Lake Norman & Mooresville

A look back at Knox Realty

Before Lake Norman became synonymous with million-dollar luxury estates, back when cotton fields in the area were as common as strip malls, a young Davidson couple decided to start a real estate business.

Russell Knox, then-vice president of Piedmont Bank in Davidson, and his wife, Patricia Knox, a secretary at Davidson College, started Knox Realty in 1973 because they saw a need for a full-time real estate company for the area, said daughter Beth Sullivan, 51.

Now more than 30 years later, Knox Realty was bought by Allen Tate Co., another family-owned real estate company in the area.

Sullivan cited her mother's desire to retire and the changing economic times as reasons for the consolidation.

Russell Knox died in 2002 from Parkinson's disease at age 70.

Three of the Knox siblings - Sullivan, Rusty Knox and Doug Knox - will continue doing what they love, selling real estate out of the Davidson office on Main Street. But the sale will free them from the stress of operating their own business, Sullivan said.

Knox Realty becomes the 18th family bought by Allen Tate, an independently owned company founded in 1957 by H. Allen Tate, Jr.

"What we look for is a match of culture," said Pat Riley, president and chief operating officer of Allen Tate. "We've always respected them for always taking the high ground and doing the right thing. They're good people with a solid community relationship."

Back when Russell and Patricia Knox started their real estate company in 1973, though, neither of them really had a background in real estate - save for the night classes they'd taken to prepare for the state real-estate exam, said Sullivan.

But what her parents did have were passion for the community and a strong entrepreneurial spirit.

While Russell split his time between the bank, Patricia quit her secretarial job to build the family business, a role virtually unheard of in the 1970s for a woman.

"It was out of character for a woman to start her own business," said Patricia, 77, from her home in Davidson. "I didn't give a thought to it because I thought I could do anything anyone else could do if I had the mind and the will to do it."

Over three decades, Knox Realty Inc., expanded from a tiny business on Main Street to three locations with 35 employees serving Lake Norman, northern Mecklenburg and Iredell County.

For the 1970s and early 1980s, the company occupied most of the market share in the Lake Norman area. It wasn't until development took off at the lake in the mid-1980s that other real estate companies began taking up more of the market share, said Sullivan.

"Being a mom-and-pop organization is probably one of the things that kept us alive during those times," said Rusty Knox, the 53-year-old son of Russell and Patricia. He has worked at Knox Realty since 1994.

"Being the hometown Realtor, we have always offered that level of comfort to our clients. It's been one of those things that's been our strongest asset: We're here, we've been here, we've been part of fabric and foundation of main street Davidson."

A son of a cotton farmer, Russell's family has been in the area since the 1700s, so Davidson and its history were near to his heart, said Sullivan.

In 1984, Russell was elected mayor of Davidson, where he served for 14 years. During his tenure, Russell gained a reputation for being a champion of the town's historical integrity, said Rusty Knox.

When the town contemplated selling the Beaver Dam Historic Park and House on the outskirts of town, Russell argued for the town to purchase the property. Today, the former home of the local Revolutionary War hero General William Lee Davidson II, is a publicly owned building where people frequently hold weddings, said Rusty.

When the town discussed replacing the old wooden fence at McEver Field with a chain-link fence, Rusty said his father fought to "keep the integrity about what that park was all about."

Patricia gained her own reputation for being a business-savvy woman with a generous heart, said Sullivan. For eight years, Patricia not only co-owned Knox Realty in downtown Davidson, but also ran a clothing store right next door.

Patricia also had ventures in commercial developments as well as spec homes, said Sullivan.

"She's an entrepreneur, she's sharp," she said. "She was definitely ahead of her time."

The Knox family is also well known in the community for community service. Over the years, they've sponsored several local charities, including the Davidson Housing Coalition and Our Towns Habitat for Humanity.

Patricia said the family had many long discussions on the future of the family company when she retired. Ultimately, she decided the Allen Tate company would do justice to her family's business and their legacy of community service.

"He's such a well-established company, and we've had great respect for him," she said. "I feel like the core values are there, and we'll do very well."