A nostalgic reflection on how commerce transformed a once-wild patch in Farragut
On an overcast spring day in 1984, a two-tone Buick Century station wagon carrying my dad, two sisters (ages 17 and 7), our two dogs, a very pregnant cat, and me (15) exited I-40 at Campbell Station Road to begin a new life in Farragut, Tennessee. We had just driven 1,335 miles from our previous home in Littleton, Colorado. (My mom was finishing some work out west and would join us later.)
Immediately I was struck by how different things looked and felt in East Tennessee compared to my former life at the foot of the Rockies. Dry air, open spaces, and distant mountain peaks gave way to dense trees, steaming humidity, and limited vistas.
That afternoon, on our first visit to the Farragut Walmart (no, I had never heard of the chain), a smiling lady who noticed our out-of-state plate in the parking lot walked up and offered, “Welcome to Tennessee!” I just stared at her. We weren’t exactly unfriendly in Colorado, but we didn’t tend to start conversations with strangers either. It wouldn’t take long for me to come to appreciate the sweetness of Southern hospitality.
The next day we drove along Kingston Pike to West Town Mall. There wasn’t much between Farragut and West Hills, as I recall. A few businesses and a lot of empty space. Nor was there much between Campbell Station and Lovell Road, two miles east of our new house on the corner of Old Colony Parkway in the Village Green subdivision.
That remained so even as one of my first jobs, busing and washing dishes at Days Inn’s Tasty World restaurant, found me traversing the lonely stretch of I-40 in predawn darkness from Campbell Station to Lovell to help the cooks prepare hot biscuits for waking travelers.
It was still just as barren on many an evening when I puttered up the interstate in my first car—a little Ford Courier pick-up truck—toward a fun dinner with friends at Darryl’s (anyone else miss that old haunt?), ice cream at Swenson’s and a movie in Downtown West, or a longer trek to visit my first girlfriend over in Fountain City.
Little could I—or just about anyone I met at Farragut High in the mid-1980s or at UT-Knoxville leading into the ’90s—have envisioned how that overgrown strip of 360 acres, home to a few wild turkeys, a winding creek, and an old mill, would transform into the vibrant, bustling hub of commerce now known as Turkey Creek.
Gobbling Up the Land
This portion of west Knox County was “named for the Turkey Creek tributary which literally meanders all over the Concord/Farragut area and beyond,” wrote Mona Isbell Smith in a September 1, 2020, KnoxTNToday article titled “Let’s talk turkey (creek),” which describes some of the site’s early buildings—including old homes, the Red Mill dam, and Virtue Mill Co.
In a 2020 Farragut Press article title “Turkey Creek retail bonanza,” writer Alan Sloan confirms that “Turkey Creek’s roughly 360-acre area was essentially barren in the mid-1980s.” Interest in the land rose in the mid-1990s, and road construction began in the latter part of that decade.
Jim Nixon has been part of the mix since the beginning, when Turkey Creek was “nothing but dirt” and a dream. A licensed broker/representative and an investor with Turkey Creek/Farragut Land Partners, Nixon played a pivotal role in efforts to transform the area.
“We put a lot of effort and expertise to work” over the years, he tells Cityview. “The result is obvious now, but we were going one, two steps at a time, and I don’t think anybody thought it would be what it is today.”
A primary catalyst in the growth was the construction of Parkside Drive. As Nixon recounts, “the City of Knoxville and Knox County combined with us in a public-private partnership. [Turkey Creek Partners] donated the land, and the city and county each built part of the road.”
Tracing the arc of Turkey Creek’s progress, he says, “We started in 1995 and made our first sale in 2000, to what was then Baptist Hospital. After that we sold to Thomas Enterprises out of Atlanta, which built for Walmart and Target. Once we attracted those, several others were attracted by them.”
Another milestone was a joint venture with Colonial Properties to build the Promenade and the Pinnacle, which brought some 650,000 square feet to the party, including Belk, Best Buy, Panera, World Market, Regal Pinnacle 18, and H.H. Gregg. Colonial, in turn, had contacts with scores of retailers, “and they brought a whole bunch of them to Knoxville,” Nixon says.
Other key deals included those with JC Penney and Gander Mountain (in the space now occupied by At Home). Nixon notes that Turkey Creek “isn’t quite done yet,” since a 190-unit apartment complex is still under construction. After that, “we have just one little one-acre tract left,” he says.
She has Seen it All
Wendy Smith, Communications Manager for the Town of Farragut, wrote an article titled “Pinnacle at Turkey Creek draws visitors, serves community,” for KnoxTNToday in 2019. Among other highlights, she quoted lifelong Farragut resident and Turkey Creek stalwart Ashley Lynch, who has had a “front-row seat” to the area’s growth since she was a toddler.
When I caught up with Lynch recently on a Saturday afternoon, I found out she still works in Turkey Creek, and that her mom, Bunny, and I were classmates at FHS—long live the class of ’86! Her dad, Terry, had graduated from Farragut in 1979. What’s more, her grandfather owned school buses, and the former Concord Road horse-race track was among the land the family owned going back several generations.
“It’s a crazy small world,” says Lynch, who serves as security director for The Pinnacle in Turkey Creek, spanning from Best Buy to Regal Cinemas, covering some 650,000 square feet of commercial space. She’s also a Farragut High graduate, class of 2008.
Her dad “used to take his four-wheeler and go through Turkey Creek when it was just trees and mud,” Lynch says. In her own childhood, “we lived on Admiral Road, right behind FHS, and when I was 9 we moved to Grigsby Chapel, looking over at Turkey Creek, and there was nothing there. I remember some trees and maybe one light. In the mid-’90s there was talk that they were going to develop it, and then, bam, it seemed like all of the construction started.”
At age 16, her first job was in Turkey Creek at Target, then Hallmark. She moved into security, and ever since her career has been evolving. “Turkey Creek has always got a soft spot for me because I’ve grown up here, doing my job or shopping or just driving through,” she says. “So it’s sentimental, but it’s also cool to be part of the trajectory of growth and progress. I’ve watched our town grow since I was a little girl to being right in the middle of it all as an adult. There’s not one phase of Turkey Creek that I haven’t lived through.”
Over the years, Lynch has noticed a mostly gradual but at times rapid increase in the number of shoppers and diners plying Turkey Creek, especially as travel has picked up in the wake of COVID-19. “When people come up the interstate to pass through town, they see this huge assortment of stores and restaurants,” she says. “We also see a good number of day-trippers coming from all over, east from Crossville, or south from Kentucky. I’ve bumped into groups of older ladies who meet here to eat and shop. Locals, too. It has become quite the gathering place.”
Case in point: In a 2021 Cityview article profiling military veteran Bob Sparks, he described a group of friends, most of them fellow vets, who would meet regularly for a meal and fellowship, usually at hot spot Mimi’s Café in Turkey Creek. They called themselves the ROMEOs—Retired Old Men Eating Out. The ROMEOs exemplify the many ways that Turkey Creek has drawn people together to “do life” and deepen friendships. (Sadly, several of the ROMEOs have recently passed, and the meetings have become infrequent, according to my friend Sally Sparks, Bob’s wife.)
As for Lynch, her security job affords her opportunities to sample all of the food, drink, and shopping that Turkey Creek has to offer. As an insider, does she have a favorite? “Salsarita’s is my go-to lunch spot,” she says. “I like to drive down the greenway on my golf cart and stop in.”
Marcee Lotts Merritt is a longtime friend of mine whose family lives behind Turkey Creek off of Heron Road. Yet another fellow Farragut High grad (class of ’81) who grew up in the Cedar Bluff area, she’s the daughter of the late A.L. “Pete” Lotts, who served as Chairman of the Knox County Board of Education from 1968 to 1986, and for whom Lotts Elementary in west Knoxville is named.
Decades before Turkey Creek, “we were nicknamed ‘Farragut Farmers’ and considered Farragut to be a lovely, quiet town, with gentle, steady growth, lots of farms, and natural beauty,” Merritt tells me. “It’s still lovely, but the last fifteen-plus years have brought hectic seasonal traffic with visitors from all over the region coming to Turkey Creek.”
She notes that “many locals try to buy early to avoid Turkey Creek during the holidays. I recall a few Christmas Eves where we chose to go to downtown Knoxville for dinner because we felt it’d be easier to get a reservation and less crowded.”
As a Knoxville-based Realtor, Merritt has noticed a trend of “folks downsizing after the kids grow up and moving into other communities. They still love Farragut, but many have found it more challenging to downsize and stay in town. Others miss the quiet, pasture-like setting they experienced here so many years back.”
What Happened to the Pregnant Cat?
The development and rapid growth of Turkey Creek have not occurred in a vacuum. This part of the city is but one reflection among many of the fast pace of change in East Tennessee: the population explosion, the cascade of commerce, the arrival of so many newcomers over the past few decades whose presence has increased demand for the kind of services that Turkey Creek provides.
And that’s no wonder: we live in a richly appealing part of the South, the United States, and the world. So high has that appeal risen that it’s sometimes hard to remember how different things were here back in 1984—and how much things have changed.
The pregnant cat that made the trip from Colorado to Tennessee with us? She gave birth to kittens who became the pets of neighbors and new friends in Village Green. Our two dogs remained faithful companions for several more years. My sisters and I finished growing up. I graduated from UT-Knoxville and became a writer.
Decades later, in 2017, my own daughter, then a UT-K education major, was assigned to student-teach at Farragut Primary School, which had been visible from the back windows of our house in the mid-1980s when we arrived in Tennessee.
Yes, it was sentimental for me to ponder the circle of life. As I gazed out our windows way back then, I could never have dreamed that I would one day have a beautiful daughter who would teach in one of those classrooms.
One of the biggest differences was that now, on her way to and from the school, my Abby could stop by one of dozens of shops and restaurants along the Turkey Creek corridor—that formerly wild patch of undeveloped terrain that had much more quietly welcomed the awkward teen boy who first laid eyes on his now-beloved Knoxville all those years ago.