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The REALTOR® Party Making a Difference

Young Visionaries: Unveiling Townie the Turtle

Screenshot 2024-04-05 at 4.09.36 PM

The idea began with the Historic Downtown Clinton Youth Board, a group of students who are committed to their community and working to make Clinton, Tennessee, a place they are proud of. This group worked to secure funding for new trees in a small park outside the public library, which in turn inspired the sixth grade class at South Clinton Elementary school to begin working on what would eventually become Townie the Turtle. The sixth grade students made decisions on what the sculpture should be, the materials it should be made out of, and even what his name would be. REALTOR® Joey Smith has been heavily involved with the Historic Downtown Clinton group and brought the project to the local association in May 2023 as an opportunity to turn the students' dream into a reality. 




After visiting the site of the park and realizing what a great opportunity this was to give back to the community, East Tennessee REALTORS® (ETNR) applied for and received a Placemaking Grant for $7,500 on June 15, 2023 from the National Association of REALTORS® with the intention of funding the art installation for the project. This underutilized space in the heart of downtown Clinton needed a makeover to connect downtown to the main thoroughfare through town. The space was identified as a historical site in 2022 and named Terrapin Hill due to its history of leaving terrapins stranded at the base of the hill during heavy rain events. This history, along with the park’s proximity to the public library, is what led the sixth grade class to recommend the sculpture depict a turtle on its back reading a book. A once underutilized space, the newly-enhanced park creates a scenic walkway connecting downtown to the main street.


After receiving the grant, ETNR went through the process with Historic Downtown Clinton to receive a proposal and entered into a contract with Brian Somerville of The Grit Shop on July 17th, and the project fully began becoming a reality. Brian went through the process of sketching the proposed sculpture, creating a life size wood cut out and then welding a steel frame. The steel frame was then covered in a decorative stone veneer which was then covered by drawings from local Clinton students. The sculpture is vibrant, beautiful addition to the park. 



Following ETNR’s support for the sculpture, the Tennessee Arts Commission sponsored a storybook trail along the path going through the park. The book was written by a local author named Ray Oliver and illustrated by Joey Smith (the REALTOR® who prompted the association’s involvement). This book follows Townie the Turtle throughout historic downtown Clinton telling the story of not only Terrapin Hill, but the rest of this historic town. 

When asked what this project means to him Joey Smith said "This project encompassed everything I love about Clinton and our community.  Teaching and honoring history, the arts, high-quality public schools, multiple generations and ages working hand in hand to accomplish great things for the place they live and love so much.  The story of the terrapins and the namesake of our new friend "Townie Turtle" isn't really a significant, world-changing story; just a simple piece of community history that would have been lost over the decades had it not been for this outstanding group of people who contributed to this project. This simple story helps tie us to our hometown, reminding us of what makes it unique and assuring us that we are a part of something much bigger than ourselves."


This project culminated with a ribbon cutting during the Mosaic Arts Festival on April 6th, 2024, in downtown Clinton. The ribbon cutting was attended by Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally, ETNR President Elect Tina Collins-Hefner, Historic Downtown Clinton Board, the students involved in the creation of the idea for the project, Clinton City Council Members, and numerous citizens excited to have this new space in their town. 

The association would like to thank Historic Downtown Clinton and their Youth Board for inviting us to be a part of this process. A special thank you to Joey Smith for bringing the association into this project and to Katherine Birkbeck specifically for all of her work to make this project a huge success. We hope you will go visit this new space in Clinton located at 118 S. Hicks St. Clinton, TN 37716.