From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Anderson, John James [AKA James S. Anderson] [Anderson's Administrator v. Darland]

(born: 1872  -  died: 1919) 

Known as James S. Anderson in Kentucky, Dr. Anderson was a doctor of herbal medicine. He was described by his daughter, Irene Anderson Elder, as part black and part Choctaw Indian.

Dr. Anderson came to Somerset, KY, from Kingston, TN; he had also practiced in Chattanooga, where he met Irene's mother, a nurse named Mary Bowman, who was white. Mary gave birth to Irene in 1914 in a home for unwed mothers in Chattanooga.

Irene was reared by her maternal grandmother in Lenoir City, TN; she was Irene's protector. Several years later her grandmother died, and Irene went to live with a foster family.

Her father James had moved to Somerset, KY, not too long after Irene was born. In Kentucky, he was sometimes regarded as a Negro and at other times as a Choctaw Indian.

Anderson established a tuberculosis treatment clinic, Unity Hill Sanatorium, a three story structure with over 100 beds, 65 rooms, a parlor with a piano, and a grocery store in the basement. He came to be considered a wealthy man with $100,000 in the Somerset bank.

When Mary Bowman came down with tuberculosis, she came to Somerset to be a patient at Unity Hill for six months. She was still alive when Dr. James S. Anderson died of hypostatic pneumonia or was murdered November 19, 1919; it is still unclear exactly how he died, though pneumonia is given as the cause on his death certificate.

After Dr. Anderson's death, M. L. Jarvis was appointed curator of Anderson's estate. Unity Hill Sanatorium was sold to a group of businessmen who changed the operation to Watnon (or Watson) Sanatorium, a cancer treatment clinic with separate buildings for Negro patients. In 1924, the clinic had closed and the campus became the new location for the Somerset School of Business.

Irene Anderson Elder never benefited from her father's wealth.

This entry was submitted by Yvonne Giles. For more information see L. A. Kochtik, "Irene's journey: a good life and a bad life," Appalachian Life Magazine, issue 51 (February), pp. 6-8; "Cancer Sanatorium opened at Somerset, Ky.," The Somerset Journal, 1/30/1920, p. 8; and Anderson's Administrator v. Darland, Court of Appeals of Kentucky, 192 Ky. 624; 234 S.W. 205; 1921 Ky.

Additional information: James S. Anderson's birth name was John James Anderson; he was born in Reidville, SC, February 12, 1872 [source: 1880 U.S. Federal Census and Kentucky Death Certificate Registered #142]. He was the son of Henry and Dorcas Drummond Anderson. Dr. Anderson was the husband of Ann Mary Crumly; the couple married in 1897, filed for divorce in 1915; the divorce was final in 1918 [source: Hart and Dudek Family Tree and Kentucky Death Certificate Registered #142]. Dr. Anderson is buried in Maple Grove Cemetery in Harrodsburg, KY.

Kentucky County & Region

Read about Pulaski County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Mercer County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Kentucky Place (Town or City)

Read about Somerset, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Harrodsburg, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Item Relations

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Anderson, John James [AKA James S. Anderson] [Anderson's Administrator v. Darland],” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed September 27, 2023,

Last modified: 2021-01-21 18:53:00