The planned unit development Crown Colony recently celebrated its 40th anniversary. Photo by David Grace.
Peg Norris says her father, E. Ward King, was always a man of vision and believed that anything was possible.
“You never said ‘can’t’ in front of him,” she said. “He was always positive. He lived a full life and always believed in helping and providing for our area. He loved Kingsport and promoted it every chance he got.”
King was a local entrepreneur who, among other ventures, developed Crown Colony, a planned unit development — the first in Tennessee. Crown Colony, located just off of Highway 11-W in Kingsport, offers a relaxed lifestyle within the Kingsport city limits. The community encompasses nearly 100 homes within a park-like setting. While the houses and the land they occupy are individually owned, the meadows and woods are held in common.
Crown Colony just celebrated its 40th anniversary last month.
“[Our father] thought something like Crown Colony was the wave of the future, people wanting to live in cluster-type areas. What’s different about a Crown Colony home from a condominium is we own our home and the grounds around it. We have a homeowners association and we pay a fee to use the clubhouse, the pool and the tennis courts,” said Peg, who has lived in Crown Colony since 1978.
Peg’s brother, Jack King, says before developing Crown Colony their father realized that, upon retirement, people were leaving the area.
“He felt like people were leaving because they didn’t have good facilities to retire to here in Kingsport. He thought something like Crown Colony might be a way to keep them here,” Jack said. “He always had ‘a thought.’ When he would finish one project, he would decide to get into something else. He wanted to fill his 24 hours every day.”
Peg and Jack both laugh when they say most people are surprised to learn that their father began the task of developing Crown Colony at the age of 75.
“When most people are ready to scale back and stop doing as much, he took on a new project,” Peg said.
“A lot of people work until they’re 65 or 70 years old and they say, ‘I’ve worked hard all my life and I’m going to buy me a rocking chair and sit on the front porch and enjoy life.’ After about six months, they put a motor on that rocking chair and then they’re dead in the next six months!” said Jack, laughing.
Peg and Jack say their father, who survived the Great Depression, was still working hard right up until his death in 1977 at the age of 81 and believed in hard work no matter what your age.
King’s entrepreneurial spirit first began in 1925 when he opened King Motor Company, a franchise for Studebaker automobiles.
A few years later in 1932, he formed a trucking company with partners Roy Moore and Tyson Steele. By 1939, the trucking company — better known as Mason and Dixon — became family owned, with King serving as president until 1957, when he became Chairman of the Board.
In the 1940s, King opened The Motor Sales Company; Holston Auto Supply; and Cherokee Boat Company, a dealership for Chris-Craft boats, marine parts and service. In 1957, King launched Southeast Airlines, which served as an intrastate airline for Tennessee until 1959.
Also in 1957, King put together a new corporation called Crown Enterprises Inc. that eventually evolved to eight divisions, including building and purchasing of lease properties, automobile leasing, data processing services, building supplies, heating and cooling services and real estate development.
And then, in the late 1960s, King purchased a farm for his herd of cattle. This farm would be the future site of Crown Colony.
Peg says it was while her father rode the surrounding hills of the farm that he began to envision a residential community in an environmentally-friendly setting.
He read of a new development concept that was being used throughout the United States — the planned unit development.
King began researching other developments of this type and located Callister, Payne and Bischoff, an award-winning architectural design firm from San Francisco, Calif.
King made several trips to California to discuss ideas and to learn more about this type of development. He and local architect Al Dryden Jr. visited one of the architectural firm’s projects, Heritage Village in Southbury, Conn.
King loved its design, and he traveled back to California to entice the architects to design a development here in east Tennessee.
Callister, Payne and Bischoff typically designed and built projects that involved hundreds of units. They felt their firm could not take on this small of a venture. However, King was persuasive and convinced the firm to come see the area. The architects were so impressed with the beauty of east Tennessee that they agreed to present an overall proposal showing varying house plans plus amenities.
The design was to build in clusters, with homes ranging from one to four bedrooms. The community areas throughout the neighborhood included three man-made lakes in the landscape. The homes were designed using western cedar siding with cedar shake roofs.
King found the perfect team of contractors in the local Carroll Brothers, who adapted not only a new design for the area, but also the use of fairly new materials for construction.
King wanted to be able to offer amenities to future homeowners. He decided a club house, swimming pool, tennis courts and volleyball/basketball court would be ready for use when the first homeowners moved in during the spring of 1973.
Peg says that today the residents of Crown Colony are a diverse group.
“We have some residents who have moved back to Kingsport from other places. We have Eastman people who have been in foreign countries. We have some young couples. We even just had a baby born, which is unusual. We’ve got some families with children who are middle-school age. We have just kind of a great mix right now. Unfortunately, we’ve lost some residents through the years and some have moved on to Baysmont. But we’re glad they were with us while they could be,” Peg said.
Jack says because of the sense of community it fosters, Crown Colony is a great place to live out the golden years.
“Sometimes when you reach a certain age, you kind of pull back. You don’t go out as much. You don’t mingle with people. But at Crown Colony you can have people around you all the time. It can help you stay active,” he said.
Peg adds that residents have a right to be involved as much — or as little — as they want to be.
“They have a right to their own privacy. We, of course, love for people to be involved and take advantage of all of our facilities, but if they don’t want to, that’s fine, too,” she said.
Currently, Ann Kibbler has lived in Crown Colony longer than any other resident. She says it was her husband’s idea to move from their home in Kingsport's White City neighborhood.
“I was perfectly happy where I was, but my husband was intrigued by Crown Colony. So, we moved here in 1974. There were two or three who preceded us, but they all moved away for various reasons. It's been such a wonderful place to live. Our grounds are so beautiful and we have very nice neighbors and a wonderful clubhouse,” Kibbler said, adding that her children, grandchildren and now great-grandchildren love to come for a visit.
Dr. Bob Jones was a urologist in Kingsport for several years, retiring in 1983. He moved into Crown Colony in 1976 and says he has especially enjoyed the tennis courts.
“It’s a beautiful facility out here. And it’s great that we don’t have to mow any lawns. Work like that is taken care of for you,” he said. “And when you have grandchildren, with all these facilities we have out here, they love to come visit.”
Peg and Jack hope Crown Colony will continue to thrive.
“A lot of Crown Colony’s success is due to the homeowners. We want to maintain what we have. We are big on property appearance and we have always had a great group of homeowners who have been willing to always do their part to keep Crown Colony looking good,” Peg said.
For more information on Crown Colony, visit http://crowncolonykingsport.com/.