Harrington Insurance’s Fountain City roots run deep

Jim Tumblin
History and Mysteries

The senior class in the 1924 Central High School yearbook (“The Sequoyah”) is a veritable honor roll of women and men who made a contribution to Fountain City’s history: Staley Hensley, Glenard Gentry, Fannie Mae Andrews, Alberta Ahler, Roy Blanc, Jeanette Andrews, Dorothy Vise, Roy Acuff and Theodore “Ted” Lowe, among others.

But another person who graduated that year will be honored on April 22 when the company he later co-owned, the Harrington Insurance Agency, will celebrate its 75th anniversary. Each senior class elected two classmates who were granted the B.U. Degree, an honor given to their most popular man and woman. Joe Harrington was the male honoree in 1924, sharing the honor with his female counterpart, Nettie Blanc.

But the story of the Harringtons and their roots in Fountain City starts much earlier than that. The Harringtons’ patriarch was Thomas R. Harrington Sr., whose Harrington Grocery Store occupied a place among buildings on the two sides of Broadway adjoining and fronting Fountain City Park. Among them were the Fountain City Bank, Sherman Wallace’s Barber Shop on the west side and the Masonic Lodge, Central Baptist Church and John I. Copeland’s garage far down the block on the east side. A lot of history was made in that block.

Prominent in both the grocery and insurance business, the Harringtons have contributed much to Fountain City’s history. Shown here are (from left) T.R. Harrington Jr., Minnie Harrington Johnson, T.R. Harrington Sr., Grace Harrington Abel, Joseph V. Harrington and John A. Harrington.   Photograph courtesy of Chloe A. Harrington
Prominent in both the grocery and insurance business, the Harringtons have contributed much to Fountain City’s history. Shown here are (from left) T.R. Harrington Jr., Minnie Harrington Johnson, T.R. Harrington Sr., Grace Harrington Abel, Joseph V. Harrington and John A. Harrington. Photograph courtesy of Chloe A. Harrington

Theodore R. Harrington Sr. (1873-1944) and Nancy Cox Harrington (1872-1931) were parents of five children: Minnie Mae “Minno,” Joseph V., Mary E., John A. and Thomas R. “T.R.” Harrington Jr.

T.R. Jr. (1912-1980) attended grade school at Fountain City Elementary. He then entered Knoxville High School because he wanted to play in its noteworthy band and graduated in 1931. In the midst of the Great Depression, he found work as a railroad engineer fulfilling his earliest ambition. Later he matriculated at the University of Tennessee, played as an accomplished percussionist in the band and graduated in 1937. Soon after graduation he was employed as an agent with the Tennessee Auto Insurance Co. at 717 S. Gay.

T.R. and Chloe Ault, now a prominent local artist and Central High School Wall of Fame recipient, were married on Dec. 31, 1938, at the home of his sister in Dayton, Tenn. T.R. now had a spouse to support and, while he was making plans to open his own agency, he continued working at TAIC. He founded the Harrington Insurance Agency in 1942.

HIA has occupied its own building at 3209 Garden Drive since 2009. From left are Amy Harrington Bible, Tom Harrington and Charles Harrington. Photo by Ruth White
HIA has occupied its own building at 3209 Garden Drive since 2009. From left are Amy Harrington Bible, Tom Harrington and Charles Harrington. Photo by Ruth White

The aforementioned older brother Joseph V. “Joe” Harrington (1902-1960) had worked with his father in the grocery and with his father-in-law, Barney T. Giddens, owner of B.T. Ice Co., since graduating from high school. Joe and Reita Giddens, a 1929 Central High School graduate, had been married by the iconic Rev. Dr. Fred F. Brown in Knoxville’s First Baptist Church on Jan. 1, 1931.

In 1943, he decided to join his brother at HIA and became what the City Directory calls a “Solicitor” there. The brothers soon moved to Suite 715-B at the Bank of Knoxville Building, and they would occupy various suites on the seventh floor for some 15 years.

T.R.’s sister Minnie “Minno” Harrington Johnson (1900-1965) also contributes to the story since her son, Robert “Bob” Johnson, joined the firm just after his time in the U.S. Army and his four years at the University of Tennessee. His uncles, T.R. and Joe, had asked him to join the firm and he did so in 1952. In 1964, Bob decided to found his own agency in Halls, and Bob Johnson Insurance Agency was formed. Like HIA, it has grown considerably, and Bob’s two sons, Doug and Ben, now manage the firm since Bob retired in 1995.

T.R. and Joe Harrington moved their business to historic Church Street in 1958, and HIA would choose locations with historic significance from that date forward. Their address would remain 511 Church for almost 20 years. They were near the location of Ross’ Flats, Christenberry Infirmary, Knoxville Optical Supply Co., Mann’s Mortuary, the Christian Science Reading Room and other historic businesses.

Harrington Insurance Agency, circa 1960: The HIA occupied this building at 511 Church St. for over 20 years. Photo courtesy of Amy H. Bible
Harrington Insurance Agency, circa 1960: The HIA occupied this building at 511 Church St. for over 20 years. Photo courtesy of Amy H. Bible

The partnership was fractured on Dec. 7, 1960, when at 58, Joseph V. Harrington died of a heart seizure. He, John I. Copeland, Roy Acuff, Buddy Kirby and others were avid fox hunters, and Joe had just gone out to feed his hunting dogs when the seizure occurred. He had been a member of the Fidelity Bible Class at Fountain City Methodist Church, a member of Bright Hope Lodge #557 and a longtime contributor to high school athletics and other local causes.

T.R.’s son, T.R. “Tom” Harrington III (CHS), joined the firm in 1961 after he graduated from East Tennessee State University in Business Administration. Tom took a special interest in accident claims and became expert in their settlement.

Only one year later, another son, Charles A. Harrington, graduated from the University of Tennessee, majoring in Insurance, and joined them. He took a course in Boston in 1965 and was awarded his CPCU (Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter) and provided HIA expertise in another facet of the general insurance industry. He later became president of the Great Smoky Mountain chapter of CPCU.

In 1978, the company moved to 603 N. Broadway near the historic site of the Central Market (now Emory Place) and the downtown terminal for the Fountain Head Railway (1890-1905). The block was also home to Edelen’s Furniture and Storage and Harb’s Carpets.

T.R. Harrington Jr. passed away at 68 on Oct. 12, 1980. He was a lifelong member of Fountain City Methodist Church, a member of Bright Hope Lodge and the Northside Kiwanis Club and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers. He had fulfilled his lifelong ambition when he served as a locomotive engineer before and during World War II when railroads were so important to the war effort.

In 1994, HIA was able to return to its family roots in Fountain City when it moved to 4883 N. Broadway in the Hill’s Shopping Center. The company moved to another historic site at 3209 Garden Drive where it built its own building just a few hundred yards from Savage Garden in 2009. It remains there today.

Charles and Tom Harrington continue to serve their community in many ways. Charles is a member of the board of Fountain City Town Hall, a 59-year member of the Northside Kiwanis Club and a past president and member of the adult choir at Fountain City United Methodist Church. He was percussionist for the Knoxville Symphony for several years and for the Tennessee Wind Symphony for 24 years.

Over the past 17 years Tom has served more than 20,000 hours as a volunteer interpreter at Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and was recently recognized with the Southeast Regional Enduring Service Award. In addition, he is a frequent and effective lecturer to religious and civic groups.

Charles Harrington’s daughter, Amy Harrington Bible, joined the firm in 1996 and purchased it in 2012. She has been designated as a “Dave Ramsey Endorsed Local Provider” for Property and Casualty Insurance. She is a lifelong resident of Fountain City and attends Fountain City United Methodist, where she sings in the choir, and serves on the Gresham Middle School Foundation Board. She and her husband, Allan Bible, have two daughters, Charley Rose and Della.

Harrington Insurance Agency invites its policyholders and other interested locals to the 75th anniversary celebration Saturday, April 22, from 1-4 p.m. in the Fountain City Lions Club Building (5345 N. Broadway). There will be light refreshments, several giveaways and an appreciation drawing.

Thanks to the McClung Historical Collection, Charles and Tom Harrington, Amy H. Bible and Bob Johnson for their assistance with the historic facts and dates.

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