Rambling down Franklin Road towards downtown, just over the bridge across the Harpeth River sat Earl’s Fruit Stand. Every fall the purveyor of fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs, turned his business into a child’s dream called “Pumpkinland.”
Through a meandering straw maze that led around the parking lot into the building, owner Earl Tywater and his daughter Tammy displayed pumpkins painted to look like famous people among their collection of pumpkins for sale. The small and large pumpkins included white palm-sized ones to those big enough to hide a small child. To many, it was the highlight of the fall season.
Every year Pumpkinland grew bigger. Eventually, the parking lot was stuffed with pony rides, hay bales, apple cider, face painting and candied apples. Next came a petting zoo with live goats, chickens, pigs and rabbits. According to one story, the highlight was a monkey and camels that joined the menagerie one year. There was even a concrete gorilla. It was so popular the schools would bus children to the stand to celebrate the season.
It was a small store that strained with fresh produce in the fall and a sea of flowers and fresh fruits in the summer. Lush displays of perennials and annuals in pots and hanging baskets filled the outside, and inside the nooks and crannies of the small space were hung with seasoned gourds, smoked hams and dried peppers. There were bins with fresh fruits, vegetables, and candy. The air hung heavy with the musty scent of bags of fresh potting soil. A cooler was filled with iced down colas. All kinds of seeds were available. It had a decidedly old time feel.
Warm and welcoming, there were offerings of tomatoes, cucumbers, Silver Queen corn, dried beans, and watermelons. According to the blog Smit’s Story, there was once a Tennessee law that said that watermelons could not be sold on Sunday. But Earl did.
The fruit stand was still open in the mid-1990s. And after Tywater’s death in 2000, his daughter kept it open for a few more years. Another member of the family opened a stand in Arrington that is now closed.
Tywater was quite a character. One story online tells of a customer who asked Earl if his tomatoes were mealy, after giving him a stony shake of the head he refused to sell him any when the customer went to check out. Another tells of one man knocking on the door after dark one night when the lights were on and hearing a shotgun being loaded. He left and never went back. But most remember him for the joy he created.
Anyone growing up in Franklin remembers Earl’s Fruit Stand. It was also a bit of a tourist attraction discussed on Yelp and Trip Advisor.
It was a beloved landmark.