Great TREEbulation: Iconic Thacker Christmas Inn sign scrapped

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'Nobody saved Christmas'

By Brent Schanding

  A 38-year-old iconic landmark was “deforested” and scrapped last Thursday when crews removed and demolished the 30-foot tall, tree-shaped Thacker Christmas Inn and Restaurant sign near Interstate 75 exit 134 in Caryville. 

The larger-than-life sign was cut at the tree’s base by a welding torch before a tall crane lowered it down to a flatbed truck. It was eventually hauled away to a Knoxville scrap yard, although a large chunk of it lingered late Monday afternoon in the parking lot of a shuttered gas station across the street. 

Joe Valentino, general manager for the Holiday Inn Express & Suites, which will open next month at the site of the former inn, said a deal was negotiated with Commercial Sign and Crane LLC to remove the sign. 

The Seymour-based company retained ownership of the sign once it dismantled it, he said.

Valentino initially said he hoped the company would find a new use for it.

But a representative of the sign company on Monday told the LaFollette Press it was already partly junked at a Knoxville scrap dealer. 

“The tree was cut in a number of sections,” said David Bailey, manager of Commercial Sign and Crane. “The top part was basically destroyed. It was in bad shape.”

When news spread last Thursday through our social media networks that the sign was being dismantled —and hopefully salvaged —LaFollette Press Facebook fan Ruth Kash Trump wished the Christmas tree would make a grand reemergence this December at Times Square in New York, or at the White House in Washington, D.C.

But not even a Christmas miracle will make that a reality. 

“It’s unsalvageable now,” said Bailey, who left a follow-up message with The Press late Monday morning that a large part of the sign’s mid-section was still intact and could be purchased if someone was interested. 

It was spotted by reporters about two hours later at the closed Exxon gas station on Tenn. 116. —  just a few hundred feet away from its former home.   

The iconic sign had served as a Caryville landmark along I-75 since 1975. The tree peaked just above the roofline of the former hotel. 

“We are disappointed to learn the final outcome of the sign,” Valentino said Monday in response to the purchaser’s decision to scrap the sign. “We spent a lot of time trying to find an organization and/or person willing to remove and relocate the sign at their own expense.” 

The LaFollette Press published reports on the impending demise of the sign last month and challenged readers to connect with hotel representatives to find a new home for it.

An outpouring of readers reached out to The Press and expressed sadness for the loss of the sign. Many said it was a fond reminder of times past; others said it served as a distinguishable landmark to millions of interstate travelers through the decades. 

“Unfortunately, we didn’t have any takers and we were up against a deadline so a deal was made with the sign company for removal,” Valentino said. 

New, eco-friendly signs for Holiday Inn Express & Suites now adorn the building in anticipation of the mid-June debut of the 78-room hotel. 

While some readers were angry about the sign’s fate, most welcomed the opening of the new hotel, which sat vacant for several years after a devastating fire partially destroyed it. 

Nearly 100 job seekers showed up last week for a job fair that could fill as many as 25 full- and part-time positions there.

Business and industry officials said the opening of the hotel is a sign of an improving economy and could eventually help  lure a national chain restaurant to the interchange.