The following article was printed in Knoxville News Sentinel, Sunday, September 6, 1998, page B1.

Our Town
A continuing series on
Knoxville neighborhoods

Peaceful Powell

by Barbara Asbury
News-Sentinel projects editor

It's so peaceful. So placid.
And its people are so pleasant.

Ask Gail Ludlow. She's lived in Powell for more than 50 years. "I think the people are just as fine as they can be. You have different religions, and you have ethnic groups that have moved in, and it's just great," says Ludlow, a legal secretary and mainstay of the Powell High School Alumni Association.

The association was organized in 1920, four years after the school opened. It meets for dinner every April, attracting crowds from 100 to 350, she says. 'People come in from Florida, Georgia, Texas, California. If they can't come, they'll send the $1 for the scholarship fund."

That's the Hornsby J. Fowler scholarship established in 1964, the year Fowler retired after 33 years at PHS. He taught vocational agriculture until urbanization rendered that outdated, and he switched to physics and math.

Ludlow, when she was a schoolgirl, lived in "downtown" Powell, a stretch of a few blocks centered at the intersection of Emory and Brickyard roads.

"We'd get out and roller-skate all around downtown" she says.

Now she lives on Beaver Creek Drive, on a two-acre plot that was her grandfather's. Her 82-year-old mother, Helen Ludlow, still climbs on her riding mower to keep the place shipshape.

In Powell, the Ludlows are not unusual in holding onto their land. The community's roadways curve past scores of tidy, wide-porched houses resting comfortably on grassy acreage.

John and Rowena Brown's Brickyard Road home is on land that has been in the family for 200 years. Next-door is the house where John's father, Horace Houston Brown, grew up.

Horace Brown registered the farm with the state on Dec. 2, 1927, under the name of Angora Frog Farm. A hand-painted sign, done by John and Rowena's daughter-in-law, Kathy Brown, designates it thus today.

Horace Brown was a mail clerk on the L&N Railway, and he would spin tall-tales to the railroad workers about his angora frogs, his son says. He told how he started with just two pair and at the end of a year had 2,000; they would grow beautiful green hair about 3 inches long - longer and greener in wet weather - and he would sell the fur for $5 a pelt.

That sort of old-fashioned good humor is characteristic of Powell people.

Jim Bellamy, who began his career in education as a history teacher at Powell High, tells a tale about the Rev. Paul Hamilton Buckels, pastor of Glenwood Baptist Church in the 1940s.

"Rumor was," says Bellamy, "that when Rev Buckels died, he was buried standing up, facing the front door of the church ... so he could see who went in and out."

Mary Lou Ottinger, secretary and organist at Glenwood church, says she's heard that story, and while it's good for a chuckle, it is only partly true.

Buckles "does face the church," Ottinger says, "but he's lying down."

Glenwood Baptist published a church history in 1990 that contains a description of its members, written by T.C. Karns in 1900. It provides an insight into the people of Powell today.

The members of the "little country church .. in a quiet valley," Karns wrote, "make no boasts of great works - on the contrary they are patterns of humility and unobtrusiveness. They move along in a quiet way. Some persons have called them slow, and they are slow. They are not of the rushing and shouting kind."

Nita Buell, Powell High drama teacher, confirms Karns' assessment.

"We have been slow to change," she says. "I'm not sure whether it's a weakness or a strength."

Undoubtedly a strength, though, is "the cohesiveness of the community," Buell says. That is fostered, she believes, by the schools, which "have pulled everyone together."

Indeed, a schoolhouse was among the earliest gathering places in Powell. Browns School House, built between 1820 and 1830 on land donated by Maxwell and Isbel Brown, was used not only for educating the children but as a community center. Spelling matches for all ages were held there, as were revivals, "preachin's" and Sunday school.

The first meeting place for Powell settlers was established in 1787 by Revolutionary War veteran John Menifee sometimes spelled Manifee), who built a two story log structure near the present intersection of Emory Road and Clinton Highway. A Weigel's store stands there now, as does a marker placed by the Bonny Kate Daughters of the America Revolution.

Menifee's Fort provided not only a gathering place, but a haven from attacks by Indians and marauding outlaws.

There is no need for today's Powell residents to huddle inside a fortress, says Knox County Sheriff Tim Hutchison, who with his wife, Jan, and their daughters moved five years ago into Barrington subdivision, on Powell's western boundary.

Like any urban area (Powell is considered urban because of the presence of sewers and utilities), Hutchison says, Powell has its share of burglaries, auto thefts and domestic violence.

But, "overall, it is a very favorable place to live in, in that the violent crimes are almost always low every year," he says. In fact, Sheriff's Department records show no calls at all from Powell in 1997 for murder, rape or strongarm robbery.

While Powell's relative security is, certainly a plus, the Hutchisons list additional qualities. "It doesn't take very long to get to West Town or Knoxville Center or even downtown he says.

"The people," Jan says, "are so nice. They're just down to earth, and they're really friendly."

That friendliness was put to a severe test in the late 1960s and early '70s when Broadacre Dairy owners Lynn and Bill Wiegel decided to subdivide their pasture lands into a housing development with more than 900 home sites.

The Weigel family had lived in Powell since 1918, and now here they were, people said, handing out invitations to all sorts of new people with strange ideas, and the good Lord himself knew what would come of it.

"Yes, there was quite a bit of animosity toward Broadacres residents when they started moving in. And, yes, quite bit animosity toward the Weigels because they did subdivide it," says Allen Wheeler, a Powell resident since 1955.

Today those hard feelings have died out; people no longer snub Broadacres residents, and the Weigels are held in general high regard.

As for Wheeler, he is something of a community celebrity as a teacher of martial arts to Powell youngsters and adult law enforcement professionals.

"Powell is an awful good place to live," Wheeler says.

"We have good neighbors. When we moved out here you had the advantage of a nice rural place and a handy place to live too. Good transportation to get back and forth." (Powell then had a bus service into Knoxville.)

Now people whiz along Interstate 75 in their cars, and the rural landscape has yielded to not only subdivisions but businesses, such as the medical supplies firm DeRoyal Industries, Levi's Sportswear Division and Travis Meats Co., which, among other products turns out Krystal burgers.

"I'm finally glad in a way to see all the progress" Wheeler says, "and in another way, I hate to see it."

Lynn Weigel, 81, has similar feelings, even though his family certainly kept apace with progress by converting their home-delivery dairy business into a chain of Jug 'O Milk stores with drive-up windows and returnable jugs.

Nowadays, hosts of Knoxvillians start each morning with a stop at a Weigel's store for of cappuccino (the most successful new product ever offered by Weigel's, the company says).

Weigel's headquarters is still just of Emory Road, behind the Weigel family residences and alongside the huge, cross-style English dairy barn built in 1931.

"When we moved (to Powell)," Lynn Weigel says "'we didn't even have electricity. We had a Delco light system. Bought it from Woodruff's. It operated the lights and small appliances. You had to charge it about once a week."

He remembers the early of the Powell phone company "The wife of the owner would sometimes work the switchboard. You'd tell her who you want call, and she'd tell you if they weren't home."

Weigel takes pride in Broadacres, noting that it was the largest subdivision in the state. "right up till the 1980s and one of the first in Knox County with a central sewer system. Most of the people who bought houses in Broadacres - those "new" people who were looked on so suspidously by entrenched Powell-ites - turned out to be cut from the same cloth as the old-timers. Weigel says.

That, he says, is because they came from just over the ridge.

"They were Fountain City people. We sold many, many houses to Fountain City people who wanted to upgrade."

The newcomers may have had similar basic values, but they had differences, too, says Dennis Pratt, publisher of the Powell newspaper, The Post and husband of Wilma Pratt; proprietor of Powell tearoom, Teapots.

The Pratts moved to Powell from Inskip in 1974.

"Broadacres was just getting started says Dennis Pratt, "and there was very much an old Powell and a new Powell. Broadacres people were interested in changing things and doing things differently, and the people already here were not interested in changing."

The battle is over, though and he says its clear who won.

"Since the early '90s, new Powell has been in charge."

Henry, left, and Elmer Nickle built the Airplane Filling Station on Clinton Highway near Callahan Road in 1929 and opened for business the day the highway was opened. During World War II, when new tires were impossible to get, customers would not only fill up but also drop off tires to be repaired, says Earl Lambert, who worked at the landmark station in the 1950s. Elmer Nickle sold the station in the 1970s, and it later operated as a liquor store, says Lambert, where customers "refilled with something else." The vacant fuselage remains on the lot today.

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Updated 4/9/00
Copyright © 2000 Ron Evans