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JONESBOROUGH’S CONE SISTERS

December 11, 1991

JONESBOROUGH’S CONE SISTERS

By: Carolyn D. Moore

     The Jonesborough stroller this summer certainly slows in the shade of the Maple tree in front of the low, flat roofed Shipley Furniture Store and watches the colors reappear on the Chester Inn across the street. Who remembers and hears the laughter of children from the past and the dusty feet that once played here on the South side of Main Street. Well, Baltimore, Maryland and the Baltimore Museum of Art does, and gives Jonesborough credit as the birthplace of the Cone girls with every museum folder they hand out. Most of us never knew or have forgotten these grand women.

     Claribel, the fifth child of Herman and Helen Guggenheimer Cone, was born Nov. 14, 1864. Etta, the 9th child, was born Nov. 30, 1870. Who were these Cones? The first Washington County Court records show up in Deed Book 36, p. 36.

     J.F. Deaderick exr. G. W.  Willett deeded July 8, 1856 to Herman Cone and Jacob Adler a lot on Main Street, Jonesborough known as the Bank House adjoining the lots of Z.L. Burson on the North, Alfred E. Jackson’s lot on the west and the said Geo. W. Willett’s lot as the fence now runs, on the south being the house and lot now occupied by the said Cone and Adler on which the family of said Adler now resides.

     This property had first been conveyed to G.W. Willett Jan. 28, 1864 under title bond. In Deed Book 43, page 517, Adler conveyed his interest to Herman Cone Sept. 30, 1857.

     The Herald and Tribune, on April 3, 1873, records that Mr. Herman Cone had sold his dwelling and store house to Dr. W.W. Bovell. On Jan. 8, 1874, the Herald and Tribune reports that fire hit that block on Dec. 31, 1873, and that block on Dec. 31, 1873, and that by five o’clock p.m. the roof of the Galligher house was all ablaze and was entirely destroyed. Fire reached the heavy cornice and roof of Dr. Bovell’s residence, a large hole was cut in the roof but no water could be procured at the time. The dining room and kitchen, a little separate brick building standing to the rear were saved through the roof was torn off. The little frame office west of the house was torn down to save the M.E. Church. Wet blankets were placed on the Chester Inn and water was constantly thrown upon the walls at Cox’s Row. The Blair property was unoccupied except for one room, the office of Dr. Sevier and Deaderick. Mr. Bovell will rebuild in the spring. It was thought that the fire started in Tom Deer’s whiskey shop. A stove pipe went up through the floor. The stove pipe in Hawkins store passed into Blair’s house and did not come into contact with wood.

     The fire had burned from the current site of the old Banking and Trust Company to the residence of Martha Stephenson on Cherokee Street. L.W. Keen made a photograph of the ruins the next day and a copy of this is in Paul Fink’s Jonesborough. The First Century of Tennessee’s First Town. Cox’s Row was where David and Ruth Wise run Lavender’s Grocery Store, Mr. Bovell may have rebuilt the Cone house, but on August 10, 1883, fire went from Mrs. Stephenson’s house on Cherokee, then Mrs. A.S. Murray’s, to the corner and wasn’t stopped until it got to what is now Shipley’s furniture store. It was shortly after this fire that Jonesborough developed a fire department. Wet blankets on the Chester Inn and a bucket from the Little Limestone wasn’t saving the town.

     As this is where we started now is as good a time as any to go back to the Cones. Herman was born in Altenstad, Germany in 1828. By 1846 we find him in America. By 1855 he is the co-owner of a grocery store in Jonesborough with an Adler cousin. In 1856 Herman marries Helen, of Natural Bridge, Virginia. She was born within 10 miles of his German birthplace, but they had to come to America to meet, marry and have 13 children. Moses was born in June 1857 and Cesar was born in April 1859. These two brothers trudged up E. Main Street in Jonesboro and went to Duncan School for Boys which was located in the large old brick house next to the cemetery at the top of the hill. Selling his half interest in the grocery, Papa Herman moved to Baltimore in 1871 with his wife and 8 children. Claribel was seven and Etta was an infant. The boys worked in the new grocery business which in 1878 was renamed H. Cone and Sons. By 1890 this is dissolved and the Cones are buying mills. Cotton. They go into textiles and by 1893 there is a main office in Greensboro, NC. The largest flannel mills in the world. Blue jeans. Moses loved the mountains and built on Flat Top at Blowing Rock in 1950. After his wife Bertha’s death their home was open to the public as the Craft Center. He also served on the first board of trustees of Appalachian State University.

     But it is Dr. Claribel and Miss Etta that I want Jonesborough readers to remember. As Gertrude Stein wrote in her article, Two Women, published in 1925, “There were two of them. They were sisters. They were large women.”

     I think was 5 feet 6 inches tall and Dr. C. was a few inches shorter, born in Jonesboro. They did their own thing and left to the Baltimore Museum of art one of the finest modern art collections in America. Henri Matisse, Picassos, Toulouse, Lautrec, Chagall. They bought what they liked and hung it on their apartment walls. Well, Claribel hung Vincent Van Gogh’s “A Pair of Boots” in her hall as she really did not want the boots in the parlor.

     Etta bought the first paintings in 1889 to brighten up the parlor. Brother Moses had given her $300 and she left Baltimore with her sister-in-law, Bertha, and went to N.Y. and bought five Theodore Robinsons. By 1901 she is going to Europe and for the next fifty years she is buying beautiful things that she liked.

     In 1886 Papa Herman had taken Claribel to Munich. He may have been trying to talk her out of going to medical school. This did not work. She graduated first in her class in 1890 and did post graduate work in gynecology at Johns Hopkins Medical School. From there she won a residency in Philadelphia. By 1893 she knew that pathology was her thing, and she comes back to Baltimore as president of the Woman’s Medical College.

     This little girl who had lived on Main Street in Jonesborough was known as a story teller in Baltimore. She had ridden the trolley, carrying her lunch wrapped in purple paper and purple ribbon, telling stories to Gertrude Stein as they walked from the end of the line to classes. I don’t think Gertrude Stein finished. She dropped out to become a writer. Our Jonesborough girl finished first in her class.

     Helen and Herman Kahn, Kahn, now Cone, and their seven Jonesborough-born children left Jonesborough in 1871 but they sent financial aid in 1873 when cholera nearly wiped out the town. Walk down the streets to the Visitors Center on Boone Street. Caribel and Etta’s people gave the town of Jonesboro $10,000 to help in its building.

     We need a historical marker in the 100 block of W. Main Street. Here were born two wonderful, uppity, Appalachian women, healers and helpers. Sisters. Women of endurance and vision, qualities that we need today.

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