John T. Roos: Mid-century leader in Fountain City

Dr. Jim TumblinFountain City, Our Town Stories

John T. Roos was born on March 2, 1909, in Knoxville, TN, the son of John J. and Maude Thompson Roos. He bought Fountain City Hardware (5320 North Broadway) from R. Cliff White in 1949, having previously been house manager and sales representative for C.M. McClung Co. in the Bristol-Kingsport area.


Early in his years in Fountain City he became interested in civic improvements. He was a stalwart in the Fountain City Lions Club and assisted in many projects for improving and maintaining the lake and the park.

John T. Roos (Courtesy of C.M. McClung Historical Collection)

During the Rev. R. Frank Porter’s ministry, Roos was building program chair for Fountain City United Methodist Church. The committee raised $168,444 to exceed its goal of $150,000 for the completion of the sanctuary and retirement of the debt on the educational building. He later served as chair of the trustees of his church.

Recognized statewide as a leader in the Tennessee Retail Hardware Association, he served in several offices and eventually became president of the organization. In 1972, after 22 years as owner of Fountain City Hardware Co., Roos closed the store and briefly became a traveling salesman for Wallace Hardware Co. of Morristown before announcing his retirement. He was always an avid golfer and his retirement allowed him more time for that sport until his final illness.

At 74 years of age, John T. Roos passed away on March 30, 1983, survived by his helpmate of many years, Sara Line Roos. The Rev. John Trundle and the Rev. Ted Witt presided at the service of remembrance at Gentry-Griffey Chapel before his interment in Greenwood Cemetery. His jovial manner, his straight-shooting approach to his business and his service to his church and the community will long be remembered in Fountain City.

You never know when those phone calls will come. This one came about 9 p.m. one day. A voice on the other end of the line said, “Are you the Jim Tumblin they told me about when I drove up to Knoxville last Saturday – the one who writes those history columns?”

Answer, “Yes, how may I help you?”

The voice said, “I’m a clock collector from Ooltewah and I found a wall clock in an antique store off Cedar Lane possibly 15 years ago when I worked at TVA and we lived in Knoxville. The clock face says, ‘Fountain City Hardware’ and ‘Warren’s Paints.’ Do you know anything about the store?”

Well, anyone who has lived in Fountain City most of his life and has passed the proverbial “three score and ten” mark must have known owner R. Cliff White and his successor, John T. Roos.

The caller was thrilled to hear that I had newspaper clippings regarding White and Roos and an image of the store front. Until the 128 pages of Images of America: Fountain City (2004) were filled with 185 images of other Fountain City landmarks, the Fountain City Hardware store was considered for inclusion. Toward that end, I had acquired an image of the storefront from the C.M. McClung Historical Collection.

The caller said he would drive back to Fountain City the following weekend, show me the clock and obtain any images of the store I would share, if I would scan them for him. However, illness in his family prevented his coming for several weekends.

The added facts are, as sometimes occurs, stranger than fiction. During those weeks, I received another phone call. The caller said, “Are you the Jim Tumblin who collects old Fountain City photos and newspaper articles? If so, I have some material on the Fountain City Hardware Co. as a part of an estate sale that includes an interior view of the store. Would you like to see them?”

Needless to say, I drove over to meet that caller as soon as I could get there.

Mystery solved. When the clock owner met me in Fountain City, he was both surprised and pleased at not only the presence of the exterior photo but also the timely phone call that brought news of an interior view. That photo shows the unique clock some of the readers will recall mounted on the wall in the back of Fountain City Hardware.

Author’s Note: Thanks to James Coulson, Jerry Griffey and Helen G. Longmire for their assistance with the information and photographs.

Jim Tumblin, retired optometrist and active historian, writes a monthly series called “Fountain City: Places That Made a Difference” for KnoxTNToday.com.

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