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Transplanted and thriving

Holbrooks put down roots in East Tennessee following move
Story and Photos by Glen Liford 2/17/2021


Zack Holbrook, right, shows off some of the 70 SimAngus and Hereford (not shown) cattle he and his Uncle Mike are raising on the family’s farm to Grainger Farmers Cooperative Manager Burl Matthews.
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After 31 years living and working in the tight-knit community of Grainger County, the Holbrook family would not be viewed as outsiders by most of their neighbors. But their story begins with the difficult decision to pull up stakes in their native Kentucky, uproot the family, and move to the quiet town of Rutledge that they now call home.

The Holbrooks have spent those years managing a series of thriving businesses and farming in the rural area. Perhaps above all, they have worked hard to become good neighbors.

“We just loved the laid-back feeling down here, and how friendly everyone was,” says Eddie Holbrook.

Eddie had spent 27 years working in the coal mines near Jenkins, Ky., when he decided to retire in 1989, in part because of a slowdown in the mining industry. It was around that time that he and his wife, Claudia, learned of the opportunity in Grainger County that would change the trajectory of the family’s history.

For years, the Holbrooks had spent “miners’ vacation” on the scenic shores of East Tennessee’s Cherokee Lake. “Miners’ vacation,” Eddie explains, were the precious two weeks each year — the last of June and the first of July —when the mines were shut down and workers and their families had the opportunity to plan trips and family outings.

“Cherokee Lake is where we would always go, no questions asked,” says Eddie. “We just came to love the place.”

The family would stay at Shields Greenlee Campgrounds on the lake shore and spend leisurely days soaking up the slower pace of the area and enjoying boating, swimming, and camping. On one of those trips, the campground owner asked Claudia if she would be interested in purchasing the property. The opportunity occurred while the Kentuckians were considering retirement from the mines, and they knew it was something to consider carefully.

“I presented the idea [to the family] after dinner one Sunday,” Eddie recalls. “And I told them it had to be a unanimous decision, so if anybody didn’t want to go, we would drop it.”

Sons Mike, Jamie, and Eddie Jr. were all on board with the idea, however. Though Jamie was still in school, the family purchased the property where they had spent so many summer vacations.

In the years since, the Holbrooks have expanded the original campground, acquired two additional properties — that include a total of 800 campsites — and incorporated two marinas while developing a business selling and maintaining boats. The Holbrook sons: Eddie Jr., Mike, and Jamie, moved their families to the area over a period of years, so the entire clan now calls Grainger County home. The family also purchased a former dairy near their businesses, and in 2014, began to develop a beef operation on the 106-acre farm.

“We began with four or five registered Simmental bred heifers,” says Eddie Jr.’s son, Zack, who adds that he got into the business due in large part because of his love for animals. “We have around 70 head of SimAngus and Herefords right now.”

Zack and his uncle, Mike, primarily manage the beef operation, caring for the cattle and raising around 60 acres of hay. But they’re quick to credit the rest of the family with helping, too.

“When I first met my wife, Kendal, her grandfather, Hugh Henry, would talk about his cows,” he explains. “He was a bigtime cattle producer, and he helped me get started.”

As active community members, Eddie Jr. says the family loves to support their neighbors through locally owned businesses like Grainger Farmers Co-op. It’s that type of support that has meant so much to their own endeavors, and they believe in reciprocating.

“But I tell you, the key to our success is that whatever we did, we dedicated it to God,” says Eddie Jr., who has been a Baptist preacher for the past 14 years. “It was God moving us when we came down here.”

Eddie Jr. also works with the Grainger County Baptist Association of 32 churches. Two years ago, the association started a food pantry, and Eddie Jr. has helped to keep it going and growing. He has been working with local beef producers to get locally grown calves donated and processed for the effort, which has seen additional needs through the COVID-19 crisis.

“We’re proud of what the food pantry has accomplished,” he says. “The churches have been a part of it, but a lot of folks in the community have stepped up, too. We have had a lot of volunteers coming in and helping us. It’s all about our community.”

It’s that type of feeling that brought the Holbrooks to Rutledge, and it’s also one of the characteristics of the area that makes them glad to call it home.

“It really reminds me of where we came from,” says Eddie Jr. “Everyone knows everyone, and we take care of our own.”

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