‘Pumpkinland’ has served as a fall tradition for decades


Middle Tennessee lost a piece of Halloween lore when Franklin’s Earl Tywater passed away in 2000.

The longtime Williamson County resident has run his beloved Earl’s Fruit Stand for nearly five decades. He opened the store in 1957 with his brother Leon across from where Americana Taphouse is today.

He and his family sold fruits, vegetables, plants and flowers to Earl’s, but became best known for “Pumpkinland,” the family’s free fall festival, and its display of gigantic and creative pumpkins.

It all started when his wife decorated the old-fashioned fruit stand at 95 E. Main St. with hand-carved pumpkins. According to a 1999 Tennessean article by Linda Quigley, they “got a little more creative then.”

Tywater had been selling pumpkins in the fall for over two decades when he began displaying typical-sized pumpkins in various paintings and costumes.

Earl Tywater, 30, Earl's Fruit Stand in Franklin, shows off the 501-pound pumpkin on display at his stand on October 17, 1985. Tywater said it was the

The biggest additions came in 1975, when Tywater began collecting and displaying huge pumpkins. In 1985, he called his 501-pound exhibit pumpkin “the largest pumpkin lantern in the South.”

“I’ve heard rumors that there were a bigger one or two scattered across the country, but it’s the biggest in the South,” he told Renee Vaugh, then editor of the Tennessean.

The pumpkins seemed to get bigger over the decades. In the 1990s, her biggest was over 700 pounds.

When asked by community members and reporters, Tywater – the self-proclaimed “undisputed king of middle Tennessee pumpkins” – kept the grower’s name a secret, but said he got the pumpkins “up the river. “.

“I personally know that he only uses water and good old manure,” he said.

Earl Tywater sets up a petting zoo in conjunction with his Pumpkinland each year at his Earl's roadside fruit stand in Franklin, Tenn., October 13, 1999.

Huge pumpkins welcomed people to “Pumpklinland” from 1975. Incorporating different activities over the years, Tywater would transform his fruit stand into a place where visitors could enjoy a mini haunted house, maze, a petting zoo, playground or pumpkin room featuring famous faces and more.

The place has become a favorite with the community and the region, with thousands of people flocking to Early’s each year.

In 1992, Tammy Wilkerson, Tywater’s daughter – one of the many members of the Tywater family who worked at Pumpkinland – was interviewed.

Students and parents from Brentwood YMCA Kindergarten choose Pumpkinland pumpkins at Earl's Fruit Stand in downtown Franklin, Tenn., October 30, 2002.

“People come here weeks in advance to find out when we’re going to be home (the pumpkins),” she said.

Wilkerson was also interviewed in 1977 for the Tennessean’s first cover of Pumpkin Extravaganza at Earl’s Fruit Stand. She, only 13 at the time, painted and carved the pumpkins to look like Mickey Mouse, Cinderella’s pumpkin and, her favorite, Elvis Presley.

Wilkerson and his sister Cheryl Enoch co-owned Earl’s Fruit Stand with their family after Tywater passed away.

“I always thought dad loved pumpkins and the Halloween season,” she wrote in an article in 2002. “Those pumpkins are what kept him and his family alive. was not just a love of pumpkins. They mean a lot more. They were a staple. They were what his family ate when he was little …

Tammy Wilkerson of Earl's Fruit Stand in Franklin, Tenn., Places a pumpkin depicting Bob Dole's head on a body shape in the Pumpkinland Famous People Gallery on September 24, 1996. Bill and Hillary Clinton and Ross Perot are also in the Election 1996 section. Wilkerson has been painting famous faces on pumpkins since he was 12 years old.

According to Wilkerson, his father grew up in poverty. Pumpkins were something affordable, something that was usually thrown to cattle for food. So her mother used them in meals, even between two cold cookies to take to school once.

Tywater’s father was a sharecropper at the riverbed site where Earl’s Fruit Stand stood for decades and across from where he started his very first location “with a shed made from nine pieces of plywood.” , according to his daughter.

In 2000, a fourth generation of his family ran the business in the same location.

“Pumpkins kept young Earl Tywater and his family alive, and today it’s the pumpkins that keep his fruit stand alive,” Mitchell Kline wrote for the Tennessean in 2002.

Earl’s Fruit Stand remained open for a few years after Tywater’s death. Wilkerson said the decision to shut down Earl’s was difficult. They were approached by interested buyers and developers, but first offered the land to the city.

“Dad has always told us this place is for you, and you run it for as long as it suits you,” she told the Tennessean in 2003 when the sale of the fruit stand location was announced.

Earl Tywater, veteran fruit and vegetable seller from Franklin, waits for a customer who receives a basket of peaches and a watermelon at his Earl Fruit Stand on July 9, 1986. Tywater, in business for 30 years at the same location, started with 16 feet square space on two acres currently.

His widow, Ann, said the decision to sell came in part from a desire to spend more time with their children and grandchildren.

The land was sold in 2010 at auction. Although part of the land is in a diversion canal, its location at the north “gate” to the historic Franklin district, has made it a coveted commercial building with thousands of passers-by daily.

Earl's Fruit Stand on Main Street in Franklin, Tenn., Here July 11, 2003, plans to close for good as potential buyers hope to reap a big harvest at the site.

Anika Exum is a reporter for the Tennessean and covers Williamson County. Contact her at aexum@tennessean.com or on Twitter @aniexum.

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