Rural Renewal

Check out some 19th-century farmhouse charm near Powell

8012 Heiskell Rd. | 2,386 sq. ft. | 3 bdrm/2 bath | + 1bdrm/1 bath guest cottage | $198,000

Contact: Jennifer Montgomery | Coldwell Banker: 693-1111

Before I ever started kindergarten, every fall featured a long car trip to Knoxville to take my much older brother to college. I can still remember sitting in the back of the station wagon, heading west from our suburban Hendersonville home as the magnificent old antebellum mansions that still dotted Gallatin Road slipped past. Hours of interstate boredom followed until, finally, we drove up the steep hill on 17th Street, my face pressed to the glass, gawking at the crazy assemblage of turrets and spires of Fort Sanders. What a contrast to the tame brick ranchers along our street back home (and that's not even accounting for the peeling paint and the beer cans in yards).

For a five-year-old, the fact that a neighborhood looks a little rundown may be meaningless. For his parents, particularly when they're looking to buy a home, it often means everything. After more than a decade and a half of promoting historic real estate in Knoxville's center city, I've certainly heard plenty of feedback from people who'd love to own a historic home, but are hesitant when it comes to living in the 'hood.

Therein lies the rub, of course. The vast majority of Knoxville and Knox County's older homes are within the center city. And, while center-city living has gotten much more desirable and even family friendly in many neighborhoods over the decade or so, I'll be the first to say it's not for everyone.

There are options, however. Knox County possesses a few places—mostly in former whistle stops like Old Concord, or along Spring Street in Powell—that combine a handful of historic homes with the small-town ambiance that suburban developers often strive to replicate.

Likewise, there are still a fair number of farmhouses out there, too. A rare few even rival those old plantation homes I remember from my Middle Tennessee childhood. Most are more modest, though, since East Tennessee wasn't cotton or tobacco country. But they can still be quite impressive.

Take this colonial revival-style home east of Powell, just off Emory Road. Although built in 1899, the corbels at the roofline, symmetrical massing, and front portico with balcony above feel awfully antebellum, as does the sinuously curved stair in the center hall. But, while the interior features hardwood floors, original elaborate woodwork, and multiple fireplaces with original mantels, the all-new kitchen is as packed with granite and stainless steel as any modern McMansion.