Local Lore Letter: 826 Bluff Drive

unnamed (1).png

From time to time we receive responses on our Local Lore segments and with the authors' permission, we will be posting them, along with our reponses, on the TroMo blog. Enjoy this interesting info about 826 Bluff Drive in Sequoyah Hills!

Dear Ms. Trotta and Ms. Montgomery:

  I thoroughly enjoyed your article, dated June 30, 2015 "Local Lore: The First Residents of Sequoyah Hills".

  My name is Melanie Collins Kishi, and my great grandparents were the first owners of their Tudor style home on Bluff Drive.  Their names were Mr. and Mrs. E. L. Thomas, which seems to be how married couples identified themselves back then.  Their full names were Edwin Llewellyn Thomas and Margaret (Tappan) Thomas.

  I have attached a photo of the front door entrance of the house, which is among a number of other photos, documents, and items I donated to the McClung collection last year.

  I think Mr. and Mrs. E. L. Thomas (my great grandparents) moved in somewhere between 1928 and 1930. 

  Do you have any information about when exactly the Thomas home was built - when construction began and when they took possession?  Any photos?  Any information at all? 

I think the address is 817.  I got this from Google since I forgot to note it when I was there.

 Back in those early days, the homes did not have numbers, so letters were addressed to "Mr." or "Mrs. E. L. Thomas" on Bluff Drive.  That's it!

I think also that they lived in the house around 8 years.  I know that sometime after E. L. Thomas died unexpectedly in a car accident on his way to the Elkmont cabin owned by the family,  my great grandmother moved out and her oldest son Arthur moved with her.

 My great grandfatherE. L. Thomaswas Branch Manager for Sullivan Machinery Co., which, from what I have learned from Google, manufactured machines to cut marble, which was an important industry in Knoxville in the early part of the last century.  He was transferred in 1906 or so from the NY office.  They had the following children:  Charles, Arthur, Edwin Jr., Margaret (my grandmother), Isabella, Ben.  Some of them married local families; in 1928 my grandmother, after graduating from UTK,  married her cousin Tappan Collins, and they moved back to Pittsburgh, where he was an engineer, and my father (Edwin Thomas Collins) was born "Up North." Sadly, my grandmother died suddenly in 1931, which is how my father came to be living back in Knoxville in the mid 1930s with his grandparents on Bluff Drive.

 By that time, in the depth of the Depression, my grandfather Tappan Collins was finding engineering work hard to come by, and he came "down south" to work for the WPA and placed his son (my father) with the Knoxville grandparents so that they could be near one another.

I visited Knoxville about a year and a half ago, toured the city, visited the Historical Society of Knoxville, and visited the Thomas family graves in Old Gray. All of the children, except the youngest son, Ben, are buried there.  Ben is buried at Elkmont.   I also travelled to Gatlinburg to a reunion of Thomas cousins I had not ever met (descendents of siblings of my grandmother) to see the Thomas cabin in Elkmont before it was to be taken down by the park, and I thoroughly enjoyed my first ever view of the breathtaking Smoky Mountains. 

Just stunning.  I can see why the Knoxville Boosters thought this area was worth preserving and deserved national park status.

How lucky you all are to live in Knoxville, with those mountains so close!

 I also set a quest for myself while I was in Tennessee:  to actually find the home in a photo(which I have attached) of my great grandmother and my father (Mrs. E. L. Thomas and Edwin Thomas Collins).

That photo of my father, very young, in a cowboy outfit standing with his grandmother, Mrs. E. L. Thomas, in front of the arched doorway of the Bluff Drive house is one I have looked at all my life, not even knowing what that building was. I wish I had asked my father more questions about his family.  He passed away in 1997, and now I am 58 and finally researching things I wish I had looked into long long ago.   Eventually I figured out that it had to be the Bluff Drive house, not their previous home on Cumberland Ave.  (which I guess was swallowed up by the university as it grew).  The Bluff house was distinctive enough that during the fall of 2014, when I travelled to Knoxville, I drove along Bluff Drive and looked for that doorway.

Because of the historic nature of Sequoyah Hills, I think, the exteriors have remained the same since they were built, and I am grateful for that.  I did find the home, and got up the courage to knock on the door, with the photo in hand, and a gracious man, the home's owner, confirmed that I had, indeed, found the house, and that he had been told that it had been built by somebody named E. L. Thomas!  I gave the man the photo (I have copies, of course), and went away smiling to have seen the spot on which the photo was taken.

I would love to see any other photos you might know about, even perhaps the lot before or under construction, perhaps just the street itself.  I have looked through the McClung digital photo collections, but have not spotted that particular house. 

Or perhaps you could point me in the direction of someone who knows of a larger collection from the original developer.

Is Bluff Drive part of the Talahi neighborhood or one of the smaller ones that were built in that area closer to 1929?

At the very least, I'd love to nail down when, precisely, the home was finished and occupied by the Thomas family.  Phone directories have indicated 1928, whereas the public record used by real estate agents puts the year of the house built at 1930.

Knowing the year they actually did move in will help with some photo I.Ds.  And it will warm my heart to be able to visualize my father as a small boy living there with his grandparents, who loved him and of whom he retained fond memories all his life.

Sincerely, Melanie Collins Kishi



Dear Ms, Kishi, 


I thoroughly enjoyed receiving your e-mail and learning about your charming family history. Thank you for sending it.

Last weekend, I was doing some research and thought about your family home on Bluff Drive. So, I found a few articles that might be of interest. 

I was sad to read about the details of your Great Grandfather's passing and the passing of several other family members in his 1937 obituary. I'll be sending a copy to you. It includes such a handsome picture; and; you may learn a little about him and your family history from it. 

Sadly, the obituary describes your Great Grandfather's tragic accident on his way to Elkmont. He and your Great Grandmother had leased the house on Bluff Drive after his retirement and moved to Elkmont, the location of their summer residence.

I noticed that your Great Grandmother had a love of antiquity in two articles.  One article was about her collection of antiques, including a cradle bought in 1771 by Ben Franklin for his niece. The article was written during the late 1950's. Another article (including a photograph of her), in 1935, reported that your Great Grandmother, a  Daughters of the American Revolution Regent, was involved in an automobile accident with four other ladies. The ladies were on their way to a D.A.R. meeting in Bristol, Tennessee. I'll send these articles to you as well. 

As for the house, I drove by it and took this picture. Although the quality of my rainy day picture obscures the view, the house is certainly lovely, a great Tudor establishment, complete with the sturdy entrance in the background of the sweet picture that you sent to me. 

Certainly, it was among the early homes in the neighborhood. However, I wonder if the Talahi development wasn't located farther away from the Kingston Pike entrance, along Cherokee Blvd., the main street in the neighborhood. There are two decorative markers just beyond the last intersection of Bluff Drive with Cherokee Blvd. as you travel from Kingston Pike. I've associated the markers with the entrance to the Talahi development. I believe that the fountain on Cherokee Blvd. and the park and obelisk on Talahi Drive are original Talahi development features.

The neighborhood must have been a more rural place when your family lived there. I imagine your Father excitedly romping all around nature there. Have you found the book,  Reflections on Sequoyah Hills? I recommend it for anyone trying to gain a sense of the neighborhood history. It includes some very interesting residents' personal histories. 

I hope my information has been helpful to your research. Please, come and introduce yourself at the office on your next visit to town.


Jennifer Montgomery