By: Chad Fred Bailey

As we begin to think about Thanksgiving and see Christmas just around the corner, the Washington County Historical Association had its annual Banquet to finish out the twenty-eleven year. At this annual banquet that was held on November 4 at 7 pm at the Historic Jonesborough Visitors Center, Betty Jane Hylton was given the honor of becoming the 2011 Samuel Cole Williams Award winner. This award has an eleven year history beginning in 2000. “The Washington County Historical Association has presented the Samuel Cole Williams Award to a person who has made outstanding contributions to local history” (Johnson City Press, 2005). Other recipients are Mildred Kozsuch (2000), John Kiener (2001), Ray Stahl (2002), Tom Hodge (2003), Colin Baxter (2004), Frank B. Williams (2005), George and Margaret Holley (2006), William Kennedy (2007), Mary Henderson Alexander (2008), Gene Hurdt (2009), and Penny McLaughlin (2010).     Who was Samuel Cole Williams? Samuel Cole Williams was an attorney, judge, and historian in Johnson City, Tennessee. He was born January 15, 1864 to Thomas J. and Martha Cole Williams in Humboldt, Tennessee. In 1884, he graduated from Vanderbilt University and started his law practice with John F. Rawlins in his hometown.

On July 20, 1892, he married Mary T. Mayne of Ohio when he was the general counsel for the Ohio River and Charleston Railway Company from 1892 – 1903. During this time Williams moved his law practice to Washington County, Tennessee where he formed a partnership with Judge Samuel J. Kirpatrick.  In the late 1890s, the Watauga Lighting and Power Company was formed as the second electric company for the Washington County area by Walter Preston Brownlow and Samuel Cole Williams. He also helped to form the Johnson City Transit System, which originally was a trolley system.  It was called the Johnson City Streetcar Company.  Other business interests consisted of the Banking and Trust Company, which later became Suntrust Bank with John Cox. He also had interests in Empire Chair Company and the John Sevier Hotel. During his time in Washington County, he became interested in the history of the area, and became one of the most astounding and influential people in Washington County’s history. He brought attention to Washington County and its important history as the first county in Tennessee. 

In 1912, he was appointed Chancellor of Vanderbilt University and in 1913 appointed Associate Justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court. He was an elected associate Justice from 1914 to 1918. In 1919, Williams married his second wife, Isabel Haynes, of Nashville. He received an honorary Doctorate of Law from Emory and Henry, after which he served as the first dean of the Lamar School of Law of Emory University from 1920- 1925.

In 1923, Williams donated land near Munsey Memorial Methodist Church on Roan Street for the first public library building for Johnson City. At that time the library was housed in the upstairs of the building on Main Street and was operated by the Johnson City Monday Club. This library was named Mayne Williams Public Library in honor of his son who died in a tragic accident. This library was started by memorial volumes and memorial funds to purchase books. This library was the only library in Johnson City and evolved into the Johnson City Public Library.

In 1928 and in 1938, Williams was appointed to codify the laws of Tennessee in which he compiled an eight volume work called the Williams Annotated Code of Tennessee, commonly known as The Williams Code. He was extremely influential in historic preservation at a time which most would not have thought of the importance of caring for historical documents. In 1936 he was appointed the regional director of the federal archives of Tennessee and Kentucky. In 1938 he became a member of the Advisory Committee on Rules for Civil Procedure, appointed by the Supreme Court of the United States. From 1941 until his death in 1947 he was the chairman of the Tennessee Historical Commission. During that time, he arranged the 1944 purchase of a Johnson City farm which became Tipton-Haynes Historic site and also founding the East Tennessee Historical Society. Before his death he helped prepare for the Tennessee Sesquicentennial Celebration in 1946. He died on December 14, 1947 in Johnson City, Tennessee and was buried at Monte Vista Burial Park in Johnson City, Tennessee.

So, as we honor another Samuel Cole Williams award winner, we now know why the Washington County Historical Association gives the Samuel Cole Williams Award “to a person who has made outstanding contributions to local history”.  Betty Jane is no exception; she has used her talent in assisting Lorraine Rae in the 1970s in surveying cemeteries for a 3 volume set of books and has continued surveying Washington County and Sullivan County cemeteries through the Cemetery Survey Team of Northeast Tennessee. Margaret Hougland and Betty Jane Hylton started the Washington County page for the TNGENWEB Project in 1996 and continue to preserve the history of this area through a new means of preservation called the “Internet.”

    So will you follow in Samuel Cole Williams’ footsteps and preserve history for the next generations?

For more information on the Washington County Historical Association, Samuel Cole Williams, or the Samuel Cole Williams Recipients, please email me at Also, the Jonesborough Genealogical Society will have its Thanksgiving and Christmas Get Together on November 12 at 11 am at Ryans! Please join us there!  Also, I would like to thank Donna Briggs and Betty Jane Hylton for all their help with the “Stories from the Heart” articles!