Take me back to the Blue Circle

Beth KinnaneFountain City, Our Town Stories

All of my earliest memories, outside of my home and those of my family, involve some place in Fountain City, many of them now gone. Beyond the park and the duck pond (with apologies to Mamaw Payne and Mary Lou Horner), there was getting my clothes at the Children’s Shop on Hotel Avenue and my Buster Browns at Coffin’s Shoes.

We went to Pratt’s Market in Smithwood or the White Stores on Broadway for groceries, and shopped at Mayo’s when we needed anything for the yard. Yes, there are still Mayo Garden Centers in Knoxville, but not in Fountain City. I remember Klovia’s (Mom worked there a few years) and The Peach Tree.

I can still smell the eucalyptus and other delights inside The Village Vendors gift shop. And I can still taste the cream horns and chocolate eclairs from the much beloved and greatly missed Fountain City Bakery.

The first time I went to a drive-in movie was at the Family Drive-In next to the old Kmart on Broadway. I remember Old Broadway when it was just Broadway, and I can assure you the first time I ever ate pizza it was from the original, Original Louis’ Restaurant before the expansion of I-640 moved it down the road and across the street.

Drive-through fast food is ubiquitous now, but before national franchises took over pretty much everything, the place we used to go for drive-in (instead of through) hamburgers was the Blue Circle on Broadway at Highland Drive. Those square steamed burgers with onions and mustard were the best. The most reasonable facsimile thereof you can still find in these parts today is a Krystal.

But the Blue Circle was a home-grown phenom. What became a 30- restaurant chain in East Tennessee was founded by Anderson County native C. Homer Longmire in 1931. He opened his first location on Henley Street between Western and Union Avenues. He eventually had several locations downtown, as well as on Magnolia, Chapman Highway, etc., and expanded up to Morristown and on into the Tri-Cities. His motto was “a happy place for hungry people.” He even had his own bakery to supply his restaurants.

Longmire finally opened a Fountain City location in 1958, and it immediately became a popular hangout for Central High School students. A clip from The Knoxville News Sentinel in 1959 reports that a driver was charged with ramming his car into a crowd of 75 in the parking lot following a Central/Fulton basketball game. Apparently, he was trying to bring some finality to a fight that started between social clubs of the rival schools.

Homer Longmire (photo: Knox County Library Digital Archives)

By the time I had working memories of the Blue Circle, Longmire had not only sold out but had shuffled off this mortal coil. In June of 1966, suffering from lung cancer, he sold all the restaurants to Womecto Enterprises in Florida (he and his wife, Colleen, wintered in the Sunshine State). Not quite two months after the sale, he died on July 30. Born in April of 1892, the former math and Latin teacher who became a burger tycoon was 74 years old.

Longmire is buried in Greenwood Cemetery, appropriate since he had lived over 20 years on Kesterwood Drive in Fountain City. At the time of his death, he and his wife were living in Windsor Apartments (now Windsor Court) waiting to build on a farm they had purchased on Dry Gap Pike.

Womecto went bankrupt in 1975 and one by one the Blue Circle restaurants and their contents were auctioned off in September of that year. There is, however, one left standing, but you’ll have to take a drive to grab a bite: 333 Bluff City Highway, Bristol, 37620.

Beth Kinnane is the community news editor for KnoxTNToday.com

Source; digital archives, Knox County Library, including Knoxville News Sentinel

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