Fraser fir and Folsom Family’s roots go deep in local history

Published 9:13 am Monday, November 4, 2019

In November 1988, the idea of lighting the Fraser fir for a community Christmas tree was birthed in a meeting in the editor’s office at the Elizabethton STAR. The Fraser fir, located on the front lawn of the Carter County U-T Extension Office, was the ideal tree for the community Christmas tree. Quickly, the idea took root.

The STAR Editorial Department agreed to do the fundraising, the Elizabethton-Carter County Chamber of Commerce, at that time under the directorship of Helen Collins, agreed to take care of the money, and Keith Hart, Carter County Extension Agent, volunteered to oversee the project. He enlisted the help of his father-in-law, J.I. Cornett, to place the lights on the tree.

Approximately $2,700 was raised for the lights, which were purchased from Charles H. Rhotenberry of Bristol, who does the Christmas lights downtown. West Side school children purchased the star for the tree and East Side school children purchased a sign to go under the tree.

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Among the donations received was one from Doris Folsom of Oklahoma City, Okla., the great-granddaughter of Major Henderson Folsom, who lived in the white two-story house on E. Elk Ave., which is home to the Fraser fir. She wrote in a note with her donation, “My father Murray H. Folsom told me my great-grandfather planted two of the trees,” one on each side of the brick walkway. Unfortunately, one of the trees died.”

The fundraising kickoff was Sunday, Nov. 6, and on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 1988, the Fraser fir was lighted for the first time. And, it has become a Christmas tradition in Elizabethton.


But long before the stately old house became the offices of the Carter County U-T Extension Office, it was the home of Major Henderson Folsom, who built the two-story white clapboard house.

Major Folsom was the only commissioned officer from Carter County in the Confederate Army. He was with the Confederate States of America, serving in Company G of the 31st Tennessee Regiment commanded by General Vaughn. He was captured at Winchester, Va., Sept. 19, 1864. Major Folsom was a well-known lawyer and teacher of law.

Major Folsom, who was well-respected in Elizabethton, was the first Sunday School superintendent of the Southern Methodist Church and helped to erect the church building on Second St. (now the St. Thomas Episcopal Church).

The Major lived and worked in a town, which was predominantly Union, and who after the war continued to practice law and have good standing among the town’s residents.

The late Bobby Nave, local historian, shared in the 1980s that his good standing in the town was unique because there was a lot of animosity in the town between the two sides and many of the Confederates were run out of town during and after the war.

“Henderson had an unusual relationship with Capt. Dan Ellis. Ellis, who was one of the Union’s most decorated soldiers, punished most of the Confederates. He killed them and burned their homes, but, for some reason he protected Henderson Folsom. He had a lot of respect for him,” Nave explained at the time. He believed that Folsom and Ellis may have been boyhood friends.

Major Henderson Folsom was married to Sarah Berry on Sept. 30, 1855, and it was during this period that he purchased the two lots on Forge St., where he built a house around 1861. The tract of land on which he built his home were lots number 48 and 49 in the original town tract.

Major and Mrs. Folsom were the parents of John Folsom, who the 1880 census listed as an artist, but who later founded Folsom Printing Co. A daughter, Ida, married George Boren, who became a prominent lawyer in Elizabethton, and another daughter, Minnie, married Thomas Williams.

John Folsom was married to Amelia Stover, who was the daughter of Dr. Samuel Murray Stover, a surgeon in the Confederate Army.

John and Amelia were the parents of Matson Henderson Folsom, who took over the family printing business, and Lynn H. Folsom, who was a highly decorated soldier of the Elizabethton National Guard, and for whom the local VFW post was named.

Other children of John and Amelia Folsom were Kitty B., who was married to John Nave, who at one time served as Elizabethton Chief of Police; and Murray Folsom, who inherited the Folsom House.

Murray Folsom and his wife deeded the property to Carter County in 1976 with the provision that the house could not be sold or be moved to another location.

The early Folsoms are buried in the Green Hill Cemetery while several members of Major Folsom’s family, including the Major, are buried in the Highland Cemetery.

The Fraser fir’s history is not only unique, but so is the old house the big tree has called home all these years.

The tree is believed to be the largest Fraser fir in the state of Tennessee and the second largest in the nation, standing at 78 feet tall with a spread of 8 feet and 5 inches.

This year’s tree lighting will held Tuesday, Nov. 19, at 6 p.m. This year, members of the Downtown Business Association and the new Main Street organization will serve as honorary lighters.