Rich history lies behind mystery Christmas tree on I-40 in Roane County

KINGSTON (WATE) – If you’ve driven through Roane County on Interstate 40 heading towards Nashville in the last month or so, you’ve likely noticed a Christmas tree fully decorated on the side of the interstate.

The tree is in Kingston between Exits 355 and 352 and is a tradition that’s been going for more than 35 years.

“Anne and Fred Walker moved into our community [in 1978] and as a way of saying merry Christmas to people who were traveling or away from home,” said Gary Alley, student and young adult pastor at First Baptist Church of Kingston.

The tree gets all kinds of attention in the headlines and on the road.

GALLERY: I-40 Christmas Tree

“Just this year while we were decorating it, a truck driver stopped to tell us how much it’s meant to truckers this time of the year,” added Alley.

The Walkers, up until 1993, were the ones ornamenting the tree. They’ve since passed away, but now it’s the youth group from their church doing the work.

“To me it’s just part of my holiday tradition now,” said Alley.

Things have changed a little bit over the years.

Anne and Fred Walker
Anne and Fred Walker

“Well the decorations in the early days were homemade that Anne would put together,” said Alley.

The tree itself has also changed, but one thing has always remained.

“They were both just sweet sweet folks,” said Alley.

It’s a big tree full of little surprises. Someone recently left behind wrapped boxes to look like gifts and often the congregation finds notes from out-of-state travelers with fond memories of the tree.

The vision all along has been sharing the Christmas spirit for anyone who is homesick.

“Anne is probably wanting me to adjust the decorations a little bit and she may not be entirely happy with all the decorations that we use now because we don’t use the homemade decorations that she used. But she’s really happy,” said Alley.

This isn’t the only time of year the tree is decorated. Years ago the Roane County Daughters of the American Revolution Chapter reached out to the church asking if they could put American flags on the tree for the 4th of July.

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