Relic From a Bygone Era: Pressmen’s Home, Tennessee
Located in the hills of Eastern Tennessee, this abandoned complex was once home to the International Printing Pressmen and Assistants Union of North America. The bucolic setting was chosen for its remote location and proximity to a spring believed to offer health benefits.
The property was purchased in 1911, and for sixty-five years Pressmen’s Home offered training, healthcare, and leisure services to union members and their families.
But by the late 1960s union leadership decided the remote location was too far removed from the political eye, and in 1967 the headquarters was moved to Washington D.C. Pressmen’s Home spent the next two years winding down operations, and the buildings have been vacant ever since.
cover photo courtesy Michael Horton
At its peak the International Printing Pressmen and Assistants Union of North America (IPPAU) was the largest printing trade union in the world, with membership numbers eclipsing 125,000.
It was formed in 1889 by unhappy International Typographical Union (ITU) members looking to establish better representation in their craft.
In 1907 George L. Berry became president of then Cincinnati-based IPPAU (pictured below right).
An idyllic location in Eastern Tennessee was chosen, just 20 minutes from the closest town of Rogersville. The property was known as the Hale Springs Resort, a retreat established near a mineral spring in Hawkins County.
The resort had a handful of existing structures in place, but Berry had grand ambitions for the 2,700-acre property which he would call Pressmen’s Home. (map)
A tuberculosis sanatorium was added not far from the mineral springs, which at the time was believed to offer healing powers via the higher sulphur content of the spring water.
Mr. Berry later constructed a hotel for visiting Pressmen and their families; activity options included a baseball field, croquet, mini golf, shuffleboard, and tennis courts.
When constructed, Pressmen’s Home was off the grid and thus was required to be completely self-sufficient. As a result the complex had its own farms, water supply, and telephone system.
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Hydroelectric power was generated on-site and for decades also provided power to the surrounding area (until the Tennessee Valley Authority infrastructure improved.)
Explore the Pressmen’s Home power plant on Google Maps
WATCH: Pressmen’s Home video from 1964:
Move to D.C.
George Berry was an effective, but divisive leader of the International Printing Pressmen and Assistants Union. His vision led him to build an early-century pastoral retreat with a state-of-the-art training facility, but as technology improved and labor battles became more political the priorities started to shift. When Berry passed away in 1948, Pressmen’s Home lost its only benefactor.
New union leadership soured on Pressmen’s Home, which had been built to accommodate different standards of a bygone era. Advancements in printing had since created a new landscape for the industry and had rendered much of the operationally-expensive facility obsolete.
Political influence had become more important than training, and the tuberculosis sanatorium had been a financial drain – a situation made worse when medical advancements discovered little correlation between printing ink and the infectious disease.
In the 1960s the IPPAU was dealing with increasing pressure from competing unions, which had been successfully lobbying the Federal government in the nation’s capital. Convinced the location in rural Tennessee was pernicious to the union’s best interests, leaders decided to move the headquarters to D.C.
By the time the board of directors announced the move in 1966, the wheels to shut down Pressmen’s Home were already in motion.
original photos courtesy Tim Bass
The headquarters was moved to Washington D.C. the following year, and over the next two years operations at Pressmen’s Home wound down.
The retirement home was one of the last buildings at Pressmen’s Home to close in 1969, after financial problems led to a merger with another union.
Decline of the IPPAU
The move to Washington D.C. did not save the IPPAU; instead it hastened the union’s exit from the organized labor landscape. The Pressmen Union’s biggest asset was its care, recreation, and training facility in eastern Tennessee.
Without Pressmen’s Home, the IPPAU was just another in a long line of D.C.-based labor unions with little to offer members outside of political influence.
In the late 1960s a hurried merger with a communications union failed to keep membership numbers strong. By 1973 the IPPAU disappeared from the union registry when it merged with the International Stereotypers’, Electrotypers’, and Platemakers’ Union of North America (ISE&PU) to form the International Printing and Graphic Communications Union (IPGCU).
The unions hastened the demise of the Herald Tribune, the Mirror, the Journal American, and the World-Telegram in the 1960s. The death knell of pressmen unions rang louder in the 1970s and 80s with print media’s backlash to the strikes.
In 1975 the Washington Post broke a union when it replaced its striking pressmen; in 1985 the Chicago Tribune broke its pressmen’s union after a strike.
The IPGCU later merged with Graphic Arts International in 1983 to form the Graphic Communications International Union (GCIU). By this time not much of the original pressmen’s union remained.
Several attempts have been made to redevelop the site since the union left in 1969, but none have come to fruition. Over the years proposals for a tourist resort, a retirement community, and a state penitentiary have either failed to gain traction or secure financing.
In the 1970s the area was purchased by an investment group, renamed Camelot, and partially re-developed as a vacation community with tracts of land for vacation homes available for purchase. Amenities included landscaped grounds, a country club, and golf course.
Timeshare-like marketing incentives were used to sell the lots. Guests were treated to a weekend stay at the hotel and served warm prepared meals; in exchange guests would be asked to attend a property sales presentation.
Sales were slow. When those who did purchase discovered their mountain lots were located on steep unbuildable tracts, the lawsuits followed. Before long the developer declared bankruptcy and abandoned the project.
Over the years the finished country club and partially-completed golf course remained open off and on, albeit only seasonally. A new buyer in 2009 gave some hope for restoration, but as of 2014 development progress has yet to be seen.
Pressmen’s Home was added to the National Register of Historic Places on November 20th, 1985. However the register is mostly symbolic, merely offering tax incentives for rehabilitation. It does not afford protection from developers, Mother Nature, or vandals.
As a result, the original buildings of Pressmen’s Home – the ones which haven’t already burned to the ground by arson – have fallen into disrepair.
Without intervention the growth of foliage and water exposure will slowly tear down the remainder of the structures.
The seasonal golf course and country club are the only hint of activity in the area today. Visitors have reported the country club restaurant is open on occasion.
burned in 2009, repaired by 2012. (map)
• Administration Building: This building was originally the trade school when completed in 1912, and was reportedly a state-of-the-art facility. It housed both letter-press and offset-press technique training, as well as pre-press and bindery.
The school was attended by tradesmen from all over North America, eventually becoming the largest of its kind in the world.
One of Berry’s final contributions before his death in 1948 was the construction of a new trade school building in 1947.
This new trade school would become the iconic building of Pressmen’s Home, and relegated the original trade school to serve as the administration building.
While it served as the administration building it housed the offices of Union executives. The building also hosted the Accounting Department, the Service Bureau, membership records, and editorial offices.
When the Union left in 1969, the administration building was abandoned.
Explore the administration building on Google Maps
• Home Building: This building was already under construction when the Union purchased Hale Springs, and was completed in 1911. Initially this structure was lodging for visitors, visiting dignitaries, and international officers of the Union – but it earned its name later, in 1926, after a new hotel was completed.
click thumbnails to enlarge
The building’s apartments became “home” to the full-time residents and were well appointed, featuring kitchens, dining rooms, and even a shared pool room. This building also fell into disrepair after the Union left in 1969, and was unfortunately lost to an arson fire years later.
Explore former site of Home Building on Google Maps
Union President Berry defended his geographical selection by reasoning the climate of the mountains and the mineral springs would be beneficial to members stricken with the infectious disease.
Within five years of the Union purchasing the land, a sanatorium was opened.
Built in 1916, the Tuberculosis Sanatorium was fully staffed and offered union members the era’s best treatments available. Members received care at no charge; those who perished were interred at the Pressmen’s Home cemetery. (pictured below, courtesy Kim Denny)
As medical science later discovered, tuberculosis was not directly caused by ink printing. The Sanatorium operation was spun down and closed in 1961 before being demolished the following year.
An on-site quarry provided the sandstone which was used to create the building’s façade.
Nightly home-cooked meals were provided to guests using dairy and meat from Pressmen’s farms. Adjacent to the tile-floored lobby was a warmly-lit library which served as a reading room. A gas station sat next to the building; an ice cream shop behind.
This building was abandoned in 1969 when the union left and was later destroyed by arson in 1994. (Pictured in photo under “Today” section above.)
View the former site of the Hotel on Google Maps
• Memorial Chapel: Berry had the chapel added in 1926 as a memorial to Union members who died serving in World War I; in later years the non-denominational church expanded to include all who served in the military.
On August 30th, 1948, special memorial services were held at the chapel for the 169 members of the Pressmen’s Union killed during World War II.
A printing press monument sits in a garden just outside the chapel, which was believed at the time to be the only place of worship in the United States owned by a labor union.
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A mausoleum near the chapel holds the remains of founder and former union president George L. Berry. Both the chapel and mausoleum are still standing today.
Explore the memorial chapel building on Google Maps
• Trade School: This monolith ultimately became the iconic structure of Pressmen’s Home. The trade school building was finished in 1948 and housed over $500,000 (around $6.6M in 2014 dollars) in printing presses and other equipment.
It was here printing tradesmen received training on binding operations, color separation, gravure, ink mixing, letterpress, plate making, offset printing, and stripping operations.
It was abandoned after the union left the area in 1969. Today it stands vacant, its windows smashed by vandals. Fortunately the roof is still in place; once this succumbs to nature, decay will accelerate via water damage.
Pressmen Trade School: Then & Now
Explore the trade school building on Google Maps
The Natatorium was constructed near the 5-acre man-made lake which offered boating, camping, and fishing.
In addition the retreat offered croquet, horseback riding, horseshoes, and miniature golf.
• Farm Structures: Barns and farmhouses sat several hundred yards to the west of Pressman’s Home, down the road from the administration and trade school buildings. The barn (pictured at right) was added in 1940.
The farm buildings raised the chickens, cows, and pigs used to feed guests.
The stables housed the horses used for recreational activities and later became hay storage before an arson fire in August of 2009 burned it to the ground (remains on map here). The Pressmen’s Home dairy barn later became the club house of the now defunct Camelot Golf & Country Club (pictured below, courtesy Kim Denny).
Explore barn/clubhouse on Google Maps
• Thinking about visiting Pressmen’s Home? Think twice. While the structures are abandoned, the property is still privately owned and is occupied by a caretaker who is very interested in protecting the property.
For decades Pressmen’s Home has been plagued by arson and vandalism; don’t expect the caretaker to know you are there to take pictures and not start a fire.
The restaurant inside the country club of the golf course is accessible via public road and has been rumored to be open to the public on occasion.
Directions: From the South, take highway 11 East until you get to Rogersville. Turn left on 66 and travel just shy of 10 miles to 94. This is Pressmen’s Home Road – turn right and in another few miles you’ll arrive. From the North, take highway 11 West until you approach Rogersville. Turn right on 70 and travel about 8 miles until you reach a fork. Take a left onto 94, which turns into Pressmen’s Home Road. (map)
• Fan of supernatural activity? Tennessee Paranormal visited the historic site, read about their experience here.
• Thanks to Tim Bass and Harry W. Burton for the wealth of knowledge and original photos of Pressmen’s Home.
• Paulina Batich’s Pressmen’s Home: A Lost Memory video on Vimeo (courtesy reader Bobby Woods)
• Flickr set from Pinecrest5519’s November 2013 visit to Pressmen’s Home (courtesy reader Bobby Woods)