The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

Dry Hollow rezoning: Trade historic cultural landscape for a crammed subdivision? Expanded and updated again May 21.

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Dry Hollow before the bulldozersDry Hollow before the bulldozers devastated it. This rural area is zoned agricultural except for the old commercial/light industrial cluster and the church area at right. The barn at the end of the church parking lot and the trees in the project area are already gone! The trees can grow back over time if Knox county commissioners make a wise decision.  Synthetic virtual oblique aerial view generated by Atelier N / Hellbender Press

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May 20: included new “Six on Your Side” report from WATE TV Channel 6 News

Massive residential development planned without regard for beautiful farmland, historic context and rich wildlife habitat — what’s at stake?

SOUTH KNOX COUNTY — When you drive out of Knoxville on Chapman Highway toward Seymour and Sevierville, you see little more than ugly strip development. That bleakness is interrupted only when passing through narrow gaps in the ridges, which tend to focus your view even more on the heavy traffic. No notable pleasant vista until just before the county boundary at Shooks Gap! If you look to your left, across the slope of Berry Highland South Cemetery, you get a brief glimpse of Dry Hollow.

That is the only view I remember from my first drive on Chapman Highway after moving to East Tennessee in 1985. Then, we did not yet have so much urban sprawl that one hardly gets a feeling of having left Knoxville before crossing into Sevier County and momentarily passing through a corner of Blount County.

The wide bottom end of Dry Hollow, with the undulating backdrop of the Bays Mountain range, still has room to breathe. What caught my interest was a small, nicely clustered set of old, barn-like buildings. Their setting  reminded me of a couple of tobacco processing facilities I had seen elsewhere in rural locations, but these structures didn’t resemble those very much. I wondered what kind of rural business might have been, or still be, there.

Subdivision layout concept submitted by Thunder Mountain Properties, LLC.Subdivision layout concept submitted to Knoxville-Knox County Planning by Thunder Mountain Properties, LLC., for 225 “dwelling units.” As approved by the Planning Commission on Dec. 9, 2021, they would be permitted to pack it even more densely with 30 additional homes! Synthetic virtual oblique aerial view generated by Atelier N / Hellbender Press

Camel

Only much later did I overhear someone refer to this as the “old Camel factory.” But, there was no opportunity to ask questions. I assumed my earlier conclusion had been mistaken and that, indeed, the Camel brand had done some preprocessing of cigarettes here. I didn’t learn about the true history of the site until recently when I read the Loveday Springs historical maker.

Loveday Springs historical markerLoveday Springs historical marker  Courtesy Dawn Close

Camel Manufacturing was a company making tents and tarpaulins, founded 1919 by Benjamin Alleman Bower. Ben was a veteran of World War I. He had declared to be a farmer on his registration for the draft. When he returned, he became one of the most energetic, colorful and successful self-made Knoxville entrepreneurs of his generation.

Hardly a veteran since Vietnam hasn’t slept in a Camel tent

In unforgiving jungle and desert environments, Camel products made in East Tennessee have been crucial to their survival and combat readiness. Over the past half century, Camel supplied the U.S. military with more tents, rapidly deployable multi-purpose shelters and field hospitals than any other manufacturer.

For a good part of the last century, Camel was an important part of South Knox county’s rural economy. Camel offered flex-time to employees when their farms required more attention to seasonal crops or during irregular weather conditions. Camel also was a pioneer of the four-day work week.

Forerunner to Sam Walton

Bower’s on Market Square was the flagship department store of a chain of 16 low-price outlets in 5 southeastern states. It evolved into the SkyCity chain under Ben’s nephew Myron Peterson and modeled many of the operating practices and marketing concepts later adopted by Walmart. Walmart, however, grew more rapidly to the west of SkyCity’s territory, eventually displacing it after expanding to compete directly on its home turf.

(I am still trying to find out more about Ben Bower and his companies, which will be part of a follow-on article. Surprisingly, the East Tennessee History Center and Knox Heritage have next to nothing about him. I came across mentions of a “700 acre Bower farm on Sevierville Pike,” but not of its exact location, extent and history. If you know any specifics of it — or about Camel — This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Help in identifying descendants of the Loveday Springs Lovedays would also be appreciated.)

Twin Springs Farm

So far, we learned that Ben Bower named it Twin Springs Farm. The area in the crosshairs of the present subdivision project was probably the heartland of this farm. In the 1950s Camel’s factory became locally know as “The Factory on the Farm.”

Some of the original farmland was developed, decades ago already, for Holly Hills cemetery (now Berry Highland South memorial park) as well as for commercial and residential purposes on the south-west side of today’s Chapman Highway.

The Bowers did not mind neighborhood kids playing on their fields, even encouraging it. Over time, one of these became Bower Field Community Park. When cars got popular, the Bower family also donated land for a parking lot to Valley Grove Baptist Church.

In April 2021, Thunder Mountain Properties, LLC (TMP) acquired what had remained of Twin Springs Farm; a total of 390 acres. It includes Bower Field and a 27 acre tract opposite Bower Field, SW of Chapman Hwy. Some 120 acres are already zoned residential and within the urban growth boundary, including the SW tract and the one surrounding the old Bower family home, which overlooks Bower Field.

Knoxville to Sevierville stage coaches

Facing Thunder Mountain’s project area on the opposite side of Sevierville Pike is the site that once was the first relay stop for the mail stage coach between Knoxville and Sevierville.

Stage coachWe could not find any picture or illustration of the Knoxville-Sevierville stage coaches. However, this superb staged (no pun intended) glass-plate photograph from Vermont, taken around the turn of the twentieth century, shows a stage coach owned by the Smithsonian Institution that may have resembled our mail hack.   © Family of Porter C. Thayer

On Dec. 20, 1909 The Journal and Tribune of Knoxville wrote:

When it Disappears One of the Fastest Lines in the Country Will Have Gone.
“At five o’clock in the morning the stage leaves the Knoxville post office and promptly at 8:30 a.m. pulls up at the office of Uncle Sam in the other town. The trip of twenty-seven miles in three and one-half hours is quite a feat, especially when this record is kept up day in and day out.

“In order to make the time that this stage does, it is of course necessary to change teams and three relays of horses are used to get the stage in on time. The first change of horses is made at Loveday’s about eight miles out of Knoxville, while at Boyd’s Creek nine miles nearer Sevierville, the second change is made …”

Knoxville, Sevierville & Eastern Road (KSE, later called Smoky Mountain Railroad)

On the day before that Journal and Tribune article, the first stretch of the “Knoxville, Sevierville & Eastern Road” had been inaugurated with a train carrying 15 passengers to Revilo (near the Hodges Ferry Rd. intersection with Boyds Creek Hwy). The rest of the rails were already in place, but not yet fully adjusted for service.

Smoky Mountain train Knoxville Sevierville Eastern KSE Railway at Ford Valley Road Knox County TNKSE train at Ford Valley Road, Knox County TN  The Thompson Photograph Collection, Calvin M. McClung Historical Collection

On May 9, 1910 the Knoxville News-Sentinel wrote “Sevierville folks got mail this morning on their breakfast plates.
“Now by railroad in 1 hr 50 min leaving Knoxville at 5 a.m.”

Train at Sevierville station

Currently, the Sevierville Visitor Center showcases Remembering “The Old Slow & Easy” in Sevierville, a free exhibit that will be open until late spring of 2022.

Loveday Springs

For most early settlers, finding a reliable source of good drinking water was their highest priority in choosing a location for a homestead. 

The perennial artesian springs at this site feed Hines Creek, which is a contributory stream to the French Broad River. In the past it was sometimes called White Creek or Big Run Creek as well.

Bill Loveday decided to establish his livery stable and feed store here in 1826.

His parents and relatives came from Ireland. Supposedly it was at a clan picnic on a beautiful day when all decided to change their name to Loveday.

Livery business

Little detail about the livery and stage coach operations has been handed down from generation to generation of owners, except that [at least] in 1896 Loveday Springs was one of two sites to change horses for both the stage coach and mail hack from Knoxville to Sevierville. The stage ran twice a day and the mail hack once each day. The stage coach carried up to five passengers for $1 each way. For a round trip, that would cost you about $62 in today’s currency.

The exhausted horses had to be watered, fed, rubbed down and then cared for until their next shift. Keeping horses healthy and in top shape for their grueling work was a labor-intensive enterprise.

Bill Loveday [Jr.?] drove a nice buggy and had a big red collie that rode with him.

When he died, the home, livery stables and land went to six heirs. The heirs filed a bill in chancery court by petition to sell the estate. The Lovedays went to H.B. Waters, one of the most prominent general store owners in Sevierville, to bid on the place, which was worth $12,000 to $15,000. The proposal was for him to sell the home and split the profit with them. 

But then A.J. (Andy Graves, an old friend since grammar school) offered Waters $1,000 if he would not bid on the property because he felt he could buy the place for $6,000. And Waters told him, he would loan him the money. So, Graves bought the place from the Loveday heirs in 1903.

Senator Graves

A.J. Graves, an intelligent son, had learned to read and write at 16 years of age. He helped Samuel Gordon Heiskell get elected as mayor of Knoxville by controlling the black vote on Main Street. [Knoxville’s first new black school, Heiskell School, was named after him in 1897. He served 4 terms as mayor: 1896-97, 1900-01, 1906-07 and 1910-15.]

Mayor Heiskell helped Graves obtain a job as a University of Tennessee policeman, which gave him the opportunity to eventually earn a law degree. Graves went on to get elected as a Tennessee state senator. During World War I, he was a federal distributor of coal.

Senator Graves hosted political events and many parties, including annual Fourth of July celebrations under the mature shade trees on the grounds. A big patriotic celebration was announced in the Journal and Tribune of June 24, 1919 and an all-day picnic of the Junior Order of United American Mechanics with speeches by prominent officials, a large number of races and variety of contests for all ages was announced on July 3, 1922 in the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

Graves built the Greek Revival home in 1930. Greek Revival was an architectural movement of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The style was considered an expression of nationalism and civic virtue, free from ecclesiastical and aristocratic associations.

Street view of mansionLoveday Springs  Courtesy Dawn Close

Later owners

In 1932 Graves sold Loveday Springs to Ben Bower, who renovated and expanded it in 1948. He also hosted many parties, weddings and social functions with up to 500 people throughout the years.

In 1971, Charlie and Margie Hobbs bought the home and 50 adjoining acres from Bower. They raised two daughters here and developed Holly Hills Cemetery and Funeral Home on the acreage. Charlie Hobbs also developed many other memorial gardens, funeral homes, strip malls, and subdivisions in Kentucky, Georgia and Tennessee, including Holly Hills West in Knoxville and Smoky Mountain Memory Gardens in Pigeon Forge. The Hobbses always were most fond of the serene grounds and protected the wildlife habitat at Loveday Springs. In 2014, they moved to be closer to their daughter’s family. Recent owners, too, have been taking good care of the historic property, while staying out of the public limelight.

More about the stage coach operations

In the Knoxville Journal of Jan. 8, 1956 columnist Vic Weals filled in some of the stage coach history details that he heard from old H.B. Waters of Sevierville, who was very familiar with the stage coach operations around the turn of the century. Two regular stage coaches were operating on Sevierville Pike through Shooks Gap.

The Knoxville to Sevierville mail coach was said to be the fastest overland stage coach run anywhere in America. It was pulled by just one pair of horses always at full gallop. The first change of horses was “at the W. C. Loveday barn, now Ben Bower’s place” at Shooks Gap. ”Bill Ellis Barn at Boyds Creek” was the second relay. “Despite the stress some horses made it 10 years in service.”

The passenger stage left Sevierville at 6 a.m. It changed horses only once “at Trundle’s Crossroads” and took about 5 hours. It was frequented by more passengers. It may have been a bit more comfortable and Knoxville business people were thought to dislike getting up early enough to catch the morning run of the mail coach, or hack.

Both coaches returned to their respective origins in the late afternoon. “It took about 30 horses, either in harness or waiting at relay stations, to keep the two coaches moving.”

Tavern

Of course, like most stage stops, Loveday Springs also had a tavern.

The tavern gave passengers who had already walked or ridden to the station — some from hours away — a chance to refresh and rest before departure. Through-passengers could also grab a quick drink or refill their bottles. And the tavern was especially appreciated when everyone had to dismount because the coach required immediate repair or urgent preventive maintenance to assure it would keep up for the remainder of the journey.

Stage coach relayTavern at a stage coach relay. We don’t believe this illustration shows Loveday Springs, but it’s not impossible. It appeared in Knoxville papers around the turn of the 20th century in ads for a blood purifier.  Artist unknown

The grounds at Loveday Springs

The well-kept surroundings still feature old stonework, including a wellhead and a stone bridge over the headwaters of Hines Creek. Even the station bell is still here.

Red tailed hawk on bell DSC 2280Red-tailed hawk watching out from the old Loveday Springs station bell, which was used to call all hands when a stagecoach approached, to help water the horses and care for them. It was rung again to tell passengers it was time to remount the coach.  Courtesy Dawn Close

 

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Photographs courtesy of Dawn Close

Loveday Springs: The Grounds

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Loveday Springs: Wildlife

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The Magic of Twin Springs Farm — Destroyed Forever?

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The cave and the biodiversity values of the Dry Hollow area have not been thoroughly assessed

Neighbors on Dry Hollow Road have known about a “bat cave” on the property. Some say they have seen bats fly out of it. Several have crawled into it in their youth. Cave salamanders are also likely to inhabit the underground.

Three species of endangered and threatened bats have been native to this region. In fact, one of the most important hybernacula of the federally listed endangered Indiana bat is not very far from here. It is in White Oak Blowhole cave, in the Blount County section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Blount County along with Sevier County as well as Swain County on the North Carolina side are designated as a critical bat habitat area.

One can see Sevier County form here; some of its trees at least. For its boundary extends to the top of the Bays Mountains ridge line.

Merlin Tuttle, founder of Bat Conservation International, grew up in Knoxville

In 1959, when he was 17, Merlin heard of a bat cave in West Knoxville and convinced his father to go with him to find it and see what it was all about. He got intrigued by the docile nature of the grey bats that swarmed all around him to get to the exit hole and wondered where they were going. Soon he went looking for bat caves all around the area and as far as Kentucky.

He was one of the first to band bats and to actually find some he had banded in other caves. It changed what biologists thought they knew about bat migration. He became an ecologist and a world-renowned bat researcher. He discovered that bats are keystone species in many ecosystems and — by feeding on insects that damage crops or spread disease — are saving the world billions of dollars annually in crop losses and health care costs.


 

“I realized our lease would soon be terminated when bulldozers took down our cattle fence one morning” (with no warning given),

farmer Brad Russel said when addressing the Knoxville-Knox County Planning Commission on Dec. 9, 2021. His family has owned the adjacent farm for 80 years. For the last 20 years, they have been leasing the project area to graze their cattle here.

Dry Hollow destructionThis is where the developers started bulldozing across the stream and clearing the bat habitat, compacting the soil with very heavy equipment used to yank up trees including their roots and causing much erosion from the steep slopes in this section. The old buildings at left were part of “The Factory on the Farm” in the 20th century.

Because agricultural land is rapidly becoming a rarity in Knox County and the Russels could not lease any other pasture in the vicinity, they had to sell two-thirds of their herd and are now down to a mere eight cows. In today’s economy — even before this blow — their small operation was not a sustainable business without external jobs to make up for the costs of living and raising a family. That is actually true for most Knox County working farms today. Why do outside developers get so much better treatment in this county, than the hard working families who have lived here for generations?

Dry Hollow devastation

Courtesy Dawn Close & Dry Hollow residents

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Mudflows at Loveday Springs

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Thunder Mountain Properties (TMP) wants to build an urban type of neighborhood amidst a historic cultural landscape of regional and national significance

Hellbender Press reported on the rezoning request in December when the case came before the Knoxville-Knox County Planning Commission, which approved it.

The request for rezoning from Agricultural to Planned Residential defies the Knoxville-Knox County General Plan 2033 and the South Sector Plan — revised just ten years ago with much public input — as well as the now expired and not yet updated Growth Policy Plan for Knoxville, Farragut and Knox County.

The Tennessee Growth Policy Act (Public Chapter 1101) established the duty of every county “to manage growth and natural resources in a manner which reasonably minimizes detrimental impact to agricultural lands, forests, recreational areas and wildlife management areas.” It requires every county in Tennesse to prepare a growth policy plan, which must cover the entire county and all its constituent cities and towns. As to perceived future needs to extend growth boundaries, the act specifies that this may be done only “after taking into account all areas within the municipality’s current boundaries that can be used, reused or redeveloped to meet such needs.”

Knox County’s present General Plan asserts that it “represents — in words and pictures — a preferred future for Knoxville and Knox County.”

It was informed by Nine Counties. One Vision. This largest citizen initiated and managed public-participation and opinion-polling process ever conducted in the region compiled some 8,000 ideas and comments.

The General Plan’s content was determined and approved by six topical groups made up of volunteer Knox County residents who deliberated its details over many months. I was one of these volunteers. Planning staff coordinated the writing, illustration, production and public presentation of the plan. Finally, the Planning Commission, Knoxville City Council and Knox County Commission each adopted the plan in 2003.

The General Plan’s vision statement of what is hoped Knox County will be like in 2033 declares,“rural areas of the county have remained largely undeveloped. Large parcel farming, historic preservation, and the clustering of new land uses have prevented residential sprawl and helped to preserve the agrarian roots of Knox County.”

 

TMP’s request runs afoul of the fundamental intent of the General Plan to “Respect and Nurture Our Heritage Areas,” which proclaims as its first principle: “Prime agricultural land should be protected for continued farm use.”

South Sector Plan

The South Sector Plan, revised 2012 with much input from sector residents, deplores that Knox County’s “current agricultural (A) zone … does not protect farm land and other resources.”

It also mentions that “much of the hillside forested areas in Knox County are zoned Agriculture (A) and generally cannot be used for conventional farm purposes, like row crop production and pasturing.”

Among ways to improve on the current practice, it recommends a new “Large Lot Agricultural Zone” that mandates an increased minimum lot size for agricultural uses, to effectively preserve farmland.

Considering how that relates to Dry Hollow

Here we have a large lot that has been actively farmed since early settlement. It’s been proven to be highly suitable for pasturing and hay production.

Parts of it would also be ideal for community gardens or for community supported agriculture, which is trending now in Knox County and elsewhere.

If sincere about farmland protection, this is the right place to do it!

Doubly important because this historic cultural landscape is a heritage area which has witnessed significant activities of our county’s and our nation’s past.

Unused space

In this part of South Knox County unused land within the urban growth boundary and already zoned for residential development is no rarity. TMP owns more than 100 acres of it!

County Commission would be wise to deny the rezoning request — or at least defer a decision about it until the new general plan with refined zone definitions and new growth policies has been adopted to fully and intelligently address the conditions that have drastically changed over the past 20 years.

 588 vs 65 acresA citizen planner living in the area created this illustration from public information that is available at the Knoxville Geographic Information System. It shows that Thunder Mountain Properties, LLC. (TMP) would be permitted to cram 255 dwelling units into its parcels, which would be ten times the density of the surrounding community.

 

What it might look like

 

Wells Creek streetviewOf all existing subdivisions in Knox County, it appears this 4.3 DU/Acre one is most similar to what TMP may build according to the Planning Commission’s recommendation for approval by the County Commission. In fact, no other subdivision of detached single-family homes in Knox County is more densely packed than this one. TMP could break the record!  Identified by Knoxville-Knox County Planning’s Density Explorer

Wells Creek aerialThe Thunder Mountain subdivision in Dry Hollow would be nearly 5 times as large and at 4.5 DU/Acre even somewhat more densely crowded.  Knoxvillle-Knox County Planning Density Explorer

Wells Creek ground

 

As reported by Hellbender Press last year, neighbors rallied in opposition to this project. Many residents of South Knox and beyond supported them. They posted an unusually large number of public comments to the planning commission’s website and a petition against this development was signed by more than 600 supporters.

WBIR Channel 10News report on the neighborhood’s predicament following the Knoxville-KnoxCounty Planning Commission meeting on December 9, 2021.

After getting ignored by the planning commission the Dry Hollow Community group redoubled its efforts, hoping the Knox County Commission would be more understanding.

The case was scheduled for the county commission’s zoning session on January 24, 2022. However, on request of the developer who had fallen ill, this business was deferred, at short notice, to the February 22 commission meeting.

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Citizen turnout for the meeting was so great that it had to be moved from the Small Assembly Room to the Main Assembly Room. Among concerns expressed about the Thunder Mountain case was that the developer had made no attempt to communicate with the neighbors and what might be an acceptable compromise.

After extended deliberations, commissioner Carson Dailey charged ahead with a motion to approve the amendment to the sector plan as recommended by the planning commission (i.e. to permit up to 255 dwelling units). It appeared to fail for lack of any other commissioner willing to second, which resulted in exuberant applause by the citizenry in attendance.

But, the recording of the meeting (2-min. excerpt) shows that following a 5-sec. pause after the chair’s call for a second to the motion, commissioner Charles Busler was starting to say, “I’m going to second” as the clapping began. Several on the podium confirmed that. So Chair invited further discussion. Commissioner Larsen Jay already had his red light on and offered a substitute motion to postpone the case for 60 days. Commissioner Dasha Lundy instantly seconded. Dailey passed and Commission unanimously approved postponement until its April meeting. The recording of the entire meeting is available for watching through Knoxville Community Media.

At a meeting between one of the developers and representatives of the community, two individuals expressed their desire to purchase some of the acres for their own and the neighborhood’s use, but the developer was unwilling to accept an offer. They also wanted to negotiate for a lower density of dwelling units, but that was unacceptable to the developer too. So the neighborhood began to organize for a strong show of support at the next commission meeting.

However, when the agenda for the meeting was made public on April 21 it noted the status of the two related agenda items as “DEFER TO MAY AT APPLICANT’S REQUEST) (previously deferred from February to April at Commission’s request) (Previously deferred from January at applicant’s request).

Neighborhood resorts to help each other after contractor refuses to repair damages and TMP fails to make amends

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Hoping for many supporters. Hoping a compassionate County Commission will stand up for the quality of life of Knox County’s future generations and to honor their forebears.

 
 

Natural Heritage

Tree-covered ridges, pristine streams, woodlands and prime farmland are assets that are valued by Knox County residents. Citizens spoke about the conservation of these features time and again when developing this plan, noting that they form a natural heritage that should be protected or rehabilitated for the benefit of future generations.

Key proposals include:

• Designate ridge, stream and river corridors as special areas with unique environmental and scenic values, identifying areas to conserve and the development opportunities that are consistent with the values.

• Develop a Rural Heritage Strategy to preserve prime agricultural land, including agricultural protective zoning, conservation easements and transfer of development rights.

Excerpt from Knoxville-Knox County General Plan 2033

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