Picture it: Washington Street in Maryville, lined with trees so flush with leaves that they create a welcome refuge from the summer sun.
That’s not a far-flung fantasy of what the Washington Street Commercial Corridor could one day be, thanks to recent zoning changes that require deeper setbacks, landscaping and more pedestrian-friendly sidewalks.
It’s how Marvin Eaves remembers Washington Street when he was a child.
“Victorian houses with porches, maple trees planted along the street so that in summer, they grew together and made kind of a tunnel,” Marvin says. “Oh, it was so cool in the summer. I looked forward to that stretch because there wasn’t air conditioning back then.”
Marvin knows a lot about Washington Street. For 26 years, he owned Martin’s Drug Store at the corner of Washington Street and Ellis Avenue, and before he owned it, he worked there: first behind the soda fountain and later as a pharmacist.
“I was a real soda jerk,” laughs Marvin, now 88.
“He still is,” jokes his wife, Jimmie, who will turn 88 in March.
Marvin and Jimmie are both Maryville natives, high school sweethearts who will have been married 66 years this December.
“We dated for seven years,” Marvin notes. “As the young people say, we’ve ‘been together’ more than 70 years.”
“We’ve been fortunate,” Jimmie says. “They said it wouldn’t last. I’m kidding, of course!”
The Eaveses’ easy banter in their Maryville condo, which they downsized to 17 years ago, is the language of soulmates who have known each other since they were in the band together. Both went to the University of Tennessee — Marvin for pre-pharmacy and Jimmie for home economics — and settled back in Maryville after Marvin finished pharmacy school in Memphis in December 1950.
“It’s hard to leave Blount County when you’ve been here your whole life,” he says.
A family business
Jimmie taught at Walland High School until the couple started their family while Marvin had a job waiting on him at Martin’s Drug Store, which his mother’s first cousin, Kenneth Martin, opened on Washington Street in 1922.
The drug store, which was located in the building now occupied by USA Super Pawn, was on the first floor of a hotel built in 1913, Marvin says, with the city’s railroad depot across the street.
“No buses ran between Maryville and Knoxville at that time, so everyone rode the train,” explains Marvin, adding that one of his uncles ran a taxi service using horses and buggies from his livery stable at the corner of Washington and High. “It really was the focal point in town.”
Martin’s Drug Store was a family business. Not only did Marvin start working behind the soda fountain when he was in high school, his oldest brother worked as a pharmacist there until he was killed in World War II.
“That’s sort of what got me started on that path,” Marvin notes.
Other than a two-year stint in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, Martin’s Drug Store is where Marvin stayed until he retired Dec. 31, 1993. During that time, he went from his cousin’s employee to his partner in 1960 and, after his cousin’s retirement, sole owner of the store in 1967.
Even Jimmie joined the business after the couple’s kids were in high school, keeping the books for Marvin.
“I was pretty much a gopher,” she laughs. “But I got to know the people. And that’s what we missed when we retired.”
“It was kind of a neighborhood store, where you got to know everybody and their families,” he says. “We had been there so long that we were taking care of the fourth generation in some families.”
Those personal connections often resulted in “treats” for the pharmacist from customers like Ms. Cora, who was married to Charlie Billingsley, the maintenance man for the old post office in downtown Maryville.
“Ms. Cora was such a good cook,” Marvin remembers. “She would send her kids up to the drug store with hot corn muffins or whatever she was making. She made the best rolls. You couldn’t tell you were holding them, they were so light.
“You form bonds with people like that over the years,” he adds, noting he later tended to Ms. Cora when he was the consulting pharmacist for Asbury Place and Ms. Cora was a patient there. “That’s one thing we’ve lost in the big stores and the chains. We don’t have that personal connection to people. It bothers me that we’re losing that.”
A growing city
Over the years, Marvin and Jimmie watched Maryville grow and change. Washington Street, now a busy five-lane stretch that leads drivers from Alcoa to the mountains, started out as a two-lane street that began at Broadway and ended just past the hospital, Marvin says.
Washington Street did not connect to Alcoa until the city built the viaduct in 1946, he notes. That’s also when the city widened Washington Street and, in the process, took 18 feet off the front of Martin’s Drug Store.
“Before that, Broadway to where to the drug store was was all residential,” Marvin explains. “Our old building would have reminded you of New Orleans. The upper story had a porch to the edge of the street with a wrought iron railing and rocking chairs for the hotel guests to watch the bustling depot. And the sidewalk was shaded underneath (the porch). It was a pretty old building.”
“But when they took the front off, we were right on the road!” Jimmie adds.
To complicate matters, the far lanes of the widened Washington Street were reserved for parking at first.
“So it was still down to a two-lane long enough for a lot of people to get their car doors ripped off,” Marvin laughs.
The couple has followed with interest the city of Maryville’s quest to make the Washington Street Commercial Corridor more attractive as old buildings give way to new developments.
“There’s not much they can do to the older buildings like ours because they’re too near the sidewalk, but they are on the right track,” Marvin says. “Coming from either (Interstate) 40 or 140, that is the main thoroughfare to the mountains, and it always bothered me that they didn’t do more with zoning back when something could have been done.”
For example, Marvin and Jimmie would have liked to see sidewalks required as neighborhoods were developed.
“Where our daughter lives in Texas you could walk 20 miles on sidewalks,” Marvin insists. “We are losing community because we are literally losing those connections. We get in our cars in our garages whereas if we had sidewalks we would know our neighbors better.”
On the flip side of that, the Eaveses agree that the Greenway is one of the best things that has happened to Maryville, along with the clean-up of Pistol Creek.
“We’ve been fortunate in Maryville that our leadership has been progressive but not overly so,” Marvin says. “We always have had good people who were willing to give their time and talents to promote Maryville.”
Coupled with the scenic beauty of the area and its deep heritage — Jimmie’s grandparents lived in Cades Cove, and her mother was born there — the Eaveses cannot imagine living anywhere else.
“We’re just so blessed,” Jimmie says.