Cherokee Mills

The History of Cherokee Mills


The History of Cherokee Mills

For years, the Cherokee Mills building has been a Knoxville landmark. While the facilities have seen several different uses throughout their history, the property has long served as the anchor of Sutherland Avenue and a wayfaring landmark for city residents. Today, the building continues that fine tradition with a full overhaul, positioning it as one of Knoxville’s premier business destinations.

The Textile Years (1917-1956)

The Cherokee Mills site circa 1950.

The Cherokee Mills building was constructed in 1917 by the Cherokee Mills company at the corner of Concord Street and Shawmut Avenue. At the time the building was completed, it was still a block south of Sutherland Avenue, as there were several residences and a street (Shawmut Avenue) where the existing parking lot is now. The building operated as a textile mill from 1917-1956, and due to demand it doubled in size in 1933.

A walk through the building reveals a very distinct line in this addition, as the 1917 side of the building has gently sloping roofs while the 1933 addition features the more distinctive “sawtooth” design that was typical for textile mills of that time. During this period, the building housed hundreds of workers and produced textiles for multiple uses. Many Knoxville residents can still trace ancestors who worked for Cherokee Mills at its peak. The textile industry slowed in the US in the 1950s and the Cherokee Mills company moved out of the building in 1956.

The Tom Black/Atlantic Mills Years (1956-1981)

That same year, Tom Black purchased Cherokee Mills to use as the site of his potato chip production empire. Tom’s Potato Chips operated in the western part of the building (the 1933 addition), for years producing potato chips for distribution throughout the southeast. Around the same time, Mr. Black signed a lease with Atlantic Mills to open a department store in the eastern part of the building (the 1917 section). Many Knoxvillians fondly recall shopping at Atlantic Mills, considered the predecessor to current big-box stores such as Kmart and Walmart.

The Cherokee Place Years (1983-2007)

In 1983, enterprising developers Walter Wise and John Fiser purchased the building and converted it into an office complex for larger users. For more than 20 years, the office building was a major player for large office/open floor plan users, and was occupied in majority by TVA, Travelers Insurance and Cendant for the duration of that time. Cherokee Place, as it was then called, became a landmark property in Knoxville, due in large part to the investment made by Mr. Wise and Mr. Fiser. As these larger tenants relocated out of Knoxville or moved to new facilities in the early part of the 21st century, the owners of Cherokee Place sought a new owner to continue the legacy of the important structure.

The Rebirth of Cherokee Mills (2007 – PRESENT)

A local real estate developer purchased Cherokee Place in 2007 and began the process of repositioning the building into a class A office facility with a fully amenitized campus, including a fitness center and café/restaurant. Cherokee Mills is now home to a diverse mix of professional businesses, as well as non-profits and doctors groups, creating a healthy working environment with positive tenant interaction.