Reworking Tennessee Factories

Knoxville residents and UT students have been, for decades, vaguely aware of Robertshaw Controls, a factory that hunkered down along Third Creek between the main UT Campus and the Agriculture Campus. You can see it by going here and clicking on “satellite.” Now the old factory has been sold, and will soon be torn down. Jack Neely, the “Secret History” columnist in Metro Pulse, weighs in this week on how no one seems to have considered adapting the facilities for other uses.

“Historic building” is not limited to plantation home or old courthouses. Factories in Tennessee have been successfully redeveloped, and can be used for distinctive shopping or residential areas. Two that come to mind immediately are outside Nashville.

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The Mill at Lebanon is an ambitious project involving taking an approximately 200,000 square-foot campus on 15 acres, just one block from the square in downtown Lebanon, Tennessee and converting it to mixed use retail/entertainment/office/residential redevelopment.

The Factory at Franklin has transformed the circa-1929 buildings that once served as the Dortch Stove Works, Magic Chef and later the Jamison Bedding Company, just six blocks from downtown Franklin, into a shopping and dining complex.

Much of the manufacturing capacity of Tennessee was (and was is a sad word in this case) concentrated in East Tennessee. My home town of Kingsport has suffered from several factory shut-downs, including the Borden Mills, where my grandfather worked; the Kingsport Press; the local foundry. While vague plans are underway to rework the Borden Mills building, the other facilities either have been or will be demolished.

Reworking factories for new uses, as Franklin and Lebanon have shown, can be a great way of reusing historic buildings and hosting housing or commercial ventures in truly distinctive surroundings.

:: Metro Pulse Online ::

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3 Responses to Reworking Tennessee Factories

  1. formertngirl says:

    Hi Tennessee Guy!

    Though I am very sorry to see old buildings tore down and not refurbished, the old Robertshaw building is not one of them. I do not know if it has happened yet, as I no longer live in Tennessee, but I will be glad to see it go!! Though I can not prove it, I am quite sure that factory killed my mother and many of her friends. It also made many more sick. I am just guessing, but I would bet, the reason it was not sold, is because they need to cover their behinds! Numerous stories abound, of the hazardous working conditions at the old plant. At this time, I can not prove any of this and it is speculation. Perhaps you or your readers want to do a little digging and find out why, such a prime real estate location is being torn down and not sold.

    Just a thought

  2. tennesseeguy says:

    Dear Formerthgirl,

    I’m sorry to hear about your mother and her friends. I had a couple of neighbors, a husband and wife, who worked at Robertshaw, but I never heard them speak of hazardous conditions. Factories by definition are hazardous places in which to labor; my maternal grandfather worked in a J.P. Stevens mill in Kingsport as a welder and died of job-related lung disease.

    While I have no information about why the old Robertshaw building is being torn down, the reasons are probably the usual suspects. It usually costs more to renovate an old building than to tear it down and build anew, and, even if it doesn’t cost more, satisfying the building codes and related inspectors can make an owner want to blow up old structures.

    When they get torn down, however, the replacements are all too often soulless structures with all the charm of a Costco.

  3. Harry says:

    My father worked there a long time. The place disposed of chemicals into the creek and the ground area was supposedly soaked with chemicals. There were no rules concerning disposal at the time. The creek was also polluted with other industrial waste. There used to be trees between alcoa hwy and the plant. They made thermostats which means working with brass and cleaning it and other metals with serious chemicals. It would probably be hard to make that a green area. My guess is that a lot of the area will have to be hauled off and replaced to be able to use it.

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