Oral History Conversation with Mr. James Gheen, Life-long Westland Drive Resident
Interviewed by Paul James, Knoxville History Project on Monday February 11, 2019.
Contents: Westland Drive, Lowe’s Ferry, Concord, Gettysvue, Ebenezer, Nubbin Ridge Road, Wheat Shocking, Emory Church Road Swimming Hole, Westland Drive Iron Works, Bearden/Lucien Green Shooting Old Grace Church, Rocky Hill, Wright’s Ferry
Mr. James Gheen has lived on a 24-acre farm on Westland Drive all his life.
Westland Drive/Lowe’s Ferry
Paul – You’ve seen a lot of changes in Knoxville, particularly around here haven’t you?
Mr. Gheen – I remember that road was gravel.
Paul – Westland?
Mr. Gheen – Yeah, Westland.
Paul – What was it called when you were growing up?
Mr. Gheen – West Emory Road.
Paul – And before that it was Lowes Ferry, correct?
Mr. Gheen – Lowes Ferry? Above where you used to live, coming across that little neck of water, coming toward Rocky Hill, they are building houses there now. I think his name was John Wakefield, he owned the property going down to the ferry, and that was considered Lowe’s Ferry. I remember that old ferry and rode on it when I was a little boy.
Paul – So you grew up on your parent’s farm?
Mr. Gheen – I was born in that house. My Granddaddy owned from the edge of that subdivision all the way over the hill to the top of the next hill on this side and all back in here, it must have been about 250 acres. I’ve got what my daddy owned on this side of the road, I sold the other side. My daddy bought a house from his uncle, Uncle Jimmy Craig, and my granddaddy owned all around it.
Paul – Now was this area considered Concord back in those days?
Mr. Gheen – Concord Route, yeah. There was the old town, but half of it had to move when the lake rose and took over the town on this side of the railroad tracks.
Paul – What year would that have been? Mid ‘30s?
Mr. Gheen – I want to say it was ’41 or ’42 that the dam was finished and they shut the gates. My daddy was a mail carrier and when he would get home from his route, he would get me and my mother and take us down into Concord and we would watch the water come up out of the creeks, til it was what it is now. And like I said, half of Concord on this side is where the lake is now.
There were 3 grocery stores in Concord at the time. The Masonic Hall that is near the big cemetery used to be a school. My mother taught there in the 30’s. After the school closed they would show movies there once or twice a month. This was of course before they had theatres everywhere.
Paul – Your house here must have seemed quite far away from Concord back then.
Mr. Gheen – Yeah, it was 4 miles. My aunt and uncle – their house got taken by the flood – but it was right across from the stores, the buildings that are still there. My mother would take me down there and my cousins and I would go see a movie while she stayed and visited with her brother.
Paul – Was the racetrack in operation then? Or maybe that was before your time?
Mr. Gheen – No, but I remember my Granddaddy talking about it. Out there across from Concord Road where the old telephone office is on the corner, that is where the fairground was. Now, that was a little bit before my time. There was a blacksmith shop on the corner of First and Concord Hill. John Bowman, my granddaddy’s half-brother owned it.
Paul – Here is a picture of the old racetrack in Concord (in Historic Knoxville guidebook)
Mr. Gheen – Yeah, that’s at the fairground.
Paul – So it is the same place?
Mr. Gheen – Yeah. It had to be in the early 30’s that it went away, cause I didn’t start remembering til I was 4 or 5.
Paul – So it was just fields and farms around here when you grew up?
Mr. Gheen – Yeah, that was all a farm.
Paul – Was it the Getty’s farm?
Mr. Gheen – No, when I was a little boy, Earl Kirby farmed that farm. Now whether or not he owned it all, I don’t know, but he was the manager. He lived right down there on Coal(?) Road. If you went down the road and went straight across where the trees are now, that is where his house was. He had three boys and a girl: Kenneth, Marvin, Howard, and Druscilla. When I was a little boy, I saw Earl Kirby plow that hill barefoot, boy was he something. Later he moved to Strawberry Plains and worked for Jim Macabee. Jim Macabee was a friend of my mother’s daddy, who had a machine shop there, so I saw Earl a couple of times when my momma and daddy would take me to see my granddaddy. But then Mr. Kirby ended up on a little farm over there on Chert Pit. Road and that was the last I heard of him. I saw his son Kenneth every now and then cause he worked at X-10 when I did.
Paul – What is X-10 and how long were you there?
Mr. Gheen – ORNL. I went to work there on the first day of November, 1953 and retired the last day of 94 – 41 years.
Paul – So when you retired was about when the golf course was being built over here?
Mr. Gheen – Well the golf course was more around 2000.
Paul – Maybe it was completed then, because it used to be a horse farm, correct?
Mr. Gheen – Mr. Getty’s bought that farm when I was between 6 and 8 years old. And I remember when he built the big house. I remember going up there, right where the clubhouse is now, and they had dug a basement and I remember standing on the edge thinking that I’d never seen such a hole. And of course he built that nice home and then all those barns. Mr. Getty’s always had two men that lived on the place and mowed. One died and the other moved on, and then Mr. Getty’s died, and I mowed it. I mowed that probably the last couple of times it was ever mowed. And then, here came the houses and the school.
Paul – Someone once told me there were some caves on this property, do you know anything about that?
Mr. Gheen – Back in yonder.
Mrs. Gheen – Yeah, they are still there.
Paul – Are they on the golf course?
Mrs. Gheen – Well the biggest one is behind the clubhouse and they’ve boarded it up cause people got in there and got lost.
Paul – The reason I ask is that I managed IJAMS Nature Center for about 12 years and one of the caves has a rare salamander species that lives in it and supposedly they are out here as well.
Mr. Gheen – Now there was a cave right behind the shop where they keep all their landscaping equipment, and then there was another one further down towards what we call “the rise of the creek” and they just built a house over that one. This cave was a place about as big as this room and there was creek running through it and it just tapered down. When George was real young they put power down there and had lights in it. Of course, when they built the golf course they blocked them off. I remember the crew that came to build the golf course was from Minnesota. There was a big guy that ran the tractor – I got to know him because they were working right out there. He told me that one day he was back there moving dirt around in his big old tractor and all of a sudden one of the younger guys stuck his head up out of the cave and he almost fainted because it was right near where he was digging and it could have been bad.
Paul: The Ironworks on Ebenezer, do you know much about that? We were trying to find out about Sanford Day Street. We know it was the name of the Ironworks, but do you know if was near here?
Mr. Gheen: The road used to go and turn to the left, then go over the railroad tracks (it goes under now). There was a big two-story brick building right there on the corner. Mr. Lydge Parson ran that as a store with a small post office in the back corner.
Paul: Do you think it is feasible that it could have been Ebenezer Station at one time?
Mr. Gheen: Well, it might have been.
Paul: I’ve seen it labeled on an 1895 map.
Mr. Gheen: Well, it was Ebenezer right there, and Lydge owned that property. There was a gas pump in the back and I used to pump my gas there. Later he built a house right where “Pips Ironworks”(?) is now. This was in the late 40’s early 50’s, because he got sick and I was old enough to drive to the hospital to see him.
Then Walter Wise bought the property and built the iron place and then later “Picken Ironworks” (?) in Bearden, where the West Knox Glass Company is now or was. Do you know where the old Pike Theatre was?
Paul: Yes, in Homberg.
Mr. Gheen: Across the street about 2 buildings up is a two-story building. That’s where Mr. “Pipkin” started his iron shop. Later he moved it down next to Weisgarber and Northshore next to the railroad and that building is still down in there, behind the Taziki’s Restaurant. Later, after Mr. Pipkin died, Bill Benson, who was my first cousin, married Jean Pipkin. Then he and his brother-in-law Charlie Pipkin ran it and moved it down here and bought Lydge’s place. Now their two sons run it.
But that was Mr. Parsons place and he owned that 20 acres right in there that just got developed in the last 2 years or so. I remember when I was about 14 or 15, from Westland to the woods was all clear and he had a watermelon patch in there. I used to ride my pinto horse down there.
Paul: Where did you go to school? You said you graduated when?
Mr. Gheen: I graduated in 1950 from Farragut High School. I should have graduated in ’49, but I didn’t like school.
Paul: Back to the Ironworks, if you go a little north on Ebenezer, there is Statesview. Are you familiar with that old house, right on top of the hill?
Mr. Gheen: Yeah, me and my cousin shocked wheat in that field where the apartments are now.
Nubbin Ridge Road/Penrose Farm
Mr. Gheen: Right up on Nubbin Ridge Road…where Penrose Farm’s at…John Steele and his wife, they called her Heppy.
Mr. Gheen: They lived there.
Paul: They lived at the farm house?
Mr. Gheen: Right where the barn is, go on up on highest peak and it was a little log house sitting in there, there’s a big home there now.
Paul: Right, I know the lady who owns it.
Mr. Gheen: Yeah, but John Steele had been something. He was a pilot, he flew airplanes, but him and my daddy and my granddaddy (my daddy’s daddy) they were all big buddies. And I can remember going up there on Sunday afternoon and, they all sitting and talking and I’d be with my daddy and my granddaddy. And I remember that John Steele had bought two brand new 36 Fords, and they were a year or two old whenever I remember it, but he had one for his wife and one for him, just alike, 36 model Ford and they wasn’t over two years old or a year and a half old I’m sure, but that was, but my daddy, him and John were big friends. And John, they said flew under the Alcoa bridge.
Paul: In a plane?
Mr. Gheen: In a plane. He got into some trouble I’m satisfied, but I don’t know how much trouble or what, but anyhow. He was something now.
Paul: Now where would that bridge…
Mr. Gheen: But he owned that whole farm.
Paul: He did?
Mr. Gheen: He sure did, the Penrose Farm, he had it all.
Paul: Teenie Hayworth owns it now. Or did
Mr. Gheen: The lady that owns it sold here a while back didn’t she?
Paul: Well I think she’s just moved to Kiawah. Kiawah Island, South Carolina.
Mr. Gheen: Somebody else is running it.
Paul: Well the horse farm is being run by Maryville College for that last few years.
Mr. Gheen: Yeah, but she didn’t sell it to Maryville College, she sold it to somebody else, because my friend mows all that.
Paul: Oh does he?
Mr. Gheen: Yeah, George Beets, he’s got a tractor like mine with a big bet-wing, and he mows all that and has for a couple of years. For the lady, when Maryville College was, but somebody else, another lady is running it now.
Paul: Yeah I’m not sure then.
Mr. Gheen: This is something that just happened in the last four or five months.
Paul: Oh ok, yeah, I’ve not seen her for a while. I haven’t seen her for about a year or two.
Mr. Gheen: It’s different now than what it was six months ago.
Paul: When I first came to Knoxville, that lady, Teenie Hayworth, Christine Hayworth and her husband, Ray he was running the art museum. He got cancer and died about 2003.
Ms. Bailey was a kindly red-headed lady. She would stop there to get whatever she needed. On this side of Peters Road they cut all that field one time, it was in grain. Ms. Bailey came up there one morning and asked my mother if me and my cousin who was with me – would we shock wheat? They had cut it back with then and bind, put a string around. Of course, it would be that high. So what you did was, you stood them up. so many of them, then broke two or three over and made a shock.
They had a black man that lived over on Bluegrass Road. He did the yard. Did everything. We worked for him over in that field that day. Got it all shocked up and waited on the thresher. That was the end of us. But I knew Mr. and Ms. Bailey.
Now if you go up Mourfield Road, up the hill over to Bluegrass the farm that looks like its been there for a long time – has it?
Gheen: The Green boys. On Mourfield when you come down Bluegrass Road? Its on your right.
Paul Yes, sir.
James Gheen: That was Bud Green, his wife and three boys. JL, Sherman, and Larry. Now Ms. Green died. They lived in that little white house. And then Bud died. Now, the property then went to the three boys. Now JL lived across on the other side and he married a girl that worked in LeHardy’s Drug Store in Bearden at the bottom of the hill. She died 2 or 3 years ago then he died a couple of years ago. There’s just two boys left. Sherman lives on this side of the Bluegrass Road. Larry lives across the field up on the next road there. And his son runs the transmission place at the railroad at Northshore (might be Ebenezer?).
Emory Church Road Swimming Hole
Paul: Are there any other stories or landmarks in this immediate area that you might recall?
Mr. Gheen: Well, the old swimming hole was right down on Emory Church Road where they are building now, those big apartments. (This would be on the right heading towards Kingston Pike by the tight bend before getting to the railroad tracks.) Our old swimming hole was there. We’d slip down there in the afternoon and it was all underbrush, and all. We’d go swimming in the jay bird (naked). It was away from the road and the road was away to the left. And to the right of the road where the culvert is now was the old main swimming hole and it had been dammed up by rock and soli and made a place as wide as this living room here. Get in, swim down, and climb out. And do it again. But if a car went by, no one could see you. That was the old swimming hole. That water was cold, boy. It was cold.
Westland Drive Ironworks
Paul: My granddaddy on my mother’s side from St. Louis and he got sick and they came back and lived with us in that house up when I was about 4 years old. I could remember, he and him were buddies. After a year or so he got better. Well, he wanted to, he could do things. And my Daddy, in that garage down there (where the gas station is on Westland Drive near A.L. Lotts School) put a big drill, a small drill, and a lathe, a welling machine, and a little forge, and my Granddaddy started fixing farmer’s equipment. And it got so big, it kept getting bigger and bigger. Well, my Daddy finally gave him that corner down there where the store and he built a shop with a house on top. That took off, kept getting bigger and bigger. During the war my Granddaddy patented swing-stage scaffolding that wouldn’t fall – that used to put the outriggers on the building and lay bricks on the platform. You could crank it but it wouldn’t fall. He got Government contracts during the war (WWII). He patented two or three winches.
Then he got a big contract building anchor chains for ships in the war. And winches that had a gas motor on them and run it to let barrage balloons out. Believe it or not, on that piece of ground, in WWII, he worked 90 men. 30 on a shift. Right there where that store is. And I grew up in it. It was fenced off. It had two inspectors from Nashville. There was an inspector there all the time. You had to have a badge to get in. Cars parked everywhere. His name was JM Benson. Later he got hooked up with Sasken Derrick Company from Chicago and we built winches, they called them 110 winches….built 1000’s for them.
I started cleaning up down there when I was 13 years old on Fridays and on Saturday. Cleaned the lathes and got the shavings. These winches that we built for Sasken, when they set them up to drill brass, my Granddaddy said make some boxes to collect the brass bushing shavings and you can have it. So, if you keep those drills clean and make some boxes….So I made boxes and I knew they were going to drill brass for 2-3 and collect it and put it in a sack and sell it. I had a T Model Roadster I drove in first and second year high school. I had a 34 Ford in Junior and a Hudson in Senior Year. I bought my own cars and clothes.
Paul: Did you spend time in Bearden a lot when you were younger?
Mr. Gheen: That was the hang-out place. That Texaco Station where you go up Northshore. Where there’s an Indian restaurant now (Sitar). Then the next station was the Esso. That was the hangout place. And Kay’s Ice Cream – up there where the Pike Theater used to be (now Bennett Gallery).
Paul: Do you know where the Brickyard used to be?
Mr. Gheen: Right where the shopping center, where the S&S Cafeteria is. That was Knox Block Company. See the road used to go straight up and make a sharp right and go across there. It went by Highland Grill there and made a turn. It made two turns there. Then they cut Kingston Pike straight through there later. But there’s an old fire hall there on Old Kingston Pike across from Highland Grill. It was there in the 1940s because we used to go up to that restaurant and behind it was a drive-in, curb service. When we were kids, teens, in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s we used to hang out there and get a good hamburger.
Paul: Do you know anything about the old tourist motel up on Kingston Pike at about Lovell Road?
Mr. Gheen: Now back up on the hill before you get to Lovell Road– Hodge Camp was there. Bush Kick ran it. They had little cabins behind. But now when you go down there, Grassy Valley (Baptist) Church has been there as long as I can remember. On the other side of the road, Miss Elsie Lou Allen lived in the corner house and she was a first grade teacher at the Farragut Elementary from when time started til now. And beside it was her brother, Frank, and he had a turkey farm. Lou Allen’s Turkey Farm.
And then later Dr. Cobb came out of Concord and built a great big home where Costco is now. There was a hill and they took all the dirt out. Cobb built a great brick home years ago, I mean a big fancy home. I remember when Dr. Cobb came to Concord. Back up by Biker Rags (10609 Kingston Pike) was a two story house and they have a row of little cabins on the left down there. J.B. Ray was an electrician and contractor and after he died his wife still owned it. Back then you could rent it for a night or two nights, but later, this was a few years ago lived in them.
Lucien Green Shooting in Bearden
Two kids were way over there towards Bearden on this (west) end of Cherokee Country Club. They had a rifle and shot a bullet into the air which went over and hit a fellow on the golf course. He lay in a vegetable. And that was the end of him. He was a golfer. The bullet went a quarter of a mile or so yonder and hit him – Lucien Bailey. He was an insurance agent or something.
He was pretty wealthy and he owned both sides of the road when you go out Ebenezer Road and hit Peters Road. He owned all that land on both sides to the top of the hill. Lucien Bailey had a son and a daughter. The daughter married. And I remember Ms. Bailey come down to my uncle’s store, at the end of my Granddaddy’s iron shop right down there where that stores currently is (on Westland).
Old Grace Church on Northshore Drive
Paul: I have a picture I would like to show you. It’s a picture of a building down on Northshore, near the lake there…Bluegrass Lake.
Mr. James Fogelson (Mr. Gheen’s friend who was visiting): It was Jack Tedford who owned it. And he sold it to the Fort Loudon Yacht Club.
Paul: If you go all the way to end of Ebenezer and you dead-end into Northshore, we are talking about the water on the other side of the road?
Mr. Fogelson: Yes, turn right and go down to the left, Keller Bend. And then you run into Tedford.
Paul: I’m thinking that this church used to be down there somewhere. Do you recognize it at all? This photograph was taken in the early 1970s I think.
Mr. Gheen: I tell you the only place that could have been in the ‘70s – that’s the old Grace Church.
Paul: Where would that have been then?
Mr. Gheen: Go out Ebenezer to Northshore, turn left, go around a curve, go up a hill, and then right in that dip. The road goes up in there. That’s the old Grace Church.
Paul: There’s a church there now isn’t there?
Mr. Gheen: There ought to be pieces of the building.
Mr. Fogelson: That was an unusual looking church.
Mr. Gheen: You go up Northshore to the left and go around the curve and over the hill and when you get in the dip in the bottom – its right up in there. Stop when you get in the dip and its up in the woods. When Little Creek School Sanatorium and all came in here they sued to have Christmas programs and things in that little church. See, Little Creek is Seventh Day Adventists.
Fred Scott owned the land this side of Little Creek – all that land. Its subdivision now. And he was a Seventh Day Adventist. And they got that church. He kept it going. And after he died, his boys, Bud, Jack, Jim and Mary Charles (the girl) who still lives there. Just past where I’m telling you to stop. The gray house there. That’s Mary Charles Scott. And Jim lives in the next house and there’s a sign down on the sidewalk for sale. A new house. They’re the ones that wound up with it.
Paul: Now further along, east towards town, past Creekside Nursery, on the left is a small pool…a pond really. Do you know that?
Mr. Gheen: That was the Big Spring and people used to come and get there water there.
Paul: And there looks like there’s a house above it in the woods. It looks derelict now.
Mr. Gheen: It was a big white house. Jason Lewis lived there and he married Matt Kirby’s daughter. Matt Kirby lived down on Weisgarber up on the bank where the doctor’s office complex is now. Matt Kirby was supposed to be a millionaire when everybody else was paupers you know. But he owned a lot of that property on Northshore after you go by Little Creek and make that zig zag. He had a bunch of houses up there on both sides. Little shotgun houses. I knew a lot who lived in them and worked for my Graddaddy in the war.
Paul: Can you tell me anything about Rocky Hill?
Mr. Gheen: Wrights Ferry, Morrell, and Rocky Hill. On the right Seth Kelly had a grocery store there, straight across from where the Pilot Gas Station is. Mr. Persian had a store there. It wasn’t that far back, it was on the corner. Of course, down Wrights Ferry at the end Po (or Pope?) George lived down there and me and him were brothers-in-law. He just died about six months ago. He had a little shop down there and an airstrip.
You know where Scrambled Jakes is, right up on that hill, behind it was the school. And a piece of the building’s still up there.
And over on this side, where the shopping center is (Butler & Bailey), I remember that was a home and a farm and the guy was a road superintendent when I was… well this had to be in the late ‘40s and then Dave Burleson bought it and developed and it sure ain’t farmland now, only blacktop and housing. (KGIS lists David Burleson as owner of the development which was started in 1978). I’ve seen all that grow up.
And if you turn down Wrights Ferry, Mr. Burleson, where there’s the storage rental, but he had a house there. And he dug a well. And a nice little frame house. And I checked it, and it was mineral water. He bought him a Chevrolet Pick-up truck and put a rack it the back of it and put 5-gallon jugs in the back and make a fortune selling it.
Paul: What year would that have been?
Mr. Gheen: He started in the late ‘40s and went on through the ‘50s and into the ‘60s. Then when he dies that was the end of it and its now a storage building.
Wright’s Ferry/Lowe’s Ferry
Paul: So if you go to the end of Wright’s Ferry. Was there a Ferry at the end of that, back in your day?
Mr. Gheen: Wright’s Ferry goes on…if you’re on the other side of the lake and come back, Wright’s Ferry comes back through. But I don’t remember a ferry being there. Now one at Lowes’s Ferry, as a young boy, I went on it and on the other side of the river, Broad Acre Dairy used to be over there and if they had anything brake, they’d call my Granddaddy at the shop and he’s go over there he’d fix whatever they needed to be fixed. They had these little bottles of chocolate milk, and I’d always go with him, and the guy over there would give me a chocolate milk. Cos I was just six or seven years old. But they moved Broad Acre Dairy to Powell. And now its Weigel’s.
Paul: Now, back to the ferry. Was it a powered ferry, or steam-powered? How did it get from one side of the river to the other?
Mr. Gheen: It had a steel cable across it. I went across t for years until they built that new bridge.
Paul: When did Pellissippi Parkway go in, mid 90s?
Mr. Gheen: Something in there. Well, I tell you, in ’93 Jane and me went across it and it was dirt. But the bridge across the river was just done. But the road was in dirt. We won’t over there one Sunday afternoon and I stopped at the Nissan place on Alcoa Highway. But we were on Pellissippi but on the dirt, and before we left there we bought a new pickup truck. A ’93. An we rode horses out there when it was in dirt.
Paul: Well, that’s a nice stopping point. I appreciate your time today.
Mr. Gheen: I enjoyed talking with you.
Special thanks to the Aslan Foundation for programmatic support.