The Airplane Filling Station

The historic preservation organization received the property as a gift from AFSPA

[KNOXVILLE, TN November 7, 2018] – The Airplane Filling Station Preservation Association (AFSPA) has gifted the iconic airplane-shaped building on Clinton Highway to Knox Heritage, the nonprofit historic preservation organization for Knox County and East Tennessee. “We are honored to have been selected by the AFSPA to assume ownership of this amazing restoration project”, said Todd Morgan, Executive Director of Knox Heritage.

The AFSPA, an all-volunteer organization, established itself as a nonprofit and spent several years restoring the structure to its former glory. With that goal successfully accomplished, the Association wanted to ensure that all their hard work would be protected into the future before transferring ownership to a new entity. Knox Heritage had an established relationship with AFSPA and had previously been consulted about preparing a preservation easement for long-term protection. Knox Heritage has almost two decades of experience restoring historic properties and holds preservation easements on several historically significant properties in East Tennessee. The organization offered the AFSPA the assurance it needed that the property would be well cared for under their management.

Originally constructed in 1931 as a gas station by the Nickle brothers, the design was intended to persuade passing automobile traffic to stop there instead of traditional stations. The marketing-savvy brothers based the design on Charles Lindberg’s Spirit of St. Louis. The gasoline had stopped pumping by around 1970 and after that, the structure was used for other businesses, such as a liquor store, a produce stand, a bait-and-tackle shop, and eventually a used car lot. However, by 2002, the structure was covered in kudzu and years of neglect had rusted away much of the metal cladding. A leaky roof had caused the wood interior to rot. Powell native Tom Milligan, a founding member of AFSPA, convinced the owners to sell the property to him.

The AFSPA was created in 2003 as a 501c (3) non-profit organization specifically to restore the old plane to its former glory. The preservation effort involved Dr. Tim Ezzell from the University of Tennessee who assigned some of his graduate students to nominate the building for the National Register of Historic Places. AFSPA replaced the exterior cladding, made major structural repairs, renovated the interior, recreated the propeller, and updated the mechanical systems.

Today the former filling station is home to John’s Barber Shop and is filled with before and after photos of the restoration. This authentic piece of roadside Americana has been featured on the Heartland Series, The Tennessee Traveler, and a Mercedes-Benz commercial, and many national publications.

March 2019 National Trust for Historic Preservation article.

Read more about its history HERE.

Check out the AFSPA Facebook page HERE.

Watch the Mercedes-Benz commercial is was featured in HERE.