Coming on the same weekend as the Rossini Festival, the Fourth and Gill Tour of Homes could be overlooked. If you overlook it, you will miss one of the great jewels of the downtown area. Knoxville’s first bedroom community, located at the outer reaches of the Streetcar line, the original homes found there were constructed from the late 1800s, with the preponderance built in the early 1900s. You can see photos of earlier tours here: 2014, pt. 1, 2014, pt 2, 2013, pt. 1, 2013, pt 2.
I took the walk from downtown into the Fourth and Gill Neighborhood yesterday. From my downtown home to the northern reaches of the neighborhood was a thirty-five minute walk. It’s probably a ten minute bike ride and many people from the neighborhood walk and bike into the center city. A glorious day for a walk, I enjoyed a stroll through the neighborhood and met with Sean Martin and Jenny Wright, co-chairs of this year’s tour.
It’s a special year in that it is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the first tour of the neighborhood. Those twenty-five years of tours have seen a dramatic shift in the community – from a few loved homes and many needing love to the complete opposite. While the homes range greatly in price and size, some have sold for nearly a half million dollars in recent years and the ones which have been restored often sell before they officially hit the market.
I asked about the importance of the neighborhood to the residents and Jenny Wright, who has lived there for three years introduced me to the term “Gillbilly,” which she said connotes someone who has lived in or renovated multiple homes in the community. Apparently, that’s not unusual. Sean Martin, who has lived there since 2001, indicated when he and wife Sara look for their next home, it will be another in the same area. It’s a devotion which seems to run through conversations with other residents. Jenny said that residents “are not just invested financially, they are invested emotionally.” These older homes matter to them and they want a chance to share their passion, hence the tour.
Sean noted that in addition to showing off the nice neighborhood, it is also a major fundraiser for the neighborhood. There are no HOA dues, so projects like the community center (Birdhouse) and any improvements are funded through this and Octoberfest. It’s a neighborhood prone to potluck dinners, Halloween events for the rapidly growing population of children and “Porch Hops” for the grown-ups.
The homes are generally newer the farther one walks from downtown, reflecting the natural growth away from downtown. Interestingly, a number of the homes were built in 1905. Apparently the northern section was intended to be larger estates, but the big tracts didn’t sell, so they sub-divided them in 1905 which led to a burst of building.
In some respects it is a modern neighborhood, in that many of the residents are young, creative professionals, and there’s a bit of quirkiness involved. Still, there’s a throw-back quality that doesn’t simply have to do with the age of the homes. Neighbors greet each other as they pass on the sidewalks or speak as they pass people on their porches. Several people approached and spoke to Sean or introduced themselves to me as he and I walked around. It’s a front-porch kind of neighborhood, which is what it was built to be. Maybe it’s just another way that design dictates or shapes behavior.
One of the homes on this years’ tour illustrates the spirit of the community. 906 Luttrell Street is home to the Braude family. Originally from the midwest, they moved into the neighborhood directly from west Knoxville. As the renovation work on their home proceeded, one night when they were on the third floor putting their children to bed, a passerby noticed flames which had started on the porch. Thanks to the warning, they were able to exit the home safely, but it was badly damaged. Neighbors offered them a temporary place to stay – in a carriage house behind their home. A drive was organized to replace the clothing and other items lost in the fire. The community even made care packages to thank each of the fire stations that responded.
That’s the kind of spirit they hope you’ll feel as you visit on Sunday. The tour runs from 1:00 PM to 6:00 PM and begins at Central United Methodist Church at 201 3rd Avenue. Tickets are $12 for adults on the day of the tour and children are free. You can buy them now at this site for $10. At the church you’ll find Three Bears Coffee, Good Golly Tamale and perhaps other food trucks. Restrooms are available at that site, as well.
There are ten stops along the way, representing a wide range of the types of homes you’ll see. Histories of each of the homes are included in the brochure and the neighborhood is very walkable. Trolleys will be available should you prefer or need to ride. What if it rains? Perfect: ride the trolley from one dry home to another. Should the sun shine, enjoy strolling through this beautiful garden spot. That’s where you’ll find me.
Next week I’ll have a recap, some photographs and some of the history of the individual homes.