Allen Cox works inside the old Scott County Jail, where he is replacing 37 windows as part of a project to restore the jail | Ben Garrett/IH
Tyler Cox works alongside his father, Allen Cox, at the old Scott County Jail while out of school for fall break | Ben Garrett/IH

HUNTSVILLE — Inside the old Scott County Jail, Allen Cox is at work, tackling the next step towards making the historic building presentable to the public. His job: replacing more than three dozen windows throughout the 116-year-old stone building. He’s sometimes busy with a grinder, sometimes with a tape measure and sometimes with other tools of the trade as he tackles the steel-barred openings in the stone walls.

This is Scott County’s newest window and door man. Cox recently moved his company to the local community, along with his wife and three kids. 

It’s fall break, so Cox has some help as he completes the work at the jail. His oldest son, Tyler, is out of school for the week and is helping his father with the project. On other days, Cox works alone — and that’s just fine by him. He’s a second-generation contractor and has spent most of his adult life honing his skills. But his days of managing work crews are behind him.

“I used to run several crews and it wasn’t fun,” he said. “We went to Alaska for eight years and I always said that when I started back up I was going to keep it fun.”

By fun, he means working solo — or, at least, mostly solo.

“We’re working mostly in people’s homes and things and you don’t really know anybody so it just makes it easier to go into people’s homes that way,” Cox said. “You don’t have to watch over two or three people who are helping you that you’ve only known for a year or two.”

Cox followed his father into the windows-and-doors business. Barry Cox was first a military man, then a truck driver. When two companies he drove for went under, he decided to go into business for himself. And in 1981, B&A Siding — Barry & Allen — was founded.

Allen Cox took over the company in 2002, and when he wound up in Tennessee, he changed the name to reflect his new focus on windows and doors — dropping the siding work that he and his father had done for so many years in their native North Carolina.

From N.C. to Scott

Cox’s path from North Carolina to Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau is one that started with a two-year stint just across the state line in Kentucky. In 2007 and 2008, he worked as a supervisor as the federal penitentiary was being built in Pine Knot. The job offer came through one of his contacts that he had made in his years of installing windows and doors. When they made him an offer he couldn’t refuse, he accepted — and was introduced to the Cumberlands.

“We loved the area, so we knew we wanted to come back,” he said.

First, though, the Coxes were headed to Alaska.

“My grandpa and dad and everybody always talked about wanting to go to Alaska,” he said. “I had heard that since I was a kid. We got the opportunity to go up there and we took it. We loved it. It’s a beautiful place.”

But after eight years, the family was getting older, and it was time to move back to the continental U.S. For Allen Cox and his wife, there was no doubt about where they’d wind up.

When asked why he chose to settle down in Scott County instead of back home in North Carolina, Cox doesn’t hesitate: it’s the people, he says. And he references the iconic Andy Griffith television show. He grew up in the greater Winston-Salem area of North Carolina, not far from Griffith’s Mt. Airy home that the show’s fictional town of Mayberry was based on. But his North Carolina home, Cox said, is no Mayberry. Scott County, in many ways, is.

“There are so many transplants where I came from that it’s not what it was,” he said. “It’s not that friendly, country people it once was. Every time a farmer dies, another 300 or 400 house development goes up. And the people have changed. They don’t wave anymore. They don’t speak to you in restaurants. It’s like being up north, and I could never live there.” 

For a family looking for a step back to simpler times with simpler people, Scott County fit the bill.

“The people here are just like they were when I was a kid,” Cox said. “Everybody’s friendly. People stop you. You know who your neighbors are. Back in that part of the world (North Carolina), you don’t know who’s living around you. People don’t communicate that way anymore.”

Cox and his wife bought the Bobby Sharpe place near Norma — sight unseen, in fact. They moved their family to Scott County, and Cox re-established his business, Cox Windows & Doors.

Finding Demand

So is there a demand in rural Scott County for a contractor who specializes in window and door installation? There is, it turns out.

“There’s nobody here that does this,” Cox said. “Most people I’ve talked to who have had windows and doors replaced have gotten people out of Knoxville to come up here. And mostly it’s Lowe’s and Home Depot and Champion. They’re taking advantage of people.” 

For Cox, there’s no job too large or small. He’ll work on industrial buildings, commercial buildings or residential jobs. 

“Pretty much anything to do with a window and a door, we do it,” he said. “That’s what we do and we specialize in it. Other guys might do siding, roofing and windows, but we specialize in windows and doors. There are not many projects we can’t handle.”

Mostly, though, Cox likes the residential jobs.

“I like the residential better just for the fact that we get to meet people and talk to people,” he said. “That’s how you grow — word of mouth. It’s the best form of advertising.”

Finishing the Jail

While Cox prefers residential jobs, he also has a love for historical projects — which is what led him to the old jail. When the Town of Huntsville, which acquired the jail from Scott County and is working to restore it before opening it to the public in some form or fashion, issued a request for bids to replace the windows, Cox jumped at the opportunity. In fact, he put what he calls “a good price” on it because he wanted the contact.

“We wanted to be a part of this,” he says. “I’m tickled to be involved. Any chance we get to be involved in the old historic buildings, we jump all over it.” 

In some ways, perhaps, things have come full circle. Cox was introduced to the Cumberlands by working to build a new, modern prison to house criminals, and it was that experience that made him want to put down roots here. Now, he’s working on this region’s oldest detention facility, helping to restore it for all to enjoy.

“These old stones that are here,” Cox said, pointing to the walls of the historic jail, “there are no men walking today that could go down to the bluff, dynamite that stone, and then carry it up here and set it with the equipment they had back in 1902. There’s nobody alive that could do that. We like to consider ourselves good tradesmen, but we can’t hold a candle to the old guys. A lot of knowledge has been lost.” 

In some ways, that’s what Cox is doing — keeping the trade alive. The tools and methods may have changed, but the necessary skills and knowledge remain the same.

To contact Cox Windows & Doors, call (423) 223-3559. You can also find them on Facebook by searching “Cox Window & Door Renewal.” A 10 percent discount is offered to veterans and seniors.

This article is the October 2018 installment of Business Spotlight, presented by the Scott County Chamber of Commerce on the third week of each month as part of the Independent Herald's Back Page Features series. A print version of this article can be found on Page B8 of the October 18, 2018 edition of the Independent Herald.