This original story published in Southern Exposure Magazine.
The Jewell family first arrived in Williamson County sometime back in the 1930’s, drawn from Lexington, Kentucky by an opportunity. Burley tobacco was the king crop in the bluegrass state back then, and growers in Middle Tennessee — with its similar soil and terrain — were catching on fast to the promise of an expanded industry.
Big warehouses would sort, grade and store the big stalked leaves to be sold at auction in the late fall, and the entire year’s success or failure centered on those couple of months before Christmas. That’s what the Jewell family became known for, first in Kentucky and then in Tennessee, where they established two warehouses in near downtown Franklin: one on Columbia Pike and another on New Hwy. 96 West.
Jimmy Jewell remembered growing up farming the land, and later running the barn.
It was a different time and place back then, with the largely agricultural community of Franklin focusing its energies on crop yields over tourism, harvest season over history. Much of the local farming activity centered on the Jewells’ Highway 96 barn until in burned in 1988. The family ended up buying in to another warehouse in Columbia, but things would never be quite the same.
“Tobacco had a tremendous impact on Middle Tennessee,” Jewell said. “That’s how people sent their kids to college, paid off farms—we had two great banks back then that were built on farming, and everyone knew that you made your money once a year. But everything changes, and when they started putting chemicals and stuff in it, it was time.”
Around 2001, the Jewells — Jimmy, brothers Johnny and Dickie and sister Betsy Adgent, along with a cousin named Don — pulled out of the tobacco business altogether, after leading the industry locally for more than 75 years.
“Phosphate mining used to be a huge part of the Maury County economy, but it was terrible for the land. Everything changes as time goes on, and that’s a good thing,” Jewell said. “It was clear that it was time for us to focus on other businesses.”
As a family of entrepreneurs, they had their fingers in other pies and continued to cultivate varying aspects of their companies — a tractor dealership, an oil business, eventually spring water sales, along with farming thousands of acres for crops like corn, soybeans and wheat.
It’s a diverse set of operations, with the team working together to find new ways to be successful. Take Kimbro and Parman Oil, for instance, where a local wholesale gas distributor ended up becoming a regional conglomerate known as Tri-Star Energy. Johnny Jewell was one of the brains behind the Twice Daily chain of convenience stores, and an entire line of private-label products that have driven profitability.
And what Jimmy started with his brothers and cousin as Consumer Tractor back in the early 80’s, which eventually moved to the Highway 96 West site where the original tobacco barn had burned, is now part of TriGreen Equipment, a network of 18 locations that sells farm and outdoor recreation implements like tractors, utility vehicles, tillers and more.
Then an effort to find a private-label water source for the Twice Daily stores led to the Jewells buying a spring and bottling operation in Pall Mall, Tennessee, where they now produce bottled water for a host of other companies.
“Different places have different-tasting water,” Jimmy said. “Even the big national brands buy from regional sources, so it might be completely different in Chicago than Nashville. We’ve been able to maintain a very consistent product and people notice that.”
The next generation (their sons) is running the various operations. Jimmy helped his son, Chad, farm several thousand acres in Williamson, Maury, Hickman and Humphries counties. They grew grain and raised beef cattle, something Jimmy said he enjoyed as much as anything, short of his six grandchildren.
“As long as I can get around and look at my cows, I’m happy,” he said. “It’s fun to watch the next round working hard to be successful.”
Jimmy Jewell passed away on Saturday morning, Sept. 7, 2019. He is survived by wife, Elizabeth Allen Jewell; sons, James W. (Madeline) Jewell and Charles A. “Chad” (Chris) Jewell; daughter, Helen Elizabeth “Lisa” Jewell; stepson, Christopher Allen Raquet; grandchildren, Madeline Elizabeth, Grace Charles, James Worthington III, Elizabeth James, Charles Anderson Jr. and Margaret Christine Jewell, all of Franklin; brothers, Fielding “Dick” (Ellen) Jewell of Nashville and John Berry “Johnny” (Susan) Jewell and Elizabeth “Betsy” (Tim) Adgent of Franklin; and many other loving family members.
Graveside services will be conducted at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019 at Mt. Hope Cemetery. Visitation will be from 4-7 p.m. on Tuesday evening at Jimmy and Elizabeth’s home.
Jay Sheridan is a lifelong Middle Tennessean living and working in downtown Franklin. He has covered interesting people and places for a number of books and magazines.