Susan Harber, Daily News Journal, March 27, 2016
When I reflect on extraordinary Rutherford County icons Hardy Murfree, James Buchanan, Robert Weakley, Alfred Blackman and Sampson Keeble, I now add one more significant individual named Ernest King Johns to a list of superhuman personas. For more than 200 years, great men in our county have moved mountains by traveling a “long extra mile.” We revere and respect these progressive citizens who sought for the betterment of an efficacious, burgeoning county.
Ernie resided on Jefferson Pike within property of an olden ancestral King farm dating from 1863, and he maintained an open door. He also enjoyed visitation within the community. Local resident Ron Caldwell recalls Ernie’s easing down his driveway while tapping the horn to announce his arrival in his white truck. He would then share sumptuous vegetables from his big garden. Ernie was a giver and a friend.
When I moved to Smyrna 21 years ago, Ernie contacted me and said, “Let’s attend Lee Victory’s fish fry. I want you to meet my friends and welcome you to the community.” Both he and Mary Lou were always so hospitable and kind to my family.
Ernie Johns was born on Oct. 14, 1934, in the Spring Creek community of Lamar in a home built by his grandfather Benjamin Franklin Johns. Ernie was the son of Andrew Franklin Johns and Mary Frances King. As a young man, Ernie moved with his parents to the magnificent historical home Liberty Hill on Old Jefferson Pike. This special landmark (standing today) was both a Civil War hospital and a witness to the Trail of Tears that passed by the home in 1838.
Ernie attended Old Jefferson School and Old Rock School where he graduated in 1952. In the mid-20th century, Smyrna was a small community and close-knit with family, friends and church. Ernie and my mother, Judy Johns Rogers, were friends, and they called each other “favorites.” Both Ernie and Judy developed a keen interest in history at a young age. She was in and out of the Johns/King Home and cherishes wonderful memories of an early and uncomplicated chapter of time. Ernie was a groomsman in Judy’s church wedding and subsequent reception at the Sam Davis Home in 1957.
Ernie graduated from the University of Tennessee with a degree in geology and a minor in history. He sought a master’s degree and soon received a commission to enter the Air Force (1956-1959) through the ROTC program. He was active in flight training with the military for three years. While stationed at the Malden Air Base in Missouri, he met his future wife, Mary Lou McIntosh, and they were wed 57 years. Ernie told me twice that she was the best decision he ever made. Their son Keith was born in 1961, and Greg was born in 1964.
Ernie had four brothers: Andrew Frank, William Bluford, John Matthew and Thomas Nelson; and his sisters included Martha Susan and Mary Lou.
The Johns family originated from Wilson County through Ernie’s great-grandfather Bluford Johns, a Confederate soldier, and Ellen Sneed Puckett. Their son Benjamin Franklin Johns wed Helen Smith, daughter of Andrew Harvey Smith and Minerva Lannom. Andrew Harvey fought in the Civil War and was enlisted in 1861 under Stonewall Jackson’s brigade in Winchester. He was injured in battle, released and then returned to active duty. He was a brilliant soldier in the Confederate Army.
Ernie’s grandfather Benjamin Franklin was a successful stock trader and one of the founders of Smyrna Bank. Benjamin and his wife, Helen, had six children, including Ernie’s father, Frank, and my grandfather Glendon.
Ernie’s grandmother, Helen Nelson Smith, whose relatives descended from North Carolina, was quite a remarkable pioneer woman. The family of her mother, Minerva Lannom, was in Rutherford County before 1800. In the last decades of her life, Helen was a master hand-quilter. She never drove a car; yet, she had a buggy hitched to horses and would take Mom in this unique transportation to visit neighbors and cousins. Helen was truly a maverick, who made everything move along so well.
Frances King, Ernie’s mother, was the daughter of Ernest and Susan King. The Kings had roots in North Carolina. Frances received a teaching degree from Tennessee Teachers College and taught school before marriage.
Ernie worked in home construction for 40 years. He had great expertise and skill with stone and masonry. He served two terms on the Rutherford County Commission and one term on the Tennessee Historical Commission. He has been a member of the Rutherford County Historical Society since 1969. Ernie was a caretaker of Rutherford County history his entire adult life. His documentation on cemeteries is one of the best catalogs in the country. His research on county landmarks is unsurpassed; and his quest for preservation is monumental. Ernie amassed an enormous collection of photographs and historical relics. He was not only a county chronicler but also a Tennessee historian. He believed strongly in state unity and quietly visited and supported numerous historical societies for decades throughout the state. His focus was to share and prosper every crevice of the state with historical advancement. He spent large swaths of personal time merging the components of state conservancy.
Ernie was a friend to all, and I will always cherish wonderful memories. I remember him as a gentleman and a man full of goodwill. He once conveyed to me, “I have loved Rutherford County from the first day of my life.” Ernie was low-key and never sought praise for any historical endeavor. He truly stayed in the background silently working as our prime preservationist. He was a special man who left a special legacy to us all.
Contact Susan Harber at [email protected].