The old Pan Am gas station

By Mike Steely

Are you old enough to remember those gas stations that would not only come out and fill your car’s fuel tank but also wipe your windshield or check your tires? Things have changed but there are some of those “ghost” filling stations left.

A day’s drive in our area can bring you by some of those old stations. Some have been converted to offices or stores but many sit abandoned and unused for years. Locally we have the Airplane Filling Station, restored for us to view or visit on Clinton Highway. But there are others in our state and region that deserve a glimpse.

My wife and I usually take Asheville Highway when we’re headed to Kodak or the Smoky Mountain tourist towns of Sevierville, Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg. The “Asheville” in the highway name is because, at one time, that was the main two-lane route into North Carolina. Highway 25 splits in far East Knox County and the right spur becomes Asheville Highway and the left becomes Andrew Johnson Highway.

Along Asheville Highway are interesting places like Strawberry Plains, Carter schools, the Carter Community Center, and Paschal Park with an old water mill. We take the highway to the Douglas Dam Road and turn right and drive over the hilly route to Kodak and then left to the flea market or the Smoky Mountain towns.

Along this route is an old abandoned gas station I’ve noticed often and, when the idea of doing a story about former filling stations, it came to mind immediately.

The former Pan Am gas station in Strawberry Plains has that “rounded” art deco look that so many buildings built in the early 1900s had. The abandoned station still stands, cluttered with scrap and discards. Located at 795 Asheville Highway the old building is small but beautiful for its age.  Pan Am Gas disappeared when Amoco bought that company. The former station is near the turn for the Ashway Speedway on Shady Road.

Donna Phillips is the librarian at the Parrott-Wood Library in Strawberry Hills and I’ve worked with her on previous stories, always finding the folks there active, community minded, and knowledgeable. She was able to find the contact information for the owner of the station, Ray Underwood.

“I’ll be 84 on February 11, I try to stay busy,” Underwood told me. “The station was built about 1929 and my family got it in 1935. We sold gas but we also sold groceries, hardware and plumbing. There’s a lot more to that old building in the back of it.

“It had been a beer joint. I worked there for 42.5 years and closed it in 2004. I’ve had folks wanting me to open it again but the building is in too bad a shape. I had the place sold for a Dollar General Store but they went busted.

“My daughter helped me there as well as my brother in-law. After we closed there were two gas pumps there but some rogues stole one of them.”

“I still farm and stay busy,” he said.

Above the old station, on the sign that stretches the length of the roadside of the building, are faded letters that read “Underwood and Sons.”

There are other abandoned or renovated filling stations in our area. My wife and I were returning from a visit near Harrogate recently and I chanced to stop in Tazewell to once again visit the beautifully restored Gulf Station there.

Tazewell is just about an hour north of Knoxville off Highway 25W. The Rose Gulf Station, built by Carson Rose in 1930, operated until 1956. The city of Tazewell restored the station in 2001 and the building now holds a small museum. The station has authentic gas pumps and signage. It’s located just off Highway 25W, one block from the highway on Main Street.

Of course Knoxville’s Airplane Filling Station is notable and a landmark easily seen or visited on Clinton Highway. Ownership has passed from the preservation association who restored it to Knox Heritage and rightfully so. Now the historic structure, complete with signage and the authentic gas pumps, can live on and be enjoyed.

Unfortunately we’ve lost one of the most unusual gas stations in the Knoxville area. The Kinger Gas Station, built in 1931, stood along Kingston Pike about a mile from Dixie Lee Junction. Over the years the building, built of field stone, has fallen apart. I remember visiting there years ago when most of the old structure was still standing and I took photos of the concrete plaque on the pillar there.

Just as I was completing my story about old gasoline filling stations I was informed there’s another restored and preserved filling station in Maynardville, but that’s another story isn’t it?

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