Upland Chronicles: Joe Sharp was dedicated to the preservation of Sevier County history

Jun. 14, 2014 @ 11:49 PM

Age and overcrowding of the Sevier County courthouse became a hot issue in the 1960s, with some voicing a desire to tear it down and build a new, modern building. County Historian Joe Sharp spearheaded the effort to preserve the current structure and won by a narrow vote of 13-11.

In 1976, the Sevier County American Revolution Bicentennial Celebration Committee published “Sevier County Saga,” a memorial keepsake about some of the life and lore of Sevier County. In the publication, the following special recognition was given to Joe Sharp:

“We especially appreciate the writers of the past who have taken time to record and preserve events so important to all of us. A special tribute is due to the late Sevier County Historian J.A. “Joe” Sharp (1903-1971), who had such a great love and comprehension of our county’s heritage. So much of the early history contained in this booklet was compiled and researched by him that it would be impossible to give him all the credit he deserves.”

During the four seasons that performances of the outdoor drama “Chucky Jack” were held at Hunter Hills Amphitheater in Gatlinburg, Joe Sharp served on the advisory board. He completed the historical background research for the play and collaborated with playwright Kermit Hunter, who wrote the script based on the life of John Sevier.

The historical markers situated at roadsides and in fields throughout Sevier County are the work of Joe Sharp. He was commissioned by the state of Tennessee to research and direct in placing the markers.

The Calvin M. McClung Historical Collection at the East Tennessee History Center in Knoxville and the Rel and Wilma Maples History Center at the King Family Library in Sevierville both contain a valuable collection of articles written by Joe Sharp, which are available for research. His collection at the King Family Library contains 18 roles of microfilm.

Born Aug. 9, 1903, in the Pine Grove Community, Joseph Alexander “Joe” Sharp was one of three children of Walter Alexander Sharp and Alice Montgomery Sharp. Along with his sister, Katherine, and his brother, Grady, he attended Pine Grove School and graduated from Murphy College.

Sharp began his teaching career at Pine Grove School in the early 1920s. He ended it at Rule High School, where he taught history for 26 years.

He received a bachelor of science degree at Maryville College and a master's degree in history at the University of Tennessee. When he was in college, Sharp worked during the summer as a stonemason’s apprentice for a company building houses near Lake Erie.

In June 1932, he married Dorothy Weatherly, whom he met while they were attending Maryville College. They moved to Covington, Tenn., where he was teaching history.

While Sharp was teaching at Rule High School, he and Dorothy built a log cabin on Highway 441 (now called the Parkway). Built on part of the Sharp home place, it was a retreat used for summers and holidays. But they soon found that life in the cabin was so much more pleasant than living in Knoxville that they converted it into their permanent home. The house was where the Titanic is now located.

Their children, David and Mary Jean, attended Sevierville Elementary School and Sevier County High School. David received a bachelor of science degree at the University of Tennessee and a master of science and doctorate at North Carolina State University. Mary Jean earned a degree in home economics at the University of Tennessee.

Sharp maintained a bountiful garden, a small peach orchard and a half-acre grape vineyard. He used some of the grapes to make his own wine. His son David remembers selling grapes at a roadside stand under a big umbrella.

Officially appointed Sevier County historian in 1950, Sharp cared enough about the past and future of Sevier County to spend tedious hours researching and recording events. Therefore, his words will continue to enlighten generations.

He served a term as president of the East Tennessee Historical Society, served as chairman of the Sevier County Democratic Party, and served as secretary of the Shiloh Memorial Cemetery Association.

Sharp had his contacts at the Sevier County courthouse, who alerted him when documents were going to be discarded. He would obtain the papers and keep them for his research.

The Sevier County News-Record, forerunner of The Mountain Press, relied on Sharp for descriptions of historical places and for many articles on Sevier County history.

He was a member and deacon of the Sevierville First Presbyterian Church and served as chairman of the board of deacons.

Dorothy was also a teacher. She taught in Sevier County at the Church of God Home for Children school, Sevierville Elementary School and Sevierville Middle School.

After retiring from teaching school, Sharp became a teller at the Bank of Sevierville, where he worked for five years before giving his time entirely to historical research. He spent countless hours placing markers on graves of veterans buried at Shiloh Cemetery.

As a professional genealogist, Sharp formed many wonderful friendships through his efforts to trace genealogy for people with Sevier County connections all over the country. He hosted hundreds of people who had relatives buried in Sevier County; particularly Shiloh Cemetery.

In 1971, Sharp was appointed by the governor to serve on the Sevier County Election Commission.

On Saturday morning, June 26, 1971, Joe Sharp died suddenly as a result of a heart attack. He was 67. His unexpected death brought an abrupt end to an unparalleled research effort on the history of Sevier County and its citizens.

I was humbled when I was appointed Sevier County historian last year and felt inadequate to fill the shoes of a man whom I have so long admired. Joe Sharp will long be remembered for the remarkable role he played in preserving the history of Sevier County.

Carroll McMahan is the special projects facilitator for the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce and serves as Sevier County historian.

The Upland Chronicles series celebrates the heritage and past of Sevier County. If you have suggestions for future topics, would like to submit a column or have comments; please contact Carroll McMahan at 453-6411or cmcmahan@scoc.org.