen who were visitors in Kingsport. They were here from different parts of the country. At that time, there were
few places for visitors to stay in Kingsport and the places that were available were very crude. Occasionally when businessmen were visiting Kingsport, they
would be guests of John B. Dennis at his Rotherwood home. During the day, the men would be taken out in Rotherwood’s hunting wagon to shoot birds. In
the evening, they could relax on the porch with their host and listen to stories of the past. Stories about the time when there were many flat boats on the
nearby Holston River.
Another option for visitors was the Dye Plant’s guest housing, which was located in a large two story brick building that had sleeping porches. The
executives of the Dye Plant lived in this large brick building and the company clubhouse was there as well. The building was located between the upper end
of Dale Street and East Sullivan Street. It stood for many years after the war. One of the last things it was used for was an apartment house.
There were explosions at the plant. When one explosion occurred, a man was killed instantly and two others who were badly injured, later died. A unit of the
building was destroyed. The plant was near enough to the homes to cause people to be very upset by the explosions.
Mrs. Edgar Clayman, the former Ruby McCoy, lived in Kingsport during the war. She was very young but she remembers the explosions. When there was an
explosion, her family would hurry to a hill on Watauga Street for safety. She remembers when East Center Street was a two-lane road. It was called the
Bristol Pike. The McCoy home was on a street near the pike and she could watch people go by. There were cars in Kingsport at that time but many people
rode on horses and in wagons and buggies. Ruby remembers watching a line of wagons drive by that were filled with gypsies. The lower grade schools
were taught in two houses on Myrtle Street in White City. Ruby started school in one of those houses.
Many local people worked in Kingsport. They lived on farms nearby. These men had probably known one another all of their lives. There were also many
men from different parts of the country. This seemed to cause friction which at times led to arguments and fights. One incident that was talked about involved
two men, one from North Carolina and one from Johnson City. The men were working on a building for the Dye Plant and had an argument. The man from
North Carolina became so angry that he hit the man from Johnson City on the head with a pipe wrench, knocking him unconscious. There were other such
incidents throughout the town.
A man who was working for the Dye Plant was overcome by aniline poisoning. People thought he was dead. Some men started to dig his grave
prematurely. A doctor finally revived the man. There were many accidents such as this in the little town.
It was said that the Dye Plant owed its existence to the military effort. When the war ended, it was a blow to the plant. The company had a large supply of dye
on hand and the government no longer needed explosives. The plant closed temporarily while a two million dollar claim was settled against the government.
The plant reorganized in 1918 and was given a new name, “Union Dye and Chemical Corporation”. Things did not go very well and there was a second
shake up. There were injuries and accidents. A four-year-old child was electrocuted by a high voltage fence. The parents sued the company for $30.000. The
heyday for the once busy plant was over. Early in 1921, the plant went into receivership.
The Dye Plant property has been described as about seven acres of buildings on 350-400 acres of land. Today some of Tennessee Eastman’s buildings
are located on part of the old Dye Plant property.
Several years ago, Mary Kiss, a reporter for the Kingsport Times, wrote an interesting article about the Cement Plant. I wish a reporter would write about the
Dye Plant before it is completely forgotten.
Six or seven years ago, a Mr. Graves died in Kingsport. In his obituary, it mentioned that he had been a guard at the Dye Plant. If there are men still living who
worked at the Dye Plant, they must have gone to work when they were very young and they must now be quite elderly.
Belle Gardner Hammond (Mrs. Glen Kermit Hammond)
Source: Archives of the City of Kingsport, Kingsport Public Library. Courtesy Brian Wilson, Archivist.
|Federal Dyestuff and Chemical Corporation,
A Personal Remembrance