Local Lore: The First Residents of Sequoyah Hills

Entrance to Sequoyah Hills, circa 1925. Photo courtesey of Thompson Photo Collection, C.M. McClung Historical Collection, Knox County Library

The history of the development of what is now known as Sequoyah Hills is one of pre- and post Depression era Knoxville and its first residents ranged from real estate agents to coal magnates. 

The area around the present day Sequoyah Hills neighborhood became part of the city of Knoxville in 1917. In 1891, the area that is now Sorority Village was surveyed to become a neighborhood called Cherokee Park. That neighborhood  was never developed., but in 1925, E.V. Ferrell bought a large tract of land and began developing Sequoyah Hills. The development included underground utilities and a wide boulevard, Cherokee Boulevard.

In 1926, Robert L. Foust, a partner with the Alex McMillan Co,, a real estate firm, purchased 100 acres adjacent to Ferrell's Sequoyah Hills and began developing a separate neighborhood called Talahi. Features included concrete streets, fountains, parks, and a commercial center, Council Points, at Keowee and Kenesaw avenues, all in Native American design motif. Home plans were  restricted to English, Early American, and Colonial styles.

Simultaneously, smaller contemporary neighborhoods developed around the Talahi and Sequoyah Hills developments, as well as in other parts of the city,  including Holston Hills, North Hills, Druid Hills, Island Home, and Fairmont/Emoriland.

Sequoyah Hills area and Kingston Pike circa 1910-1930. All photos courtesey of Thompson Photo Collection, C.M. McClung Historical Collection, Knox County Library

Lots in Talahi went on sale in Spring of 1929. They were very expensive for the time, between $4,000 and $10,000 (between $50,000 and $80,000 by today's standards) . Unfortunately, only one lot sold before the crash of the New York Stock Exchange in Fall of 1929. That lot, 940 Cherokee Blvd, was sold to Dr. and Mrs. Walter Nash who built a Colonial Revival style home on it in the 1930s.  That home would go on to become the U.T. President's mansion after U.T. acquired the property through a gift from the Nash heirs in 1960. 

After the stock market crash, the Alex McMillan company was  forced into receivership, having issued bonds to finance the Talahi development. Lots sold in the $600 range (roughly $8,000, adjusting for inflation) at auction in the 1930's.

Robert Foust, the Talahi developer, committed suicide in his downtown real estate office in 1933.

The E.V. Ferrell Home today. 

The earliest residents of the Sequoyah Hills neighborhood along Cherokee Blvd. were mostly families associated with real estate and construction. Of the 13 homes listed in the city directory in 1928, four were occupied by builders and two by agents. The home at 539 Cherokee Blvd. was occupied by Ferrell, the neighborhood developer. Other early owners included car dealers, a veteran lawyer, and a coal magnate.

The Frank Kerr house, today. 

The Kerr Brothers, Warren and Frank, lived next door to one another in Colonial Revival homes at 485 and 493 Cherokee Blvd. with their families until their deaths in the late 1950's and 60"s. They had come from Greenback farming community and, after working in that community and Sweetwater at various endeavors, including banking, general merchandising, and hardware, eventually moved to Knoxville around the early 1920's. They opened a car dealership, initially with partners as Mahan-Kerr Motor Company, located on Market Street at Cumberland Ave. and later as Kerr Motor Company. The Kerr Motor Company dealership was located on N. Gay Street since 1939.

Warren Kerr talked about selling cars in the 1920's, describing times of high demand and waiting lists, "If a man came in and wamted to trade cars, we'd sell him one and have his old one sold the same day."

The Waren Kerr house today. 

Thomas G. McConnell, of the firm Frantz, McConnell, & Seymour, lived next door with his family at 507 Cherokee Blvd. until his death in the early 1960's. Sadly, McConnell died after jumping from his office window in the Burwell Building onto the Tennessee Theatre.

The Sullivan home today. 

The Joe Sullivan family lived down the street in another Colonial Revival style home at 603 Cherokee Blvd. Sullivan was a partner in W.H. Underwood Co.. Real Estate. Before working in real estate, he had worked for many years in the clothing business and owned clothing stores with his partner, William H. Underwood,. The W.H. Underwood Real Estate Company began in the early 20th century. Sullivan's home would later become home to the family of his son, Joe W. Sullivan, Jr.

The Moore home, today. 

Charles M. Moore was a coal magnate. He lived with his family in a tudor style home at 840 Cherokee Blvd. until the early 1940's.  He was head of  Moore Coal Company and Clinchmore Coal Mining Company. His home would later become noteworthy as the home of Alex Haley.

Herman Schubert and family of Schubert Lumber Company and Schubert & Walden Builders' Inc. occupied the home across the street from Moore at 841 Cherokee Blvd. The Lumber Company was located in the present day neighborhood of Park City, on Washington Avenue, adjacent to the Standard Knitting Mill buildings. The Schubert Lumber Company and Schubert Builders are the modern businesses of the Schubert family in West Knoxville.

Other parts of what is now known collectively as Sequoyah HIlls would later be developed in the 30s and 40s, but Sequoyah Hills and Talahi, and their developers, paved the way for what has since become one of the most desirable neighborhoods in Knoxville.