Grainger native Sam Tate left legacy of integrity

Dr. Jim TumblinFountain City, Our Town Stories

The unique section of Fountain City known as Tatewood is to the left of Broadway just as one begins the ascent of Black Oak Ridge toward the Halls Crossroads community on North Broadway. One enters the subdivision on Ridgewood Road.


It was about 1920 that Sam Tate bought considerable acreage on Ridgewood Road on the south side of Black Oak Ridge and built his beautiful white-columned home. On an adjoining lot to the west he built a home for his daughter Lucy and one for his son, Ed, to the east. All three homes were beautifully landscaped with native trees, shrubs and flowers in abundance. Gradually, other lots were sold and Tatewood expanded as other beautiful homes were built.

Sam Tate was an avid flower gardener. When Roberta S. Brandau and her statewide committees of the Garden Study Club of Nashville were choosing representative gardens in Knox County, they chose to depict the gardens of the McClungs’ Belcaro and those of Sam Tate’s Ridgewood to represent Fountain City. Brandau’s 503-page book, “History of Homes and Gardens of Tennessee” (Parthenon Press, 1936), contains this description:

The Tate mansion. Built about 1920 and occupied by Samuel Tate for the remainder of his life. His extensive gardens surrounded the house. (Lucy West Lee Collection)

“The approach to Ridgewood is through a wooded lane to the first ledge of Black Oak Ridge, where at the end of a winding road there is a beautiful planting of more than three thousand regal lilies. A grove of fine old trees, in which are included many dogwoods for a background, and a nearby sloping lawn complete the picture.

“The Colonial house is surrounded by informal gardens on two sides, with the bulb and rock garden in the rear. The woodland in front of the house is planted in native ferns and wild flowers and many exquisite varieties of narcissi.”

One year, a local florist bought a whole hillside of Sam’s lilies for his Easter sales, and the hobby grew into a sizable business. After his retirement, with time on his hands, he also raised and sold parakeets.

Samuel Arthur Tate was born on April 11, 1871, into a family of four children – three boys and one girl. They lived at May Springs near Rutledge in Grainger County, Tennessee. Sam, the youngest of the three boys, loved the rural life, and he and his brothers, Knox and David, hunted and fished when they had time away from the busy life on the farm. When Cherokee Lake was impounded, the river-bottom farm on which four generations of Tates had resided was covered by 75 feet of water. Earlier, Bishop Asbury, on his trek from the Carolinas to Georgia, had stopped overnight at the farmhouse and preached for the local churches.

Emma Lloyd (1876-1943) lived in the next county. Sam’s father and her father were friends before the Civil War, but they fought on opposite sides. That did not prevent Sam and Emma from dating and eventually getting married. They moved to Knoxville in the late 1800s and built a house on fashionable Magnolia Avenue.

About 1910, Sam and his brother David E. Tate and others founded a clothing manufacturing business. It was first known as Claiborne, Tate and Cowan with a plant on Jackson Avenue. Later, it moved to South Gay Street and merged with Hall-Epps Company and became Hall-Tate Manufacturing Co.

Sam always preferred a hands-on management style and, early on, he placed his desk on an elevated platform on the floor of the plant. His workers knew he was always accessible. He believed in fair treatment and “an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work.”

When the Kentucky and Tennessee coal miners were largely unionized, the unions moved into town and attempted to recruit his workers. Sam told the employees they could join the union but that the union could not dictate what he paid, as he paid fairly. Nor could the union advise whom he could hire or fire. Many employees agreed but a few were swayed by a promise of “better things.” They went out on strike when he refused to permit a closed shop. Some thugs came from the mines to join the picket lines and threatened those who crossed the line to work.

Sam Tate allowed this for about a week. Then one day he called for all the employees to gather at his station on the first floor. He said, “I’m well fixed with enough money to hold me the rest of my days. I’m not going to take this stuff. When the day is over I want all of you to step up to Miss Lizzie (his secretary) and she’ll give you two months pay. This should hold you until you find work. We’ll go out the door together and I’ll lock the door for the last time. Clean up around your work space and take everything with you.”

At 4 o’clock that afternoon they all went out the door to jeers and catcalls from the picket line. The padlock went on and a sign was posted, “Closed for Good.” It was about two years before anyone occupied the building. Herman “Breezy” Wynn moved his company in and used it to supply the many government contracts he received during World War II.

Sam was a tall man with a powerful build and had always been an outdoorsman. He continued to hunt and fish in his retirement. He even insisted on making several trips to Norris Lake the summer before his death.

Unusually robust all his life, he was confined only two weeks before he died on April 4, 1954. After services at Mann Mortuary, he was interred at Greenwood Cemetery in a Masonic service conducted by his lodge, Master’s Lodge No. 244. He also belonged to the Elks and was a member of St. Paul’s Methodist Church.

He was survived by his two daughters and one son: Mrs. William H. (Lucy Tate) Haynes (1896-1977), local garden club leader; Mrs. A.E. (Louise) Martin (1900-1965) of Atlanta: and Ed M. Tate (wife Mary Jones), a civil engineer, of Chattanooga. Emma Lloyd Tate had preceded him in death on April 20, 1943.

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