The three best known: Legion Pool, an annual carnival, and an Independence Day parade.
The Post was founded in 1919. In short order, the American Legion carnival came to be. Old articles from the Times News indicate the carnival did not always coincide with the Fourth of July. But it was a popular event and a successful fundraiser for the organization by the early 1930s.
In an article promoting the carnival in 1935, organizers announced the carnival (in September that year), at the request of the Sullivan County Health Department, would be open only to those over 16 years old. The midway was to feature a merry-go-round, chair swings, a “kiddie car ride,” and efforts were underway to get a “whip” ride, which would be a first for the area. Fireworks were to be limited to the afternoon and would all be of the “novelty variety,” taking the form “of various prehistoric and mammoth animals.” Another change: a new show to replace what had “customarily in the past” been a minstrel show.
The Post ran an advertisement outlining “Where last year’s carnival money went”:
Gross receipts for the carnival in 1934 were $7,680.19. Expenses totaled $4,301.49 — leaving a net profit of $3,378.70. Hammond Post 3 used that money for the following. “Lights for high school athletic field, $1,539.66; Christmas baskets for needy families, $888.23; direct relief to veterans and their families, $499.41; contribution to the Legion’s Boy Scout troop, $100; donation to the high school band, $50; and high school medal, $12.30. That left a balance of $289.10. And that couldn’t have been the only event or year that brought some reserve money to the post.
On June 12, 1937, the Legion Pool and Recreation Center was dedicated with a keynote speech from Gov. Gordon Browning, given to a crowd of several thousand people from East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. The post had built the $40,000 facility with funds it saved over the years. Others present included Sen. George L. Berry and Congressman B. Carroll Reece. Browning closed by saying he earnestly hoped that “all will accept the example of unselfish service exemplified by the American Legion.” Berry said Hammond Post 3 “engaged in civic work and the fostering of good will and community cooperation.” And that, he declared, “is the essence of democracy.”
Hammond Post 3 operated the pool two years before giving the recreation center and the land around it to the city.
A standout memory from the carnival’s heyday for many people is the drawing for a new car. That was going on as early as 1926 during the Legion’s Fourth of July celebration, but that year the Ford Touring Car was to be given away at a baseball game. At some point, the car raffle became the finale event at the carnival, which usually ended its annual run on parade day. In 1964, the winner got a 1964 Ford Galaxie and a trip to the World’s Fair in New York (all expenses paid for four people).
In 1969, the Post celebrated its 50th anniversary. S. Flem Dobyns was the sole survivor of the organization’s original 15 charter members, but he was prevented from attending due to illness. Nineteen members, including Dobyns, received recognition that night as 50-year veterans. An article from the event noted Hammond Post 3 had been among the “king-sized” posts in the nation, with membership of 2,000 or more since 1951. Its peak membership: 2,671.
J.H. Osborne covers Sullivan County government for the Times News. Email him at [email protected]