Last week I wrote a bit about Mr. and Mrs. John B. Dennis, mentioning they owned homes in Oyster Bay Cove, N.Y.; Biltmore Forest, N.C.; and, of course, here in Kingsport. I shared a glimpse into their lifestyle circa 1930-1940 through U.S. census information from those years.
I’ll next try to explain the origins and background of each, as well as what brought them together here in “the Model City.” Ladies first, of course.
Mrs. John B. Dennis was born Lola Anderson in Laurens, S.C., on Nov. 23, 1885 to Mr. and Mrs. Albert William Anderson. The family seems to have lived mainly in Augusta, Ga., and Lola had at least three sisters. Her father would eventually be president of the Charleston and Western North Carolina Railroad, which connected with the Clinchfield Railroad at Spartanburg, S.C.
The Clinchfield is what brought John B. Dennis, and development, to modern Kingsport.
Lola was an accomplished woman, receiving a degree in landscape architecture from Cornell University. She also taught there. She was hired by the Kingsport Improvement Company in 1919 to be the landscape architect for the city. Prior to landing that job, she had worked for some of the premier architecture and design firms in the South: P.T. Berkman of Augusta; E.S. Draper of Charlotte, N.C., and Charles F. Gillette of Richmond, Va.
An article on the front page of the Kingsport Times on Sept. 5, 1919 announced Miss Anderson was already at work on landscaping projects around the train station, city parkways, schools, the golf course, churches, and other public spaces. The bigger news for the everyday reader: Miss Anderson’s office door was open to all city residents for free-of-charge advice and suggestions on how to landscape one’s own yard.
The article apparently also was the official announcement of her hiring and arrival. It stated she was “considered one of the leaders in her profession in the South” and noted her job here was part of the city’s founding fathers’ stated civic goal of creating “Kingsport — The City Beautiful.”
In January 1920, an article in the Kingsport Times noted, “Mrs. J. Fred Johnson and Miss Lola Anderson left Monday for New Orleans to attend a convention held by the American Forestry Association. Miss Anderson was appointed by Gov. Roberts as a state delegate to this convention.”
Lola’s name and activities were mentioned regularly in “society page” articles throughout the 1920s: her mother visited, at the Kingsport Inn, from Augusta; her father was among a delegation of South Carolina “dignataries” who visited the Model City in 1926 to have a look around for business opportunities; she spent a week that same year visiting Rochester, N.Y.; she was a regular guest speaker for various clubs and organizations.
I took the above birthdate for Lola from a passport application she filed in June 1922, which cited her plans to sail aboard the ship Laconia, departing New York on July 6th of that year to visit relatives in England and France. On the application, Lola listed her residence as North Augusta, S.C., and her occupation as landscape architect.
In June of 1953, Lola’s mother died at Lola’s home in Biltmore Forest. According to the obituary, survivors included Lola and two more daughters — and fourth daughter “Lady Braith-Waite, of London, England,” had preceded her in death. Reading that, of course, I had to wonder if Lola’s 1922 trip was to visit her sister, perhaps even to attend the wedding which brought her the title Lady Braith-Waite.
In any case, shipping records show Lola returned across the Atlantic aboard the S.S. Carmania, sailing from Liverpool on Aug. 31, 1922 and arriving at New York in early September. She listed her address as Kingsport.
The most important mention of Anderson in the Kingsport Times in the 1920s came as the decade neared its end. The “Society” page of the Sunday, Oct. 27, 1929 edition of the newspaper announced her marriage to John B. Dennis.
The couple wed in a noon ceremony, Saturday, Oct. 26, at First Presbyterian Church. Only the bride’s parents “and a very few intimate friends of the couple” attended. And “after a day or two at Rotherwood,” the newlyweds were expected to depart for a “bridal trip,” the destination of which was not announced.
The groom was listed as being “of New York City and Kingsport, a former partner in the noted New York City banking firm of Blair and Company, and builder of the Clinchfield railroad and developer of the city of Kingsport.”
“Mr. and Mrs. Dennis,” the article concluded, “will make their future home at Oyster Bay Cove, N.Y., and at their own beautiful Rotherwood at Kingsport.”
To be continued: Next time, who was John Bartlett Dennis and where did he come from?