Harmony and disharmony in and around Knox County’s only “historic village”
Developer Darby Campbell, on the patio of Lakeside Tavern.
IT’S OPEN, REALLY: Though no longer a gas station, the Lakeside Market is one of Concord’s oldest businesses.
CONCORD GOTHIC: Carole and Cran Montgomery, and their Victorian home. They strongly supported Concord’s historic overlay zoning.
OLD AND NEW: Across an inlet, Old Concord faces the new Marina at Concord Park.
by Jack Neely
Concord always looks serene, as sailboats depart the yacht club and ducks cavort in the water. But just lately, the community has found itself at the vortex of several different forces, historic preservation, recreation, and suburban development.
The once-quiet lakeside area is changing rapidly in the 21st century in ways that might have bewildered previous generations.
A couple of preconceptions about public and private spaces have lately bitten the dust in Concord. Knox County’s relatively few public parks have generally been assumed to be sacrosanct, off limits to private development. But here, a well-known hilltop playground in a public park is suddenly crowned with a large upscale restaurant lit at night with blue neon and surrounded with hundreds of expensive berths for expensive boats; the driveway around the public-owned peninsula is marked “Parking for Marina Tenants Only: Violators Will Be Towed.” Meanwhile, there’s been talk of a giant boathouse, and of a large new YMCA.
Another preconception that holds true in the rest of Knox County, but not necessarily in Concord, is that outside of city limits, the rights of private-property owners are nearly absolute. Historic zoning districts, in particular, are mostly unknown out here, hardly more than a dubious rumor. But today Concord is also the site of historic zoning, in which old houses are protected from both demolition and amendment—and new ones have to be built to resemble them.
In Concord, it all gets mixed up. Public land sometimes behaves like private land and vice versa. All the while, residential development is growing in the formerly rural area; the number of people living in southwest Knox County has quintupled in the last 30 years or so.New roads are cutting through old farmland; old roads are getting wider by the week.
Shannon Jackson is working at the cash register at one of the few places out here that hasn’t changed much, the old Lakeside Market on Concord Road. It has a Phillips 66 sign out front, but no pumps. They’ve been gone for 15 or 20 years. “We ought to take that sign down,” she says. What the place still is is a simple little country-style cinderblock convenience store where you can get pre-wrapped pimento cheese on white, or barbecue sandwiches—or a nutritious meal of beans with cornbread and onions for $1.99. For now, that ancient Southern staple survives even in suburban Concord. They also sell beer and fishing tackle. This may be the last of the Concord many Knoxvillians remember. Jackson’s grandfather, Red Stansberry, ran the place for years.
“There’s way too many houses in too small a space,” she says. “Maybe I can’t complain too much, because we feed the construction workers. But it’s sad to see all the open space filled up with really big houses. They say it’s progress. But at some point they’re going to run out of land—we’re just not producing any more of that .”
Land never seemed in short supply in Concord until fairly recently.
At Concord, Northshore road runs along an isthmus, almost an archipelago of peninsulas between flooded old Turkey Creek and Sinking Creek and the Ft. Loudoun reservoir and connected by narrow bridges almost like causeways. The topography can disorient drivers who didn’t look at a map first, as Northshore occasionally becomes a south shore.
A few generations of Knoxvillians have grown up associating the word Concord with the sound of splashing water. Many who are not yet very old knew Concord as a mostly rural area of cattle and barbed-wire fence posts atilt by the dusty road, perfectly quiet except for the crickets in the high grass. It was accessible by car and by day-camp bus, after a hot drive among miles of cowpastures.
For the last 60-odd years, Concord has been our waterfront, Knox County’s handiest public access to the lake, with boat ramps and swimming docks and lakefront picnic tables. And just across Northshore, there’s the old public swimming pool—a rarity in Knoxville—where the YMCA taught tens of thousands of Knoxvillians to swim.
Water is still the defining reality of Concord, the reason so many people want to move here. Everyone likes the water because it’s pretty; some like it a little bit extra because it’s profitable.
A visitor to old Concord Park who hasn’t been there in four or five years might be in for a start. The old grassy hill kids used to roll down after playing on “the big kids’ playground” on the top, isn’t there anymore. Instead, there’s a large restaurant called the Lakeside Tavern. The rustic old marina cafe is gone, and now the marina’s maybe five times as big as it used to be, with more than 400 covered slips.
At the end of a long pier over the lake is a sunny little marine gas station, with a little store that sells beer and snacks and ice. At the moment, there are two boats, both pleasure craft, gassing up at the dock. One is full of teenagers, boys and girls, six of them, every one of them with sun-bleached blond hair, laughing as they climb on the dock.
Jim Bisch, the manager, is proprietor today. He’s open 12 hours a day, 9-9, and says on a busy day they may gas up well over 100 boats. He says they get business from all over, but just the 431 boats that call the Concord Marina home account for a big chunk of their business.
“We’re full,” he says of the marina’s slips. “There’s a waiting list of about 40 boats. We get three calls a day” about vacancies. Boat slips accommodate boats up to 60 feet long, and rent from $200 to $485 per month. Bisch says Concord caters almost entirely to “pleasure craft.” The little store doesn’t sell bait or tackle.
“We’re not really a fishing marina,” Bisch says. “It was at one time. But we don’t cater to fishermen. We welcome them, but we don’t cater to them.”
A slender man with short gray hair and a goatee walks in wearing flip flops, followed by a collarless red dog that appears to be at least three-quarters fox.
“This is the best marina,” he says. “It’s clean. It’s nice and it’s clean.” The Concord Marina has “pump-out” facilities at each slip. One of the dirty secrets of pleasure boating is that many boats still dump raw sewage directly into the same lake people swim and ski in. Concord at least offers an option.
Bisch doesn’t affect modesty. “We keep it clean. See other marinas, you see why people want to be here.”
He sells the man three bags of ice. “You going out today?”
“No,” says the man, “I’m staying at the dock today.” Of the marina, he says, “It’s like a community. Everybody knows everybody, and respects everybody’s space.” He and his dog pad down the pier to shore, then out on another pier to a big boat.
It seems an appealing lifestyle, to be sure, and the marina definitely does cater to a strong demand. But some raise questions about whether it’s appropriate for Knox County Parks & Recreation to cater to a lifestyle unavailable to most taxpayers.
A sign clearly visible at the entrance states, under the well-known initials TVA, “This land was made available for Concord Park in 1949 for public use.”
Alexander Van Hook, a retired physics professor, has been a boater in the Concord area for most of the 40-plus years he has lived in West Knoxville. An admitted “unreconstructed New Dealer,” he believes TVA’s original mandate for the eminent-domain-obtained shoreline was that it be maintained for the public.
“The marina was run for many years in a low-key, simple fashion which, I think, filled that role very nicely,” he says. “The recent changes—including the restaurant—moved it upscale to the profit of the new managers—and I think to the detriment of the general public. Particularly those users low on the income scale. I perceive they are being forced out—they and everywhere else along the lake.”
From the inside, Lakeside Tavern’s a nice-looking place, in part because it’s tiered to maximize views of the water. Most of what you see is the outside.
Dinner entrees range from the $10.99 chicken tenders to the $29.99 lobster tail. For those marina customers who don’t want to walk up the hill, golf carts are available.
Knox County Parks & Recreation director Doug Bataille justifies the existence of this restaurant in a public park. “You find restaurants in a lot of city and county parks,” he says, mentioning for example a Calhoun’s in a Lenoir City park. “Most of the proposals for the new marina, all had a restaurant in some form or function.” There had long been a small cafe in the old marina. Though it was once a favorite of sports fishermen, in later years it fell into disrepair; Bataille says the county often considered condemning it for code violations.
Darby Campbell and his brother Ed had been running a marina called PJ’s across the river in Louisville when they responded to a county RFP for Concord Park. Campbell knew the place well, and knew it was in bad shape. “There were 50 to 75 slips, in various stages of dilapidation,” he says. “People were living in houseboats that didn’t have holding tanks; raw sewage was going into the lake.” After they got the job, a 45-year contract, he says, “Cleaning that up was a prideful experience. “We currently have the newest and nicest marina in the state,” he says.
Campbell had fond memories of the place, which he says was once owned by the sporting-goods concern Athletic House. “I used to go down to the marina and eat hamburgers in the little store. We wanted to keep that little store. But it was in such bad shape that we couldn’t do it.”
Campbell says they looked hard at other options before building on top of the hill. Many had assumed it would be a shoreline restaurant, like the old one had been; a couple of years ago, Campbell announced he was looking into the option of a floating restaurant. But that seemed logistically difficult, and he wanted to maximize the shoreline for marina construction. So he looked to the top of the hill.
It had its own problems. “The hill was somewhat daunting, how it was all rock. We did spend a blue fortune on the place,” nearly $4 million, he says. “I bet it’s the most expensive restaurant in Knoxville.”
Asked about whether he understands the objections to upscale restaurant development on what had been a public playground, he answers, “Well, yes and no. The public still has the pool, still has the Cove. If you can’t afford to eat there—I’m sorry, but we’ve got to get a return on our investment. We’re not trying to be a real exclusive place.”
Developer Darby Campbell, on the patio of Lakeside Tavern.
This land was all in private hands 70 years ago, most of it owned by area farmers. To some, the marina and restaurant development seems a slow-motion illustration of the eminent domain-for-private-development controversy.
Responding to complaints that parks once accessible to everybody shouldn’t be used for private upscale development, Bataille admits, “Certainly some people would describe it that way. But anybody who wants to pay can have access to it.” He mentions a similar deal the county has had for decades with the Concord Yacht Club, another concession that’s out of reach for most citizens, but technically on the same big piece of public property deeded to the county by TVA.
Bataille adds that the old playground was dysfunctional because the road bisected it, making a safety hazard, and adds that the newly developed Cove section about a mile down Northshore is more amenable to playground use.
Bataille says it’s a good deal for the county, based on a percentage of the business: “What we got is a decent percentage of the gross profits” he says, five percent of what Concord Marina and the Lakeside Tavern take in. The restaurant returns have yet to come in, but according to Bataille’s office the Marina alone earns about $70,000 per year for Knox County—suggesting the whole marina business alone collects over a million a year.
It’s still too early to know how well the restaurant will do in the long run, but Campbell says the restaurant and marina together should eventually earn the county $90,000-$125,000 a year.
If the citizens who came to public meetings about Concord Park’s fate a few years ago were agreeable to a restaurant of some sort, they weren’t as sanguine about another Campbell proposal, an enormous dry-stack boathouse, which many neighbors worried would be an oversized eyesore and a noise generator.
The county turned it down when it favored the restaurant, but Darby Campbell sounds like he still has hopes of making the boathouse work somehow.
“Not sure that’s gonna happen, but we have proposed it,” says Campbell, who makes it sound like an innovation which would make marina usage more affordable, with rental fees half or less what they’re charging now, effectively rendering his private development more public than it is now. “A lot more people could be accommodated,” he says. “Hopefully one day that’ll happen, and we’ll be able to appeal to a lot of people.”
However, Bataille says the dry-stack boathouse is a dead issue. The next big thing to happen to Concord Park may be a new 40,000-square-foot YMCA facility; it’ll be located on the site of the old swimming pool. Close to 60 years old, it’s suffering maintenance problems, and is not used nearly as much as it used to be. A newer public pool is located down the road at Carl Cowan Park.
“We’re still looking at that,” Bataille says, but he says there are issues to work out, including traffic. “Unfortunately you don’t know you’ve gone too far until you’ve gone too far.”
Taking much of the pressure off old Concord Park is new Concord Park, about a mile west on Northshore, better known as the Cove. It’s a paradisiacalplace, a flat spit of grassy land shaded by trees, with a lake swimming hole, climbing playground, beach-volleyball courts, a big gazebo, a stage for band concerts, a lazy bike trail. Most of it’s well-shaded by trees. On a Thursday afternoon there are maybe 60 people enjoying the park, joggers, walkers, kids on bikes, boys in the lake skimming frisbees across the surface, babysitters with small children, a couple of men grimly fishing on the bank. Dozens of ducks splash and chase each other in the water, as if under direct orders from Walt Disney.
By the parking lot is a boat-rental shop, a satellite of Riversports Outfitters, which has its main store on Sutherland Avenue. It rents kayaks and canoes for $20 for three hours or less, or $30 all day. It also sells some Concord essentials, flip flops, swimming goggles, swimsuits, T-shirts.
Like a much-smaller scale version of the marina, it’s a privately owned business operating in a public park. Today there’s just one guy working there, a Johnson Bible College student, and he’s not working very hard. There’s nobody in the store, and he’s sitting on the bench out front.
“We might rent 15 or 20 boats a day,” he says. “Or just two or three.” On this hot afternoon, though, he seems to be selling mostly soft drinks and ice cream. A woman with an English accent approaches and asks about a church picnic. The young proprietor says there’s a whole lot of that at the Cove.
The Cove is one of Knox County’s newest parks, developed only three years ago. It’s not a separate park of its own; it has been part of Concord Park since the 1940s. Originally, though, it was a “campground”—one that evolved, or devolved, into a sort of trailer park where suburban homesteaders were found to be living, very cheaply, on county land. Toward the end, some campers had cable hookups. Most agree the place looks much better now.
Henry David Thoreau famously boasted, “I have traveled a good deal in Concord.” He was talking about the Concord in Massachusetts, of course—but you can also travel a good deal in Concord, Tennessee.
Over the last 25 years, Concord has become central to the fastest-growing part of the metropolitan area, Southwest Knox County, also an ever-denser accumulation of cul-de-sac housing developments, what one neighbor contemptuously calls “lollypop subdivisions.” That’s the Concord of suburban cul-de-sacs, of columned McMansions and lakeside villas and neo-Gothic homes with aluminum siding, built mostly in the last 20 years, with lawns so green and smooth they look lonesome without a sand trap. This Concord is often mistaken for an eastern suburb of suburban Farragut.
Almost forgotten is the original Concord which, against all odds, is still there. It’s a safe bet that every day at the Lakeside Tavern, some new customer sits down at a window table, looks across the inlet that used to be Sinking Creek, and says, “What’s that over there?”
It looks like a little seaport town, with 19th- and early 20th-century buildings facing the water. Knox County’s only “historic village” was a Civil War-era industrial river town. It was once the second-largest town in Knox County. A large part of it was swallowed by rising water more than 60 years ago, but much of it is still there, looking like nothing else hereabouts. One of the old buildings that faces the water is still inscribed BANK.
The bank’s been gone for decades. The current occupant is the only retail business in Old Concord, the Olde Concord Gallery. The big old door squawks as you walk in. “That squeak makes it authentic,” says proprietor Janice Valentine.
The gallery is crowded with art that ranges from the middlebrow to the slightly eccentric, but Valentine does most of her business in framing.
Valentine has run the place for eight years. “It’s been really good for us,” she says. “I’m as busy as I want to stay.” For her, that’s not necessarily very busy. She says she has four or five customers a day. “I rarely have a day when not a customer comes in,” she says.
Other buildings bespeak changes and times long gone. Next door is one of the other buildings that intrigue people looking across the inlet from the park. It’s an unusual brick church with colorful glasswork now labeled the “Grace and Glory Fellowship Church and Outreach.” But an old marble block identifies it as the “Crichton Memorial Baptist Church 1928.”
There are several churches still operating in Old Concord—like Concord Presbyterian, its unusual copper steeple dome and spire something like an imperial German helmet. There are at least five churches within walking distance of each other—and by some accounts, Sunday morning’s the liveliest time of week here.
The Masonic cemetery is up the hill and contains hundreds of graves dating from the mid-1800s through recent years. Among them are some of the earliest citizens of Concord, a town laid out in an orderly street grid in 1854, a year when concord was a rather abstract theory in America. The nation was polarizing over the slavery issue. Concord, the ideal, had little to do with 1854 America, nor with Knox County in particular, which was at the time lapsing into murderous discord .
There are several stories of how Concord got the name. According to one published explanation, it was named by a homesick railroad man from for his hometown, Concord, New Hampshire. The year Concord, Tennessee was laid out was in fact the same year of the publication of a book by Henry David Thoreau called Walden —and the much-quoted line, “I have traveled a good deal in Concord.” That’s probably just an interesting coincidence.
Neighbors refer to Gene “Mac” Abel as the Village Elder. For more than half a century he has lived up on the hill in one of Concord’s older homes, an 1866 Victorian. He says, “I’m convinced that since the founder of Concord, Mr. [James] Rodgers, was a member of the old Concord Cumberland Presbyterian Church; he named it after his church.” That church, the first in the Knoxville area to represent the Tennessee-based Cumberland Presbytery, a revivalist schism of Presbyterianism, bore the name Concord as early as the 1820s. It was located a couple of miles east of what would become Concord, on the site of what’s now the West Emory Presbyterian Church.
The Tennessee Concordians chose to pronounce theirs a little differently from the New England Concords: the same as the small-c concord, with the second syllable’s o pronounced fully. To rhyme with discord .
Located near the Tennessee River between Turkey Creek and Sinking Creek, Concord was a community geographically agreeable to both farming and industry, especially after the East Tennessee and Georgia Railroad, the much-delayed first railroad in the region, was completed in 1855, the year after Concord’s founding. Running from Knoxville to Dalton, Ga., via Chattanooga, the ET&G would have a major effect on this sudden town by the river, one of the first towns in East Tennessee to get train service.
Soon, besides a train station, Concord had a post office and stores and that BANK and some industry, especially marble-milling businesses.
Concord boasted no historical claims to fame, yet. A naval commander named David Glasgow Farragut, little known then, could have had only foggy memories of his earliest years of life here, on the north bank of what was then called the Holston River. And few, if any, of the founders of Concord could have recalled the unusual Spanish-American Farragut family had operated a ferry across the river about a mile upriver from Concord.
During the Civil War, the Concord-area native assured Union control of the Gulf Coast. Another former Concord-area resident became an equally colorful figure for the other side. Few historians credit early stories that Confederate spy Belle Boyd was born in Concord, but it’s clear that she spent some of her youth here, staying with cousins.
The war itself glanced by Concord noisily on November 16, 1863, when Longstreet’s 12,000 Confederates failed to isolate a detachment of 5,000 Union men trying to return to Knoxville; the heaviest fighting occurred on the north side of Concord, near Concord Road and Kingston Pike.
By the 1880s, several marble-milling and -polishing companies were at work in Concord. It grew rapidly, and by 1887 Concord had surpassed older communities like Campbell’s Station and Powell’s Station to become the second-largest town in Knox County.
In 1880, about 100 students were enrolled in a private school that apparently had as a large part of its role the duty to teach teachers to teach. On an 1895 map, the Concord Private School is one of the area’s chief distinctions.
It also had a bank, a hotel, at least one saloon, Hugh Doolin’s Saloon, and a horse-racing track known in the early 20th century for harness racing.
It was never a very big place. The 10th district, which included both modern-day Farragut and Concord, was home to only 2,361 people in 1890; at the same time, more than 20,000 people lived in downtown Knoxville. But at one time Concord boasted the largest freight and passenger depot between Knoxville and Chattanooga.
Admiral Farragut apparently never visited his birthplace as an adult. His connection to the area was a curiosity only rarely mentioned by local historians. Little if anything was named for Farragut during his lifetime or for 30 years after his death. But in 1900, Admiral Dewey, a hero of the Spanish-American War and a Farragut idolator, resolved to make a pilgrimage to Farragut’s birthplace and was followed by a national-press junket which resulted in a grandiose riverboat flotilla from Knoxville to dedicate a marker at the hallowed spot on the banks of the river near Concord.
Not long after Dewey’s visit, a high school near Campbell Station took the name “Farragut,” and, just to the west of Concord, other honors followed. But Concord was still the boss.
By the early 20th century, Concord hosted a track for harness-racing, a sport otherwise not seen much around here. But the 20th century brought multiple insults to Concord. First, the remaining old marble mills, once the mainstay of Concord’s economy, closed during the Depression.
The wartime year 1944 brought radical change to Concord, as the newly constructed Fort Loudoun Dam created Fort Loudoun Lake. (Like “Farragut” earlier, “Fort Loudoun” was a forgotten historical association unknown to most locals.) The rising lake waters covered about a third of the old town, including the old depot. It also covered the road to Lenoir City, further isolating the town.
Concord residents say they divide the community’s history into B.L. and A.L. “There was Before the Lake, and After the Lake.”
Finally, and perhaps worst of all, people stopped taking the train. Commerce, which had shifted south to Concord from Kingston Pike when the train tracks came through in 1855, shifted back. Passenger and freight service to Concord ceased.
TVA established a park in Concord’s name as if to apologize.
The federal agency donated a total of 498 acres by eminent domain to establish Concord Park for public use. At the time, it was a rural, unfamiliar place, and people had to be told how to get there, via what was then known as Lowe’s Ferry Pike, not yet known as Northshore, or Wright’s Switch, not yet known as Westland Road. One breathless promotion promised “superb views of Fort Loudoun Lake and the Smokies—and all within 15 miles of the courthouse.” A bus line that left from City Hall had service to Concord Park.
In 1947, TVA built a public swimming pool on the park; it was originally supplied with “purified” lake water.
In 1949, TVA turned Concord Park over to Knox County, with the stipulation that it be used as a public park. In 1965, a report claimed that Concord Park drew 320,000 visitors a year, making it one of East Tennessee’s most popular parks—second only to the Great Smoky Mountains.
Farragut used to be in “Concord.” Today, subdivisions with names like Concord Hills are now in Farragut’s city limits, and some Old Concord residents express anxiety about being annexed someday by Farragut.
As “Concord” became best known to Knoxvillians as the name for a park, the old town of Concord, one-third submerged, was two-thirds forgotten. That suited some long-time residents well.
Toward the end of the last century, as encroaching suburban development lapped at the fringes of Old Concord, long-timers and newcomers who enjoyed the quiet townlike feel of the place developed an interest in preserving what remained of the original town.
By the 1980s, interest in Concord’s history prompted interest in preservation. By the 1990s, a local group called Old Concord Residents Association (OCRA) emerged to stand up against encroaching development. With membership open to all Farragut homeowners. It’s the closest thing Concord has to a local government.
Mac Abel, who has lived in Old Concord since soon after he came back from service in World War II, has been familiar with Concord since visiting relatives here in the 1920s, and remembers when Sinking Creek was still a creek.
He notes that Concord was long known for its “independent personality,” an ethic of “nobody’s gonna tell me what to do with my property.”
However, when a proposal came through the Metropolitan Planning Commission for restrictive, historic-zoning overlay Abel says, “I supported it wholeheartedly.”
So did most of his neighbors. It took a long time—”It was 18 years in the making,” one neighbor estimates of Concord’s historic-zoning effort, apparently referring to a National Historic Register designation earned in the 1980s.
And though it wasn’t unanimous—Old Concord is a raggedy thing of about 70 acres with edges frayed to exclude those property owners who couldn’t be persuaded—it finally passed, and was put into effect in October, 2001. “I wish it were unanimous,” says Abel. “But it’s working very well, and there’s a demand for real estate in Concord.” MPC preservation expert Ann Bennett says there’s already been more infill development in Concord than there’s been in other area historic zones. She also says Concord’s historic zoning is just a little more permissive than most of Knoxville’s, but is roughly equivalent to those of Edgewood/Park City.
The zoning prohibits buildings from being torn down or altered without consent from the Historic Zoning Commission, but also insists that new construction must be coherent with its block. Concord’s small lots aren’t to be combined to support a grandiose McMansion. Windows are to be taller and narrow (“trailer windows won’t work,” Bennett says), roofs are to be steeply pitched, and front porches are mandatory.
A leader of the effort was Bill Threlkeld, a TVA architect who worked closely with Bennett in establishing the overlay.
Threlkeld has been living in a 1914 house for 11 years. The sometime president of OCRA, he’s especially fond of his home. He speaks of the abundance of limestone in the foundations of Concord’s houses.
“Traffic’s minimal,” he says. “The narrow streets get you to slow down and know who you’re passing.” You know that partly because Concord’s not on the way to anywhere else. As several mention, you don’t go to Old Concord unless its your destination. In Concord, they somehow get the cul-de-sac effect without actual cul-de-sacs.
Several residents do wish there was a little something more there, in terms of business: a small cafe of some sort, or a grocery. Janice Valentine gets regular inquiries about her own building from prospective entrepreneurs, but she doesn’t have any room and says most of the owners of the old commercial buildings aren’t inclined to sell. There are offices in some of the old retail buildings, and some appear to be used partly for storage.
Doug Kirk is one of the younger homeowners in Concord; he and his dad, Don Kirk, run General Air Service, an air-conditioning concern which, with 14 employees, may be Old Concord’s biggest employer. They moved their business here from Kingston Pike in 1998. “The guys like working down here,” Don Kirk says, but admits, “We don’t have much walk-in trade.”Maybe that’s an understatement. A pickup and an SUV pass by on the little front street, which is misnamed Lake Ridge Drive. “This is about as much traffic as we get,” he says. “It’s like time has stood still. You see people walking down here, but nobody ever seems to be in a hurry.”
Occasionally UT walking classes come to Old Concord, and now and then an architecture or urban-design professor trailing a class. “You see artists down here quite a bit,” he says. Probably the biggest excitement comes when a film crew comes there to use the pastoral setting for a TV commercial. And once Concord stood in for Athens, Tennessee, when a filmmaker wanted to do a documentary about the bizarre postwar GI riot there. Concord looks more like 1946 Athens than Athens does.
The Kirks are from the area, but didn’t always live in Old Concord. “People decided living in the middle of a subdivision wasn’t such a great idea,” says the younger Kirk. “People love to be down here. You hear the church bells ring, and it’s just great.” He and his family live in an 1860s house, a house he bought from the previous owner only after promising not to tear it down.
Concord has made him a preservationist. He likes to imagine the people who lived there before. “My kids are hearing about Lance Armstrong in the same house where kids were once reading about Buffalo Bill and Sitting Bull.
“People started to realize it’s a protective thing, and they got on board. There were a few people who were still opposed to it. Most of them don’t live here anymore.”
Cran Montgomery and his wife, Carole, live in one of the newer homes in the district, an 1885 on Olive Street. The moved here five-and-a-half years ago, newcomers compared to the Abels, but it seemed like home. Like many West Knoxville-raised kids, Cran, who grew up on Westland Drive, learned to swim at the Concord Park pool.
Now a lawyer with the firm of Baker Worthington—not to mention the former ambassador to Oman—Cran Montgomery is happy to be here, and is grateful to those who have endeavored to “protect the village.” His wife, Carole, is from England.
“I really liked the old area,” she says of the day they bought their house in 1999. “It’s hidden away, and set apart. It’s a quiet, community-oriented place.”
Her only objection to historic zoning is perhaps unusual. “I think they’re too generous,” says Carole Montgomery. She previously lived in the Yorkshiredales of England, which has stricter historic zoning than anything in Knox County.
Because the historic district, as defined, took in some unimproved land, there has already been new development accomplished under Concord’s HZ guidelines.
“We’ve always taken the attitude that all houses were new at one time,” says Threlkeld. One difference between Concord and other historic districts is the houses’ diversity. “We have houses built in the 1970s, down to the 1850s and ‘60s.” Concord houses are both newer and older than those of some of urban Knoxville’s historic districts.
The Turnberry subdivision, a tight little knot of two-story houses built within the overlay, had mixed reviews. Admitting it’s not perfect, Bennett is impressed with the builder’s ability to follow one guideline, no garage doors facing the street.
“The new houses have front porches,” says Threlkeld. “They have some character to them.” Threlkeld, a longtime Knoxvillian, may have developed realistic ideas of what to expect in West Knoxville.
Carole Montgomery has tougher standards. “They don’t really look like old houses,” says Carole Montgomery. “They’re very fiddley ,” she says. She explains it’s English for fussy . “Sort of bits of little gables here and there that are just cosmetic.”
It may not be surprising that much of the objection to recent developments in Concord Park came from Old Concord.
“I’d like to change the law so the public parks would remain for the public,” says Carole Montgomery, who wishes the restaurant developed had been a more modest project, perhaps along the lines of what had been there before.
“It was a public park, and the community was pretty happy with the green open space over there,” says Bill Threlkeld.
Threlkeld confesses, “I have not avoided eating there, to be honest. The food’s pretty good, and it’s a great place to sit out on the balcony and look at Old Concord.” Abel admits he’s been there a few times, too.
But not Carole Montgomery. “I won’t go to the new one, I’m afraid,” she says, as politely as she can.
Her husband, the former ambassador, is a little less diplomatic. “What they’ve done is created a commercial enterprise, with that damn restaurant, in a public park,” he says.
In Old Concord, there seems to be more unified opposition to the boathouse, and most seem okay with the proposed YMCA. “They overwhelmingly support the YMCA,” says Threlkeld of OCRA’s membership, “especially as opposed to the other development.”
“One of the reasons Concord Park matters so much,” says Cran Montgomery, “is that folks are still living in Concord who remember when that land belonged to family or friends.”
Concord’s kind of the Switzerland of area utility service. Lenoir City Utilities Board handles their electricity; Knoxville Utilities Board provides their gas; and the First Utility District provides water and sewerage. Demand for everything is rising, and Concordites seem satisfied that they were able to prevail on First Utility to amend plans for a large sewer station near the south end of Concord Road.
To some, the problem is not the sewage, but the proliferation of human beings who produce it.
“People complain about the sewer, but we need it,” says Shannon Jackson, whose store is near the proposed site. “They complain about the smell, but it’s our mess, folks. Where else should we put it?”
“All these new homes and subdivisions they’re building by the shipload down here, we don’t have the roads and schools and networking to handle it. Progress is outpacing the reality. We’re outpacing ourselves, and that worries me.”
There are other changes afoot. Much of Concord Road, an old two-lane, is being widened. On old Concord Road in front of the Lakeside Market, there’s often a traffic jam, as 40 or more drivers in a line wait to turn onto Northshore, where speeding traffic discourages the driver at the top of the pile.
Bataille says they’re going to construct something rarely seen in Knoxville, a roundabout. Used in Europe and California (and one obscure spot in Fourth and Gill), those allow traffic to keep moving in a circular fashion. Bataille says an added benefit will be that it will slow down traffic on Northshore.
Threlkeld has some anxiety about the day Concord will be annexed by Farragut. “Old Concord is in Farragut’s growth plan,” he says. “We’re definitely going to be in Farragut.” He adds that to do so, Farragut would have to create a historic-zoning commission, which it currently lacks; Farragut does not yet have much of a track record concerning preservation.
It’s a whole lot to digest, in this old neighborhood, more surprising than another subdivision tucked into another old cowpasture.
On the eastern fringe of the more liberal definitions of Concord, but barely within Knoxville’s southwestern city limits, is the rapidly developing Pellissippi Parkway area of Northshore. Much of it’s developing in the usual reckless interstate-exit style of chain stores behind big parking lots, but under construction there is a new town-style development calling for 700 housing units in a mixture of apartments, townhouses, and single-family homes, built across a 141-acre site. Called Northshore Town Center, it’s an upscale development for upscale families, but it’s nonetheless radically different from the McMansion cul-de-sac paradigm of West Knoxville, a higher-density “town” with offices and retail centers within walking distance of the residences.
Northshore Town Center has already recruited nearly 50 home buyers. It promises 19th-century-style brick commercial buildings and houses built close together on streets, with alleys. The houses have front porches and garages in the back. There are good sidewalks, narrow streets, and shops and offices within walking distance. As a whole, Northshore Town Center, touted as a radical new development for suburban Knoxville, bears some resemblance to the old half-forgotten town of Concord.