By Bradley Griffith

It was one of those 50s days in December, which I suspect is pretty good weather for cutting trees. It’s time had come, no doubt about that. Such a once-strong giant that can no longer hold up its own arms can do damage, especially when the wind gets fierce. The big tree stood alongside homes filled with people and stretched above Clinchfield Avenue, where cars carry people, not to mention the people who love to walk and run on the sidewalks. 

Still, it lived here long before I came and I will miss it, as will squirrels and birds. Such a huge tree must have lots of rings, right? But, they were spaced much too tightly to count. That and its sheer size speak to its age.

Wondering who might have planted it and how the particular type of maple was chosen, I remember the appeal of Erwin’s residential areas I enjoyed even before living here. Traveling along Ohio Avenue, I realized those interesting houses were no accident. The Holston Place cul-de-sac I’ve heard called “the horseshoe” is a lovely display of styles of houses. 

Just as planting that maple tree was planned, those homes we refer to as “pottery houses” were planned, as was the area surrounding them.

The late James Goforth wrote in an article published in The Erwin Record June 13, 2001, about the Holston Corp., a subsidiary of the Clinchfield Railroad, commissioning a New York architect in 1916 to plan a model residential community here.  Goforth defined the area as lying between Clinchfield Avenue and Okolona Drive and extending from Love Street to Martin Creek.  He wrote further about houses built in a portion of the area to house employees of Southern Pottery, which moved here from Ohio.

Erwin is also included in a coffee table-size book titled “The Architecture of Grosvenor Atterbury,” which is available for reading in the History Room of Unicoi County Public Library, but may not be checked out. It tells about Atterbury’s work, from grand mansions to summer cottages, to community planning projects and industry-related housing.  It includes many photographs and drawings and tells how he came to be involved in the Erwin project.

According to the book by Peter Pennoyer and Anne Walker, by June 1918 the railroad had built 45 of the houses along Ohio Avenue and Unaka Way in what was referred to as “section A.”  They note that “as the railroad’s financial condition steadily declined during the war, the Holston Corp. terminated its building program.”

The book allows us to see the general plan for the development, as well as designs for the houses, floor plans, even designs for cuts in shutter panels. Those include cat, windmill, bird and rabbit silhouettes.

But, back to that tree. A community’s trees serve in many ways. I think of this one as providing simple beauty and shading sidewalks and porches, as well as folks who walked and played nearby. Its contribution continues, as it provides fuel for warmth in a home during the cold, cold winter days following the 50-degree weather we enjoyed in December.

May we all welcome 2018 with an appreciation for the good fortune that allows us to anticipate what’s ahead with an attitude of gratitude.