Sometimes the passing of a day also brings the passing of an era. Today is one such day.
What might well be Greeneville’s most famous eatery today served up its last hamburger, its last bowl of beans and stew, its final “Hobart special,” (a double burger with ham).
Jerry and Donna Hartsell, who have operated The Bean Barn at 515 E. Church St. since December of 1981, are closing down their unique restaurant. Asked recently why they made that decision, Jerry answered in two words: “Wore out.”
If he was “wore out” earlier, he is surely all the more so now. The past two or three weeks have seen the antique-filled, old-style cafe overrun with more customers than ever before, some of them regulars getting their last chance at their favorite foods, many of them newcomers coming to try the place out for the first time, before it is too late.
The rush kicked in when word began to get out that the place was soon to close.
Though he expressed appreciation for any customers, new or old, who have come to eat breakfast or lunch in the wooden cafe whose walls, ceiling and floors carry the essence of thousands of frying burgers and stewed beans and beef stew, Jerry did admit to one “aggravating” aspect of the avalanche of last-minute business.
“I just love our regular customers,” he said. “And some of them weren’t able to have the best experience here at the end, because of the crowds.”
A few impatient folks, he said, became “hangry” at times in recent days – “hangry” referring to anger brought on by hunger. The “hangry” ones were mostly new visitors who didn’t realize one key Bean Barn fact: “We’re not fast food,” Jerry said.
The Bean Barn name was originated by Jerry and Donna when they began operating the place nearly four decades ago. The business had predecessors at the same location.
The place has history. “My sister and her husband, Danny Britt, had it before,” he said. “They had bought it from Danny’s father. It was called Britt’s Grill.”
Jerry is unsure of exactly when the street-side building was constructed, but assumes from its style it probably dates to the 1930s.
The building, which includes a lower-rear portion originally designed as an apartment but now used for storage, also has been associated with the grocery business at times. Now-defunct old-style grocery stores – Stills Grocery and B & G Grocery – had a home there in earlier decades.
The Bean Barn has managed to maintain a no-frills, down-home ambience while also become part of Greeneville’s broader identity and “brand.” Its patrons typically vary from some in business suits to others in blue collars and work boots.
For the local business community, it has been an eatery of choice for those hosting corporate visitors who want to catch the flavor of grassroots Greeneville. Jerry remembers when Scott Niswonger came in with Corey Pavin, a professional golfer who spent over 150 weeks in the top-10 of the Official World Golf Ranking between 1986 and 1997. Tennessee governors Bill Haslam and Don Sundquist have visited The Bean Barn while in office, along with many other dignitaries and well-known public figures over the decades.
For the most part, though, The Bean Barn has devoted itself to pleasing local taste buds and filling local stomachs.
A few days ago, architect John Fisher and builder Mike Idell sat side-by-side at the counter, both enjoying food Jerry had just served up from his grill just across the counter from their dining spots. Fisher said he has enjoyed visiting the place occasionally when in the mood for classic American food, and will miss having that opportunity.
Asked what he’ll miss most about the Bean Barn, Jerry candidly admits that what he’ll miss most is the food. “Even though I eat here every day, this is still my favorite place to eat,” he said.
Did he and Donna consider selling the restaurant and letting someone else operate it?
They looked at that possibility but opted not to do it.
Speculation on the local grapevine has been that anyone buying the place would have been faced with high expenses in bringing an old building up to code.
Jerry said that in fact, according to what they have been professionally advised, a new owner could have taken over operation under the existing “grandfathered” codes as long as the business remained in continual operation through the transition.
There was one question Jerry declined to answer, that being: What is the secret of making beans taste like they came from the Bean Barn?
Jerry won’t say. Why? Because interest has been expressed by someone eyeing the possibility of buying the Bean Barn name, fixtures and recipes, and opening a Bean Barn elsewhere. Until that matter settles out, Jerry is treating his recipes as trade secrets rather than dumping them out in the public domain.
Meanwhile, a new line of business for the Hartsells looms straight ahead.
Jerry’s late father, Jim Hartsell, was a habitual collector of almost anything that caught his interest, and a storefront full of his collected car parts, furniture, or whatever, still exists on Depot Street — though “Jim’s Stuff” has not been an operating business since the senior Hartsell’s death in 2010. Since then, Jim’s wife, Dot Hartsell, also passed away.
Jerry and Donna now own the Depot Street site. “‘Jim’s Stuff’ became ‘my stuff,’” Jerry said, and now he’s ready to start selling that “stuff,” supplemented by some of the antiques and collectibles inside the Bean Barn itself. The location of the new store will be the Depot Street site, and probably will be called “Antiques on Depot.”
Jerry does not anticipate a long wait in getting the business set up. There are sufficient items already in the “Jim’s Stuff” building to get started even before Bean Barn items are added, he believes.
Here are a few stray Bean Barn factoids Jerry Hartsell shared:
John T. Milburn Rogers, a powerful advocate for defendants in courtrooms across East Tennessee during his career, was posthumously recognized by the the Tennessee Trial Lawyers’ Association earlier this month with the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Rogers, who died in December 2018 at age 69, is the first person to receive the prestigious award posthumously.
Rogers was a highly decorated attorney and widely regarded as one of the most skilled criminal defense and civil attorneys in the state of Tennessee. During a career of more than 40 years, Rogers represented clients in many high-profile cases. Among his many honors was recognition as one of the Top 100 Trial Lawyers by the National Trial Lawyers from 2007 through 2013.
John Rogers was represented at the June 13 TLLA presentation in Nashville by his daughter, Jenny Coques Rogers, who practiced law with her father and is currently a member of the Garza Law Firm in Knoxville.
Rogers founded and was senior partner at the Rogers, Laughlin, Nunnally, Hood and Crum law group in Greeneville from 1974 to 2011. He was founder of the John Rogers Law Group in 2012, retiring due to declining health.
Jenny Rogers proudly accepted the award on behalf of her father at the TTLA’s Past Presidents & Awards Luncheon at the Double Tree Hotel during the TTLA’s annual convention. Her acceptance speech included details about his career, along with memories of watching him in the courtroom.
John Rogers was only 34 when he served as president of the TTLA in 1983 after just nine years as a lawyer.
“My father was the youngest president in the history of the TTLA, which began in 1968,” Rogers said in an email.
“That same year, 1983 at age 34, my father became one of five attorneys in Tennessee to achieve the distinction of becoming a civil trial specialist,” Rogers said.
John T. Milburn Rogers was known as a tenacious, innovative and dedicated advocate for his clients, in criminal and civil courts in Greene County and elsewhere in Tennessee.
During comments when accepting the award, Jenny Rogers said her father was truly in his element when defending a client.
“If you had the privilege of watching my father in the courtroom, you could just tell that he was destined to be a trial lawyer. He loved it, every moment of it. He probably lost as many cases as he won, but he persevered and over time he was never afraid to go to trial,” she told TTLA members.
John Rogers “stood proudly side by side with his clients every step of the way. His work ethic was unsurpassed, and he was always striving to be the best trial lawyer he could be,” Jenny Rogers said.
“Over his 40-year legal career, he became known for his fearless reputation in the courtroom. His life’s work as a lawyer, particularly his advocacy for the oppressed, is simply immeasurable,” she said.
John Rogers “absolutely loved the law, he loved the TTLA, he loved his friends in the TTLA, and most of all he loved what the TTLA stands for – justice for all,” his daughter said.
Former law partner Bill Nunnally called Rogers an “asset” to his firm and to the community after his passing.
Rogers gained notoriety for taking some high-profile cases and for his tenacious, often-colorful defense tactics.
“He had moxie,” Nunnally said. “Winning was extremely important to him. It was to all of us. But he worked harder than all of us did.”
Nunnally said John Rogers “woke up in the morning thinking, ‘How could I win?’ and he went to sleep thinking, ‘How could I win?’”
Jenny Rogers said that she expressed her family’s “deep gratitude to the TTLA for his lifetime of work being recognized by so many wonderful lawyers and friends.”
John Rogers’ wife Donna Rogers attended the ceremony, along with Jenny Rogers’ husband, Wes Fellers. Friends in attendance included former 3rd Judicial District Attorney General and law partner C. Berkeley Bell and his wife Jane Bell, and Nashville attorney Bob Lynch.
Greeneville lawyer Bill Hall Bell planned to attend but was unable to be there, Jenny Rogers said. Bell shared recollections about John Rogers last December.
“He was physically courageous,” Bell said. “If he saw somebody in trouble, he would step up physically.”
Bell recalled an incident years ago when, while walking downtown, he was assaulted by a group of “thugs” in the middle of the day. Once he saw what was happening, Rogers jumped in the fray to help his friend. “He did not hesitate to jump in there,” Bell said.
Bell said Rogers drew attention with the “beautiful” suits, shirts and shoes he wore, but his skilled criminal defense solidified his reputation in the state of Tennessee.
“He was a brilliant, showy, spectacular lawyer in the courtroom,” Bell said.
Rogers, originally from Chattanooga, opened his law practice in Greeneville in 1974 after earning his law degree from the University of Tennessee. He married his wife, Donna, in 1969. They had four daughters and eight grandchildren.
Peers said Rogers was dedicated to his family, especially his daughters and granddaughters. Nunnally described him as being “devoted” to daughters Jenny, Trenny Rogers Fuller, Emily Rogers, and Shelley Rogers.
“My sisters wished they could be there for the celebration but were unable to attend,” Jenny Rogers said.
Nominees for the TLLA Lifetime Achivement Award must currently, or were, licensed to practice law in Tennessee, practiced law for 30 or more years and have been a member of the association for 30 or more years.
“Nominees must have had significant career accomplishments promoting justice and making a difference in the lives of citizens. Nominees must have shown success over time, exemplifying hard work, integrity and a passion for justice,” according to TLLA qualifications.
Sections of road torn up for new sewer lines installed along McKee Street and Old Tusculum Road are to be paved, but the timing depends on the weather.
The Town of Greeneville’s Department of Public Works has submitted estimates and will be paving both streets, the Greeneville Water Commission learned Tuesday.
The Public Works Department wanted to start the paving on McKee Street on Monday, but weather delayed them, said Greeneville Water Superintendent Laura White.
The sewer line replacement project is not yet completed on Tusculum Boulevard, reported Water Department Engineer Eric Frye. Work is scheduled to begin again after the Fourth of July holiday.
A 100-year-old sewer line is being replaced on Tusculum Boulevard between the Ye Olde Towne Gate and Walters State Community College’s new Niswonger Center. The section to be completed is between GHS and WSCC.
An older line was also replaced on McKee Street. The state identified the Tusculum Boulevard and McKee Street lines among those in need of replacement.
Emergency repairs were completed to a a 440-foot section of a 12-inch sewer line on Old Tusculum Road between Haynes Boulevard and Moore Avenue last month.
New names will accompany Greene County Schools’ middle schools being established in 2020-21.
What is now DeBusk Elementary School will become South Greene Middle School.
Mosheim Elementary and Middle School’s grades 6-8 will make up West Greene Middle School.
What is now Ottway Elementary School will become North Greene Middle School.
The Greene County Board of Education on Thursday approved titles for new middle schools that will join Chuckey-Doak Middle School as feeders for the county’s high schools.
The changes are part of a 15-year facilities plan the school board adopted earlier this year. It calls for a configuration change from a predominantly kindergarten-8 primary school structure to a district with K-5 elementary and 6-8 middle schools that “feed” their geographical region’s high school.
“It just seemed to make sense to name them South Greene Middle, West Greene Middle and North Greene Middle,” said School Board Chairman Rick Tipton.
Board Vice Chairman Nathan Brown said the action would help the schools begin preparing for new school colors to match their respective high schools.
Tipton said the DeBusk Booster Club volunteered materials to repaint the gym floor. That work will be completed with the new colors rather than having to repaint the floor in a year. The floor has been prepared for painting, but the work has not been done yet, Greene County Director of Schools David McLain said.
In related action, the board OK’d a change to the 15-year facilities plan that designates DeBusk as the middle school for the south end of the county, rather than Nolachuckey, as the plan initially laid out.
Tipton said that he appointed a middle school committee consisting of school board members and school system administrators to address what needs to be completed in the transition.
The committee recommended changing the plan for the south end of the county, as DeBusk lies in a more central location than Nolachuckey, he said. “DeBusk has a better for fit a middle school than Nolachuckey, and it is closer to Camp Creek.”
School Board member Clark Justis, a committee member, said that DeBusk will be a more convenient location for those taking their children to school, and students will have a shorter time on buses.
DeBusk’s central location will also make setting new bus routes an easier process, he said.
Board member Tommy Cobble said he has heard concern about traffic congestion around the school.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation will be improving the intersection of Asheville Highway and Debusk Road, Tipton said, adding that the committee can, in the future, look to reduce congestion around the school.
While the committee can look at options, Justis said the change to grades 6-8 only at the site may mean less congestion than exists with the existing K-8 setup.
At Thursday’s meeting, Eddie Jennings, a former Greene County commissioner, addressed the board to question the 15-year facilities plan.
Although he no longer serves in any official capacity, Jennings said he still receives calls from citizens and has heard several concerns about closing West Pines, a newer building than Baileyton Elementary School, which is to remain open under the plan.
Brown responded that, in looking at the county as a whole, West Pines is located on one of the fringes of the county. He said it is not feasible to transport students away from a more central location, like Baileyton, to a more outlying school.
Greene County Schools Director David McLain said the county would see no financial savings by closing Baileyton, due to its school population, but that there were schools that could absorb students from West Pines and Glenwood. Both closed at the end of the 2018-19 year.
The school system was able to cut 18 teaching and two administrative positions for budgetary savings by closing those schools, McLain said. The teachers and administrators have been assigned other positions through openings created by retirements and attrition.
Jennings also questioned the plan’s call for two Greene County high schools, rather than the current four, by 2035.
“You are not listening to the people,” Jennings said, adding that Tracy Richter, president of Cooperative Strategies, the firm that studied the school system and created the plan, told the Greene County Commission in 2018 that a two high school plan was not a good option.
Brown responded, saying Richter told the county’s governing body that the best option was one high school.
Richter said that two high schools were not the best fit for the county transportation-wise — if Chuckey-Doak was kept as one of the two high schools due to its location, Brown said.
In August 2018, the Greene County Commission voted 15-6 against measures that would have financed a projected $79 million for a new, consolidated high school through bonds or U.S. Department of Agriculture loans. A county property tax rate increase of up to 59 cents was also on the table.
Professional consultants, school system administrators, the Greene County Board of Education and the county commission’s Education Committee had offered the contentious proposal in response to projected $22.5 million losses in state funding over the next eight years.
Proponents of the consolidation plan saw it as a way to slash costs associated with funding more teachers than state dollars provide to keep small schools with low enrollment open — and to address maintenance costs for aging school infrastructure.
At the same time, county high schoolers would have benefitted from additional career-technical education and Advanced Placement and honors-level offerings, and safer and more modern facilities, proponents said.
Opponents cited the proposal’s expense, a perceived loss of a sense of community said to be associated with small schools, larger class sizes and the logistics of transporting students from outlying rural areas to a centrally located high school, among other concerns.
The 15-year facility plan approved by the school system and modified Thursday was formulated by Cooperative Strategies as another option to address declining student enrollment after the commission’s denial.