By Heather Richardson
As anyone who has ever strolled through Johnson City’s Historic Tree Streets neighborhood will likely say, there is something special about the area. The diversity of historic homes and tree-lined streets and sidewalks add a charm not common in many of Johnson City’s neighborhoods.
Those who live in the neighborhood however, will likely be the first to say it’s the people that truly make the neighborhood exceptional. In a time that often feels devoid of a true sense of community, the folks in the Tree Streets neighborhood have been intentional about creating a hub of inclusiveness and activity that is hard to find elsewhere.
Southside Neighborhood Organization President Margie Kendall, who has lived in the neighborhood for the past seven years, said when she and her family considered moving out of the area during the pandemic to be closer to family, they struggled to find anything that compared to the Tree Streets.
“We were literally trying to find neighborhoods that were this neighborhood,” Kendall said. “We were looking at what was within walking distance – historic homes, restaurants, cool breweries and coffee shops we could walk to. There was always something missing…What we ultimately decided was that it was going to be very hard if not impossible to create exactly what we have as far as people and community that we have in this neighborhood.”
A great example of that unique community focus is the Walnut Street restaurant Timber – a place Jeff Estes, a Tree Streets resident for the past 28 years, refers to as the ambassador of the neighborhood. When Timber owner Nathan Brand, also a Tree Streets resident for the past seven years, opened the restaurant in August 2019, he wanted it to be a third space for the neighborhood – a goal that was even carried into the name of the restaurant.
“The majority of the streets in the neighborhood are named after trees and Timber is all the trees, so it’s a very encompassing sort of name,” Brand said. “We want to be a really inclusive restaurant and we want to be a place where everyone feels welcome.”
On any given day a resident can walk into the restaurant and expect to see someone from the neighborhood, and in the warmer months neighborhood families will often gather in the patio area behind the restaurant.
“A lot of our staff live in the neighborhood and walk to work, which is really cool and I think there is a sense of ownership there with the staff,” Brand said, “It’s their neighborhood, their restaurant as well.”
Beyond being a staple spot for the neighborhood, Timber has also opened its doors on non-business days to provide space for the Southside Neighborhood Organization to hold meetings where they have been able to plan many of the neighborhood events and activities. These events, Kendall said, are key to the character of the neighborhood.
While many residents outside the neighborhood are familiar with the annual yard sale, easter egg hunt and trick-or-treating, there are several other activities and events held throughout the year. Music in the Park, which takes place the second Sunday of the summer and early autumn months on the lawn in front of Southside Elementary, is very popular with the residents.
“It’s always packed,” Kendall said. “You can put a blanket down and let the kids run around and it’s just such a good activity for families or for anyone.” The neighborhood also has a community garden and hopes to revive the backyard garden tours and historic homes tours they have done in the past.
While residents will joke about not having a reason to actually leave the neighborhood, they will also point out how important it is for them to be a part of the larger community of Johnson City. They have organized several beautification projects including alley clean-ups and painting over graffiti. They contribute to One Acre Cafe each year and are currently holding a supply drive for Tri-Cities Mutual Aid.
“We are focusing more on community building and community projects, more activities that we are doing as a neighborhood,” Kendall said. “I always want to be doing things that give back – not to just the neighborhood but to the whole community.”