Jim Bellamy: A Powell original

Sandra ClarkOur Town Stories, Powell

James W. Bellamy taught American history at Powell High School from 1952-66 and was principal at Farragut High School for 24 years, serving until his retirement in 1990.

Along the way, he was president of the Knox County Education Association and president of the Knox County Teachers Credit Union. Jim’s wife, Anna Bellamy, retired as vocational supervisor for Knox County Schools.

Following his death in May 2008, numerous former students posted comments. They used words like compassionate, dedicated, great leader, utmost respect, mentor, favorite teacher, always willing to listen to students. He was buried at Woodhaven Cemetery in Powell.

This writer interviewed Mr. Bellamy in 2000 for a series called Allan and Hilda’s Back Porch. It was a fun interview since Mr. Bellamy was a polished speaker.

Jim and Anna Bellamy lived in Powell and probably always will. “Powell is a real community,” Jim said. “My friends are here. Besides, my house is paid for.”

Jim came to Powell in 1949 when his father, a Methodist minister, was assigned to Powell Methodist Church. Jim moved around as a kid. His father served 14 communities in a 42-year career. Jim went to school in Virginia, then was asked to teach Tennessee history in his first job. He had to learn the subject first.

Jim loved teaching history. He remembers a field trip to Blount Mansion. The kids got off the bus, looked around with awe and asked, “Do you own this house?”

He laughs when he remembers his principal at Powell High, W.W. “Bill” Morris, a former superintendent of schools who had been beaten for re-election. Morris had returned to Powell High as principal, but he loved to teach history. “He would come into my class and say, ‘You go up and answer the phone.’ Then he would teach my class.”

History of Powell

Powell started at Bell’s Bridge (near what’s now the intersection of Clinton Highway and Emory Road. After the Revolutionary War, great chunks of land were given to soldiers for their service. They didn’t even know where the land was.

The Menifee Station historic marker

In 1787, John Menifee received about 500 acres in what is now Powell. He came here in 1787 or ’88 and built a fort on Beaver Creek. His fort was a refuge for travelers.

Bellamy said: “They always built on water, later on the railroad, now off the interstate.” Powell has been uniquely situated with a creek, a railroad and now a major interstate.

After Menifee was here for a few years, he sold out to Samuel Bell, the second settler of Powell, and moved away to Kentucky. He later went to Texas where he died.

Al Bell, who taught history at Powell High School before becoming social studies supervisor for Knox County Schools, is a descendant of Samuel Bell, Bellamy said. Samuel Bell owned 1,100 acres that went to the top of Copper Ridge.

In 1809, the Methodists started camp meetings at Bell’s Campground.

Powell. You’ve got to say it right. Pronounce it “pal.” Everybody from around here knows that. “One day a Yankee came looking for Po-well. Nobody could find it and he left,” Bellamy said.

Bellamy continued: The railroad came through in 1860. This was the next big change for Powell. Columbus Powell gave the land for the train station and they named it for him – Powell Station. Columbus Powell, who died without known heirs, built and lived in the house on Emory Road where George Ed Gill lives, next door to Allan and Hilda Gill’s place. (Now the home of the Gills’ grandson, Justin, and Kristin Bailey and their kids.)

The first churches in Powell started at Bell’s Campground. The Cumberland Presbyterians came first, about 1832-33. The Methodists and Baptists followed. “The Presbyterians were a stately people, but the Cumberland Presbyterians were more evangelistic. They might have ‘shouted.’”

The Civil War divided the community because most East Tennesseans sided with the Union, even though Tennessee had officially seceded. “We have no connection with Memphis. And we had few slaves,” Bellamy said. “There were more killings in East Tennessee after the Civil War than before,” because of the unrest.

Bellamy said East Tennessee might have seceded from the rest of the state like West Virginia, but Andrew Johnson was determined that his home state remain intact.

Powell changed again after World War II. “Oak Ridge changed Powell,” Bellamy said. The scientists who came here settled in Karns and Powell, causing a boom in population and an influx of new ideas and people.

Teaching career

Does Bellamy miss teaching? Listen to some anecdotes (which may or may not have been uttered by his students):

“Abe Lincoln was born in a house that he built.”

“A horse divided will not stand.”

“The death of Thomas Jefferson was a big turning point in his life.”

And then there was the kindergarten kid who was asked to tell the class about his soon-to-be-born brother. “They talk about him and then feel my mother’s stomach. I think my momma ate him.”

And Bellamy knows little-known facts. “The town of Clinton was originally named Burrville, but changed its name after the treason of Aaron Burr.”

And he has perspective: “We’re in a computer world,” he said in 2000. “In 1903 my grandpa died. He had never seen a car or a telephone. In 44 B.C., Julius Caesar died. He was carried by six white horses. In 1919, Teddy Roosevelt died. He was carried by six white horses.

After our interview, Jim and Anna were set to travel to Oberammergau, Germany, for the Passion Play.

“They only do it every 10 years,” Jim said. “At my age, why wait?”

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