- [S74] Atchley Funeral Home Records, Volume IV, 1987-1999, Larry D. Fox, (Smoky Mountain Historical Society), 12 Nov 1998.
Blaine DeArnold "K. O." McMahan obituary
- [S106] The Mountain Press, 14 Feb 2011.
Upland Chronicles: Arnold McMahan key to development of Pittman Center
Arnold McMahan and his wife, Stella Howard McMahan.
By Carroll McMahan
A lifelong dream of Dr. John S. Burnett was fulfilled in 1919 when the Methodist Missions Board of Home Missions of Elmira, N.Y., provided funding to establish a Christian Community Center in the mountains of East Tennessee.
Earlier that year, Dr. Burnett spent most of his time in Sevier and Cocke counties scouting for property to build a community center which would include a school, medical clinic, post office, goodwill store, farm and orchards.
Dr. Eli Pittman joined Burnett in the search to find a suitable place to build the community center. While trekking through the mountains, they discovered a clearing of several acres at the confluence of Webb’s Creek and the middle prong of the Little Pigeon River. The two men decided they had found the perfect place.
Seeing as how Pittman was the foremost leader responsible for raising funds, Burnett named the project in honor of him.
Construction of Pittman Center Community Center provided employment opportunities for several local residents. Among them was a young World War 1 veteran, Arnold McMahan.
The story of Arnold McMahan and his involvement in development of Pittman Center Community Center is of particular interest to me, as I am his great–nephew. I am a grandson of George McMahan, one of Arnold’s younger brothers.
James Wilson De Arnold McMahan, who was called Arnold or Tubby, was born on Feb. 25, 1893. He was a son of Gilbert R. McMahan and Martha Elizabeth Manis “Eliza” McMahan. Arnold, along with two of his brothers, Henry and Dallas, was drafted into the Army during World War 1.
All three brothers were engaged in active combat. Arnold and Dallas returned to Sevier County, married and raised families. Sadly, Henry was killed in action on Sept. 29, 1918 while participating in some of the fiercest fighting of the war, on the Hindenburg Line in northern France.
Interestingly, Arnold’s hair was dark when he left for the Army, but, had turned snow white by the time he returned home at the age of 26.
Soon after Arnold’s return from the war, funding was secured and a location chosen for the Pittman Community Center. The next step was to clear the land and construct buildings.
Arnold, along with Walter Blalock, set up two saw mills, complete with splash dams, to provide the lumber for the Pittman Center project. One was located on Webb’s Creek above the Tunis Creek junction. The other was located on the Little Pigeon River, downstream from the site where the school was to be built.
Due to the rugged and steep terrain, ground log skidders were constructed to transport the logs to the banks of the creek and river. Horses and mules were used to transport the logs to the saw mill. The Blazer Brothers planed the lumber which was dried in an onsite kiln.
Other independent loggers were also contracted to supply lumber for the Pittman Center project, from hills and hollows surrounding the immediate area.
When the school opened in 1921, the only mode of transportation available for students, who lived a distance too far to walk, was horse drawn wagons. However, students would not always have to walk or ride to school on a horse drawn wagon. Though it took several years, Arnold McMahan built the first motor driven bus used to transport students to Pittman Center School. Using self taught engineering skills, he stripped everything from an old flat bed truck, including the cab, down to the chassis and built a substantial bus capable of seating several children on hand crafted benches.
Every morning, while school was in session, Arnold began the journey from his home in Richardson’s Cove, stopping frequently to pick up students as he made his way up the river. By the time he arrived at the school, he was hauling a full load of passengers. Arnold traversed unpaved roads and faced daily obstacles such as climbing the horseshoe bend above the Andy Manis Farm and fording swollen streams.
Other individuals, such as Roy McMahan, also came up with innovative ways to transport students to Pittman Center School. Roy purchased a 1930 model, 1 ½ ton Ford truck, built bench seats along the sides down the center and fastened a heavy tarpaulin for protection.
For several years Roy’s son, Fred O. McMahan, drove the truck to school while he was a student himself. Fred picked up students along the route from Richardson’s Cove and transported basketball teams to “away” games.
For the Christmas program at the Pittman Center Community Center, Arnold portrayed Santa Claus for many years. Due to his short stature and fleshy physique, he was a natural for the role. It was the first encounter with Santa Claus for many students and Arnold was richly rewarded with bright shining eyes and happy faces. His perfectly pitched “Ho-Ho-Ho!” completely captured the persona of jolly, old St. Nicholas.
Arnold McMahan married Stella Howard and they were the parents of three sons. All three were graduates of Pittman Center High. The oldest, Wade, served as councilman on the first Pigeon Forge City Council. Paul, along with his 7-year-old son, was killed in a tragic automobile accident at the age of 34. Blaine “K.O.” McMahan, the youngest, was elected to a seat on the Sevier County Board of Education before serving 24 years in the office of Sevier County Trustee.
One of Arnold’s sisters, Melinda McMahan Bohannon, was also employed on the Pittman Center campus. Although she was hearing impaired, Melinda was the housekeeper for Dr. Robert F. Thomas at the Baldwin Clinic.
Even when Sevier County began providing vehicles for the transportation of Pittman Center students, Arnold continued transporting school children in traditional school buses while also operating numerous other saw mills in the mountainous regions of East Tennessee. At one time, he traveled all the way to Leavenworth, Washington to work in the logging industry.
For a number of years, Arnold and his wife, Stella, owned and operated a little country store near their home in Richardson’s Cove. While Arnold was busy driving a school bus running a saw mill, Stella worked in the store.
Arnold McMahan passed away in 1963 at the age of 70. That same year, Pittman Center High School closed, along with Phi Beta Phi High School in Gatlinburg, and the new consolidated Gatlinburg-Pittman High School opened.
— Carroll McMahan is the special projects coordinator for the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce. This is part of the Upland Chronicles series, celebrating the heritage and past of Sevier County. If you have suggestions for future topics, would like to submit a column, or have comments, contact McMahan at 453-6411 or e-mail to email@example.com; or Ron Rader at 604-9161 or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- [S77] Rawlings Funeral Home Records 1911-1995, Larry D. Fox, (Smoky Mountain Historical Society), 18 Jul 1963.
McMahan, Jas W Arnold 70 Jul 18, 1963 buried Richardson Cove Cem R9
- [S73] Rawlings Funeral Home, Book 2, 18 Jul 1963.
Mc Mahan, James Wilson De Arnold Feb 25, 1893 Sevier Co. July 18, 1963
Father: Mc Mahan, G.R.
Mother: Manis, Eliza
Sons: Wade, Blaine
Cemetery: Richardsons Cove
Brothers: George, Earl
Sisters: Mrs. Manson Bohanan, Mrs. Robert King
- [S34] In the Shadow of the Smokies, Smoky Mountain Historical Society, (1993), 426.