Groner store is landmark in Historic Powell Station
Landmarks, we’ve got a few in and around Historic Powell Station.
There are old homes built before the Civil War, schools that go back a hundred years and newer monuments to such businesses as Weigel’s and DeRoyal and dearly departed Levi’s.
Not far away are the famous airplane filling station and Bell’s Campground.
There are none more meaningful downtown than the J.E. Groner & Co. store on Depot Street.
Common sense dictated the start in 1921. J.E. Groner was superintendent of the brick company in the good clay flat between Beaver Creek and Emory Road. He could see the practicality of a store. Workmen needed a place within walking distance to buy Coca-Colas and cigarettes and maybe some light bread and a few slices of bologna and cheese.
The growing neighborhood would buy real groceries and general merchandise, anything from dried beans to egg-beaters to sewing thread and oilcloth.
Groner, three May men (C.C., Guy and O.B.) and A.H. “Hobe” Rhodes were the founders. Rhodes managed the store for the first 43 years. His son, Alvin, was in charge for the final 24.
By today’s measurements, J.E. Groner & Co. was unique. It offered ESSO gasoline for newfangled Fords and horseshoe nails for those who plowed fields and still drove buggies.
“We sold everything,” declared Margaret Watson, 94, daughter of the original manager and sister of the next in line.
“I have in my home the chewing-tobacco cutter used to carve off individual purchases from a big block.”
Watson was store manager for a year between the death of her father and the return of her brother from another commercial venture in North Knoxville. She learned a lot in the relatively short time – about orders phoned in and delivered, about how to buy produce from local farmers and about credit sales.
“My father provided credit to regular customers who did not always have money to pay. He kept books in a file cabinet. Some made regular payments. Some paid when they could. Some never paid.”
Hobe Rhodes never seemed to worry too much about losses to poor people. Theft troubled him.
“He called me once to hurry to the store and become the chief of security,” said Watson. “Two old friends had entered the store, and Dad knew them to be thieves. I followed them around so closely, they got angry and left in a huff. Dad said good riddance.
“I repeated for him a classic line, with friends like that, you don’t need too many enemies.”
Watson remembers that Powell school often sent a runner to Groner’s to buy things for the office, a classroom or the lunchroom. She remembers the popular soda fountain near the front of the store where students gathered after school.
“It was not rebuilt after the fire. I think it was more effort than profit.”
Watson has a table in her living room that was once used for sorting
“There was a time when the post office was inside Groner’s store.”
She vividly recalls the big steps that led to the storage area upstairs.
“Dad ran up and down those steps a dozen times each day.”
Edd Miller lived at the corner of Spring and Commerce streets, near the store. He remembers it as a very friendly gathering place where retirees or those with an hour to spare would “hang out,” trade tall tales and maybe wait to see who got off the train.
Marjorie Shepherd said “yes, indeed,” her father, Moss Evans, loved the fellowship that permeated Groner’s store.
Miller recalled that the store issued metal tokens that were just as good as money. He thought maybe they were much like company script from coal-mining days.
“The tokens could have been rewards for regular customers. This was before green stamps.”
Miller says Alvin Rhodes had a separate register for token transactions. The register is supposedly collecting dust at the Museum of Appalachia.
With considerable sadness, the younger Rhodes closed the store at the end of September 1988. He felt surrounded by supermarkets. The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back was spotting a credit customer of Groner’s shopping at the White Store near Clinton Highway.
Rhodes invited customers and old friends to stop by the J.E. Groner & Co. store one last time to say goodbye. He said he was reasonably sure times were changing and that the community might not stay the same.
He was correct.
The store, in its third life, is now the creative development of Justin Bailey, Powell resident and fourth-generation real estate agent.
“Some of my fondest memories were of going to Groner’s with my grandfather during the summer.”
Bailey remembers Groner’s as part grocery store, part hardware store selling everything from a pack of nails to a Yoo-hoo.
Bailey is among the leaders in the restoration of Historic Powell Station. He bought the building and conducted a thorough rehab. It looks refreshed but retains rustic charm. Smaller businesses moved in. Lights glow.
Margaret Watson and several others are delighted. The landmark lives on.
J.E. Groner & Co. sold round steak for 99 cents a pound in a July 1970 ad from the files of Margaret Watson. Other prices:
■ Purex Bleach – gallon – 49 cents
■ Viva Towels – big roll – 33 cents
■ Bama Jelly – 18 ounce – 3 for 79 cents
■ Martha White self-rising meal – 5 pounds – 45 cents
■ Salt for pickling – 5 pound bag – 25 cents
■ Stokely Catsup – 14 ounce – 2 for 43 cents
His address is email@example.com.
Lynnus Gill returns to The Front Porch
If my fuzzy math is correct, the elementary and high schools that originated in historic Powell Station are 100 years old.
Dr. Chad Smith, high school principal, is already gearing up for an autumn celebration. He has ideas. He observed a similar festival in the Carter community.
Powell schools are not exactly as they were in 1916. In the beginning, they shared a two-story brick building facing Spring Street, atop the hill overlooking the spring, railroad depot and the brickyard.
Most of what I know about this came from comprehensive research by Dr. Joe Ben Moon, distinguished Powell alum. Some of what he learned about 1916 developments came from the dedication speech by Pearl Bishop Garrett. A copy of her remarks was placed in the cornerstone of the school.
An opening was a big deal. A large audience actually listened to speeches. The main address was reported by the Knoxville Journal. Alas, this happened before the Shopper News, or we would have been all over it.
It cost $15,000 to build three classrooms on the ground floor for elementary students and three upstairs for high school studies. A largo combo room served as library and study hall. Two sets of stairs (boys and girls) led to basement bathrooms. Now and then a supposedly misguided boy approached the wrong stairs. Girls giggled.
Knox County hired S.H. Thompson as the first principal, $1,200 annual salary plus $400 to rent a cottage. He never showed up. Thompson sent a telegram saying he had just returned from a thousand-mile trip and could not keep his appointment.
G.W. Morton took the job for $900. Glenmore Garrett was the other teacher. They had nine elementary students and 16 high schoolers at different levels.
Almost immediately the Powell Station Parents and Teachers Association organized. Parents were in the majority. Mrs. A.O. Child was the first president.
Next came the world flu epidemic. The school got sprayed with disinfectant to slow down the disease. Some of the girls held their noses.
World War I caused strain. The school stopped offering German as an elective language.
Four were in the first graduating class.
By 1923 historic Powell Station was in a growth spurt. B. Frank Evans was school principal. Mrs. Evans, Leonard Brickey and Juanita Bradley were on the faculty. Classrooms and steam heat were added. The community pledged $3,000 for an annex.
Electricity arrived in 1926. Before that, batteries provided night light.
In 1929, A.G. Haworth came from Carson-Newman College to teach science. He became coach of everything. He was chair of the community committee that lobbied for a gymnasium and chair of the building committee that oversaw eventual construction.
Nobody said much about women’s rights. The county declined to hire female teachers unless they were single or had been married more than one year. Mothers were not hired until children passed age 2. This was the primitive defense against interruption for pregnancy and child care.
H.J. Fowler joined the faculty in 1932. This was a happening. “Fessor” Fowler stayed 33 years. He taught agriculture and vocational skills. He loved and was loved by “his boys.” They all wanted to play on his Future Farmers of America basketball team.
Late in his career, Fowler spoiled his good-old-boy image. He emerged as teacher of physics.
Another famous name, Mildred Patterson, came in 1937. Amy Armstrong (later Moyers) arrived a year later.
Teachers took a pay cut during the Great Depression. After economic recovery, Knox County published a scale: $105 per month for one year of experience, an extra $5 for a master’s degree; $150 per month for 10 years of experience; $170 for 25. Teachers who endured me deserved far more.
The new high school and I arrived on Emory Road in the late 1940s. W.W. Morris was principal. Eleanor McCaskill and Floy Bell taught English.
At 15, I knew I could cut it.
Mr. Morris was big and boisterous and once tried to stuff me into a hall locker. My peers cheered him on. Actually, the principal was my friend. He provided golden opportunities. He allowed me to skip his history class and escape study hall to sell ads for the annual.
Persuading merchants and business leaders to part with their hard-earned funds was an enriching experience. I set a sales record and considered myself very successful. Only later did I understand that those good people supported school projects year after year. All I really did was not foul up the process.
Mrs. McCaskill was a disciplinarian. She once ordered me out of her classroom just for talking too much. She sent me to the principal’s office. He said “Not you again!”
He wouldn’t let me in. He made me sit outside his door in public humiliation – and listen to the World Series on my transistor radio, Yankees with Casey Stengel, Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio and Phil Rizzuto against the Dodgers.
Mr. Morris stopped by every inning or so to check on the score – as if he had a bet on the game.
Mrs. Bell was an enthusiastic booster – my 459 lines in the senior play made an impact.
Much later she admitted I was that teacher’s pet. She had some of the same phrases my grandmother used. One of her themes was unlimited potential. Long before the Nike commercial, she said “Just do it.”
There are a thousand other stories about the schools in historic Powell Station. Keep in mind that I am limited. I am not quite 100.(Got a story to share? Marvin West’s address is firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Defining Powell Station
Historic Powell Station was a train ride away
Powell Station is a historic place. My mother told me so.
Alma Oneta Bishop grew up in Heiskell and rode the train, in the late 1920s, for nine cents a day to high school at Powell Station.
Oneta admitted she was not one of the famous Bishops, unrelated to the Alexander Bishop family and the historic house built in 1793 and listed on the National Register at 7924 Bishop Road or Lane.
Mother did not come from great wealth. Her father worked on the railroad. He and she thought that nine-cent train ride was rather expensive day after day but it was a way out of the boonies to the big time, which meant electric lights and running water.
Oneta disembarked at the depot and hiked up Spring Street to the relatively new brick two-story school atop the hill. It had been built in 1916, six rooms and a combo library and study hall, at the shocking cost of $15,000. Donated materials and volunteer labor held the investment just under unbelievable.
There weren’t many students in her age group. She remembered high school classes were upstairs.
Mother had some interesting recollections. Cy Roberts and two other boy students went all the way to Knoxville, to the University of Tennessee, to the office of football coach Robert R. Neyland, knocked on his door and asked if he might have some very used and discarded equipment he would give them to start a team.
Neyland was impressed by the request. He donated.
A.G. Haworth became coach of Powell’s rag-tag 1929 team. It lost all three games. The practice field was a sorry site for sore eyes. Principal B. Frank Evans promised restless fans who knew almost nothing about football that improvement was just around the corner.
Sure enough, the Panthers of 1930 won three of eight. Players, relatives and friends removed many small boulders, ordinary rocks and pesky pebbles from the field. A few patches of grass appeared.
Professor Haworth got a raise. Because he had properly prepared at Carson-Newman College, he was earning a hefty $160 per month as a teacher and soon negotiated an additional $10 for coaching.
Mother remembered that the basketball team played outside, too, when it didn’t rain.
While she was in school, parents of active, athletic boys persuaded the Knox County school board to start thinking about building a gymnasium. The board offered $1,000 as a starter if the community would raise additional costs. This was big news.
Mother graduated in 1931. The gym and I came along a year or three later. The first time I saw it, I thought it looked like a barn. It was a wooden structure of medium height with a tin roof and pot-belly stoves at midcourt on each side. There wasn’t enough spare space at either end for a driving layup. One fellow tried one and went crashing out the door.
There was considerable indebtedness. Indeed, the school board eventually paid off the last $1,100 and provided several five-gallon buckets of paint. Powell people, including Mr. Haworth, the basketball coach, brushed it on. They left streaks.
Powell Station was there long before my mother. The community was so named in 1894. Before that, it was Powell’s Station. A mass movement to get rid of apostrophes led to the refinement in name. At its worst, it was never as bad as Hall’s or Halls Crossroads.
What eventually became the Powell area started to take shape in the late 1700s. Settlers petitioned the Continental Congress to open a southbound mail route. The North Carolina Territory approved the idea in 1788 and sent soldiers to cut and clear a wagon and coach road. The original outline was a worn path known as Tollunteeskee’s Trail.
Peter Avery directed the construction project and gave us Avery Trace which evolved into Emory Road.
John Menifee built a fort on Beaver Creek, near what is now the intersection of Emory Road and Clinton Highway. The fort was a trading post, gathering place and security center in case the local tribe (real live Cherokee Indians) got unruly about the intrusion on their hunting grounds. Best I can tell, the fort was tested only once. The Indians lost.
Early settlers had long guns and familiar surnames – Brown, Rhodes, Conner, Hendrix, Groner and Yarnell. Bell, Gill and Scarbro came just a little later.
Church groups met at the fort. Eventually it served as an inn. I cannot verify this but Andrew Jackson supposedly rested there once on a trip from Nashville to Washington. Because his wife was said to be related to the fort/inn owner, he likely had a discount coupon.
Alas and alas, Menifee’s station stop is long gone. One of many Weigel’s convenience stores is about where it used to be.
Historic Powell Station grew and grew. I was a very small factor. Beginning in 1940, I rode the yellow bus from Old Clinton Pike and the Bells Bridge community to school for 11 years. It would have been 12 except for my grandmother. Ella Bishop, having been a substitute teacher, taught me a bunch of stuff before first grade, things like reading, writing and arithmetic.
My first school teacher thought I was impatient with other students but tolerated my behavior. The worst that happened was I had to stand in the corner.
My second-grade teacher said I was a pain and sought relief. Principal Iris Johnson bumped me up to third grade at mid-year. That gave me something to do but put me at a considerable disadvantage. I was thereafter the youngest and, for a long time, smallest in the class. Girls were kind. They treated me as a trinket.
Historic Powell Station gained even more sophistication after World War II. We all thought the new high school down on Emory Road was state of the art.
Somebody with no appreciation for history, probably a Realtor thinking about enhanced property values, floated the idea of dropping “Station” from the community name. It happened in 1949.
We’re getting it back.
How we lost the ‘station’
When and why Powell Station became simply Powell is clouded in history. But Marvin West was just kidding about the Realtor (we think!)
“The History of Powell” by David Stidham tells this story: “The U.S. Postal Department asked Mrs. K.S. Cooper, Powell Postmistress, if the residents would like to change the name to Powell Station to Powell. A petition was signed by many of the people, and in November 1949 the name was legally changed to Powell.
– S. Clark
Recreating Historic Powell Station
Justin Bailey often creates this word picture: Imagine leaving your home, walking over to Powell Station Park, maybe catching a baseball game at the high school and then grabbing a cup of coffee or a snack before walking back home.
Powell has literally thousands of homes within walking distance of Powell High School. The traffic bypass called Powell Drive has removed thru-traffic from downtown, leaving a central area to re-invent.
That reinvention is the goal of Enhance Powell, a committee of the Powell Business and Professional Association. Our neighboring communities to the east (Halls) and west (Karns) would trade a lot for the amenities that Powell already has:
A town hub – the high school and the new community center – on a road with small shops and businesses.
Diverted thru-traffic and sidewalks already in place on Emory Road.
Powell Station Park – 12 acres of serenity (well, except for the splash pad) adjacent to the high school.
Top it off with the history of commerce and the old railroad station, and you’ve got the makings for Knox County’s most desirable place to live, outside of downtown Knoxville.
Enhance Powell is making it happen.
And Shopper News is here to talk about the past and future – every week – on the Historic Powell Station page. This writer will tackle weeks two and four – writing about current and future amenities. Sports guy Marvin West (voted most likely to succeed in the Powell High Class of 1951) will write on weeks one and three, capturing tales of the past.
We’re going to promote the businesses already here on Emory Road and Depot Street. We’re going to push for design standards for new businesses coming in. And we’re going to be known across Knox County as “the squeakiest wheel.”
From our May 11 Bearden Shopper, in a story by Wendy Smith, take a look at what happened just last week:
Gerald Green, MPC’s executive director, met with Bearden residents to discuss new zoning:
“The new zoning won’t require existing development to change. The new standards would only be applied to new development or significant redevelopment. The idea behind mixed use zoning requires a 10- to 20-year perspective, Green said.
“Don’t expect the entire corridor to change in a year or two.
“MPC planner Mike Reynolds presented excerpts of the draft code, which contains three uses. Office Mixed Use allows for office uses and housing, but with limited retail and service-related options. Neighborhood Mixed Use provides for residential, retail, service and commercial development within walking distance to neighborhoods on a limited footprint − currently five acres. Commercial Mixed Use is intended to provide for a variety of residential, retail, service and commercial uses.
“Each mixed use district will have a predetermined use and height, and some may have frontage requirements.”
Bearden residents, reacting to the rapid redevelopment of downtown, are asking MPC to design mixed use zones which combine retail, commercial and residential sections. This is the antithesis of “sprawl,” in which folks must jump in a car and drive for anything, and parents become chauffeurs until kids get their driver’s license.
Powell won’t ever be Bearden, but it can be Powell – a town where folks know their neighbors, support their businesses and build a better community. Let’s do it!
Building business in 2016 and beyond
Who says American free enterprise is dead?
Surely not Josh and Amanda Sellers. The young entrepreneurs represent the next generation of Powell business, and they’ve found a home in Powell’s oldest commercial building.
Amanda bought property at the corner of Commerce Road and Depot Street to relocate Clover Cottage, her 5-year business, from Fountain City. Her dad helped with restoration and she moved in, only to be flooded when a waterline broke. She had no idea the county was planning to close the railroad crossing at Commerce Road, severely reducing access to her store.
“Hallsdale Powell (utility) was easy to work with and the insurance covered our (inventory) loss,” Amanda says. Knox County is exploring ways to improve the intersection at Emory Road and Depot to support safe traffic flow. Amanda figures things will be OK. Besides, she’s got garments to design, trade shows to attend and sales to be made.
Sellars says more than 90 percent of her business is wholesale. She’s
already out of space to stock merchandise which she has made in China, shipped to Powell and repackaged for shipment across the Southeast. “One day a UPS truck pulled up and everything inside was for her,” said Josh.
Josh and Amanda have been married only since February. He seems amazed at her energy and drive. “She works me to death,” he grins.
Josh owns and operates Knox Graphix, located adjacent to Clover Cottage. His website and Facebook page show the range of his work. “Customize, customize, customize,” he says of his business plan. He’s bought most of his equipment off Craig’s List, including a new heat-based gadget that presses an image onto a shirt so that it can’t be felt. Josh prints team gear, T-shirts and posters on vinyl or canvas. He offers embroidery. He’s also creative.
When he heard Enhance Powell needed a logo for Historic Powell Station, he quickly produced examples. Bart Elkins at The Front Porch picked his favorite and put it on his door. Guess that’s how we got a logo.
Customers drop in to chat, especially about the building. “We’ve heard 50 million stories,” says Amanda. “Some say (the building) was a movie theater or a bathhouse or the train depot. We hear the movie theater most.”
Amanda studied business at UT, but she learned her craft by attending clothing trade shows with her grandmother and a neighbor. She’s been going since age 13.
Creativity is a key. Without legal protection, her designs are copied by Chinese vendors. “We have to stay a week and a half ahead,” she says. That, and labor costs, are reasons she cannot open a factory to produce her hair bows and baby clothes in Powell. Being a wholesaler, she has to turn out a lot of product in a short time. She accepts piracy as a cost of doing businesses and just creates new designs.
“We’re Southern, baby,” says Amanda, describing a camouflage onesie that sells well at gun shows.
She and her mom have visited the Chinese factories that make her products. Tales from that trip are for another column.
Drop by to see the building and meet Amanda and Josh Sellars. Their pace is warp speed, but the premise remains the same: produce and sell something people want to buy and you’ll succeed.
Visit the businesses in Historic Powell Station
- The Front Porch – 1509 W. Emory Rd. Phone – 865-859-9260
- Dixie Roofing – 1703 Depot St. Phone – 865-938-9880
- Clover Cottage – 1905 Depot St. Phone – 865-357-8953
- Crystal’s Automotive and Restoration – 1907 Depot St. Phone – 865-947-8785
- Affordable Car Care – 1744 W. Emory Rd. Phone – 865-859-0061
- Bojangles – 1920 W. Emory Rd. Phone – 865-859-9247
- Knox Gold Exchange – 7537 Brickyard Rd. Phone – 865-859-9414
- Frontier Communications – 2104 W. Emory Rd. Phone – 865-947-8211
- Weigel’s – 2119 W. Emory Rd. Phone – 865-938-9626
- Marathon – 2116 W. Emory Rd. Phone – 865-938-9699
- First Tennessee Bank – 2121 W. Emory Rd. Phone – 865-549-1780
- Vaughn Pharmacy – 2141 W. Emory Rd. Phone – 865-947-1581
- Domino’s – 2145 W. Emory Rd. Phone – 865-938-1717
- Dr. Steven Aungst, Chiropractor – 2149 W. Emory Rd. Phone – 865-938-6560
- Powell Pediatrics – 2157 W. Emory Rd. Phone – 865-938-8336
- Orange Pearl – 2161 W. Emory Rd. Phone – 865-947-5050
- Cash Express – 2301 W. Emory Rd. Phone – 865-938-2274
- Steamboat – 2307 W. Emory Rd. Phone – 865-938-4800
- Emory Animal Hospital – 2311 W. Emory Rd. Phone – 865-947-0437
- The Purple Leaf – 2305 W. Emory Rd. Phone – 865-938-7883
- Halftime Pizza – 2509 W. Emory Rd. Phone – 865-947-4253
- Bailey & Co. Real Estate – 2322 W. Emory Rd. Phone – 865-947-9000
- A-1 Finchum Heating & Cooling – 2502 W. Emory Rd. Phone – 865-963-3032
- Le Coop Salon – 2508 W. Emory Rd. Phone – 865-947-3222
- Kennedy Dentistry – 2529 W. Emory Rd. Phone – 865-947-2220
- Appliance Repair Service – 2303 W. Emory Rd. Phone – 865-947-4100
- Real Dry Cleaners – 2153 W. Emory Rd. Phone – 865-947-4907
- Powell Pet – 2309 W. Emory Rd. Phone – 865-947-0185
- Summit Medical Group – 2125 W. Emory Rd. Phone – 865-938-7517
- Community Chest of Knox County – 2107 W. Emory Rd. Phone – 865-938-3517
- Senior Marketing Group – 2100 W. Emory Rd. Phone – 865-947-7177
- Affordable and Unique Home Accents – 1904 W. Emory Rd. Phone – 865-859-9509
- Second Chance of North Knoxville – 1900 W. Emory Rd. Phone – 865-377-3344
- Karen’s Grooming – 1730 W. Emory Rd. Phone – 865-947-1085
- **Emory Barber Shop – 1708 W. Emory Rd. Phone – 865-938-1888
- KJ Cookies – 1738 W. Emory Rd. Phone – 865-659-2911
- Nature’s Fountain – 1719 Depot St. Phone – 865-859-0938
- Green Valley Nursery – 1716 W. Emory Rd. Phone – 865-947-5500
- All-N-1 Construction – 1715 Depot St. Phone – 865-978-7714
- Efficient Energy of Tennessee – 1707 Depot St. Phone – 865-947-3386
- Southern Sass Salon – 1615 W. Emory Rd. Phone – 865-640-7339