Upland Chronicles: Jimmie Temple loved Sevierville

May. 17, 2014 @ 11:25 PM

The morning following the annual Sevierville Chamber of Commerce Banquet in 2008, chamber CEO Brenda McCroskey received a phone call from Jimmie Temple. After telling McCroskey how much he and his wife Marie enjoyed the festivities, Temple suggested a program about the history of Sevierville for the next banquet.

I was assigned the task of collaborating with Temple on ideas for a program related to Sevierville’s history. The result was a film titled “Sevierville, Fifty Years of Progress,” featuring the four living mayors and family members representing the men who had served as mayor over the past half century.

Former mayors Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Gary Wade and Charlie Johnson joined Mayor Bryan Atchley and Temple to graciously share their memories in an interview for the film. Also, Mary Bob Rowe, daughter of Robert Howard, and Fred Lawson, brother of Herbert Lawson, were interviewed.

The purpose of the project was to educate the chamber membership on the tremendous progress made by the city of Sevierville in the 50 years between the time Temple was elected mayor in 1959 and 2009.

“We need to record some of us old heads while we can still remember,” said Temple. “Someday the younger generation will be glad we did.”

When Temple was interviewed, he told some of the highlights of his term as mayor of Sevierville. He began by mentioning that his campaign slogan was “annexation.” In that year, the population of Sevierville was only 2,890, and the corporate limits had not been expanded since the city was incorporated in 1901.

“The plan was to annex McMahan Addition, Love Addition, Runyan Addition, and Marshall Woods,” Temple said. “We wanted to provide basic services such as water, sewer, garbage collection, and street lights. A public hearing was held on courthouse yard because there was not enough room to accommodate the crowd in the court room where we planned to hold the meeting.

“I was just a young man and didn’t know how or what I was going to do or say. The courthouse yard was full of people. When the meeting was called to order, a man holding a yellow notebook pad raised his hand and asked to address the crowd.

“The gentleman was local insurance agent W.W. Burchfield. He proceeded to tell the crowd how they would benefit from annexation. After quoting some figures, he told the gathering that they would save more on their insurance than their city taxes would be. The crowd left without another word being said, and shortly thereafter the city of Sevierville doubled in size.”

Off camera, Temple continued, telling other stories, such as a legendary tale about an early Sunday morning meeting with Lon Burchfield on the Fred C. Atchley Bridge to discuss acquiring property from Burchfield to build a new water plant. Temple also told about the two devastating floods that occurred less than two weeks apart during his term as mayor.

Although Temple chose not to run for re-election in 1963, his devotion to public service continued another 50 years. He was elected county commissioner representing the fifth civil district of Sevier County in 1966. Temple was attending a county commission meeting in the courthouse on Monday, Oct. 20, 1980, when he abruptly ran out of the meeting exclaiming, “The mill is on fire!”

His family business since 1934, Temple Milling Company, located on the south side of the courthouse, burned to the ground that night. The consensus was that an era had come to an end with the loss of Temple Milling Company. However, Jimmie, who had managed the business since 1948, was not ready to throw in the towel. The family built a new building on the site and operated a feed and grain store there for three more decades.

In the meantime he continued hosting a 6:30 a.m. radio program on WSWV 930 AM which aired from 1955 to 2001.

As county commissioner, he had the authority to perform civil wedding ceremonies. Since his business was located opposite the courthouse, couples flocked to him to be married.

Once again, when the business closed, folks agreed that it was an end of an era, but after retirement, he continued performing weddings in his parents’ home on Court Avenue. There he stayed in constant contact with his many friends in his beloved Sevierville.

When I began writing this column in 2010, Jimmie Temple was among the first to say how much he enjoyed the stories of the heritage and culture of Sevier County. “What are you writing about next week?” he asked every time I saw him. He would usually comment on a recent article and often suggest ideas for future stories.

Temple was a virtual storehouse of knowledge about Sevier County and its people. There were very few lifelong residents he did not know. In fact, I called on him with numerous times with questions. Usually he readily answered and included an interesting anecdote about the person in question or a member of the family.

James A. “Jimmie” Temple Sr. died at home surrounded by his devoted wife and family on Sunday morning, May 11. He was 85.

His passing is an end of an era. Few have ever loved or promoted Sevierville and Sevier County more fervently or longer than Jimmie Temple. He truly loved his hometown.

In retrospect, I’m thankful we heeded his suggestion to record some of the history of Sevierville while he was able. Sadly, it was only a tiny sample of the lifetime of knowledge he possessed.

At the 2013 Chamber of Commerce banquet celebrating the golden anniversary of the organization, each of the surviving charter members, which included Temple, was honored with a Sevierville Shining Star Award. Jimmie Temple was truly one of Sevierville’s shining stars.

Carroll McMahan is the Special Projects Facilitator for the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce and serves as Sevier County Historian.

The Upland Chronicles series celebrates the heritage and past of Sevier County. If you have suggestions for future topics, would like to submit a column or have comments; please contact Carroll McMahan at 453-6411 or cmcmahan@scoc.org.