The name on the door at 214 Ellis Ave. in Maryville is Matthew Bryan’s, but he quickly recognizes the pillars that came before him and that paved the way.
This Bryan Insurance Group owner invites the community to a celebration on Tuesday, October 19, in honor of the past 100 years of the family business.
As he explains, Bryan Insurance Group’s roots in Blount County date back to 1921; it was then that Jesse C. Gillespie founded JC Gillespie Insurance. Ohio Republican Warren G. Harding was the country’s 29th president at the time.
According to Gillespie’s obituary, published in the Knoxville News-Sentinel on March 23, 1959, Gillespie began as a building superintendent for what was the Aluminum Company of America. He built some of the original ALCOA houses.
The obituary went on to say that Gillespie developed housing estates in Blount County, including Rock Gardens, and had an interest in Druid Hill Drive-in.
Gillespie would later merge with Blazer Insurance Agency. Blazer was owned by Earl Blazer and his brother, CL “Toots” Blazer.
Then, in 1932, MB “Major” Crum established Crum Insurance Agency, which was located in the former Blount National Bank, now the site of Preservation Plaza on Broadway in downtown Maryville. Crum bought the BL Glascock Insurance Agency and renamed it Crum.
Sam Roberson joined Crum in 1935 and later bought it from Major.
According to his obituary, Major got his nickname because of his military service. He served in World War I and earned the rank of major while in the National Guard. He died in 1950 at the age of 59.
Crum Insurance Agency grew into one of the strongest business institutions in Blount County, then merged with Blazer to become Crum & Blazer Insurance.
Another Blount County family with a lot of history in the insurance industry was Hitson, Bryan said. “MC Hitson was the first State Farm agent in Blount County,” he said. Charles Hitson, MC’s son, also worked in insurance at Prudential.
Then came Charles’s son Gary, who worked for Gillespie Insurance before opening Hitson Insurance in 1979.
Bryan bought Hitson Insurance in 2016, creating Hitson, Crum & Blazer. He changed the name to Bryan Insurance Group in 2018.
“I changed the name because it looked too much like a law firm,” Bryan said.
Since purchasing the businesses, Bryan has added locations in Farragut and Cleveland. He lives at 214 Ellis Ave. in Maryville. The agency offers complementary medical insurance as well as home, business, automobile and life insurance.
“Our building on Ellis Avenue was the Crum Insurance building,” he said. “I think they built it in 1973.”
While there is no one left who can remember that JC Gillespie first opened this office in 1921, Bryan said it was a moment worth celebrating. He said he invited other insurance companies to join him and the community on October 19.
“It’s kind of the insurance story in Blount County,” Bryan said. “There was JC Gillespie who did his thing. Crum did his thing and Sam Roberson did after that. Earl Blazer and Toots were the brothers who had Blazer Insurance.
The owners of Gillespie when Gary Hitson worked there were Steve Koella and George “Gig” Painter, Bryan said.
“It has been a long history of taking care of Blount County,” said Bryan.
He came to this community in 2005 and worked for the First Tennessee Bank. Bryan grew up in Greeneville and attended East Tennessee State University. His office in First Tennessee was at 101 West Broadway, he recalls.
“I worked on downtown business development,” Bryan said. “I used a lot of small businesses and got involved in the community. I thought it was an opportunity for me to own my own business. I couldn’t find a way to own a bank.
Bryan got his license to sell insurance in 2011 and started working with Gary Hitson. “He’s a great friend and mentor to me,” he said.
Bryan Insurance Group has grown to include three employees in Cleveland, one in Farragut and 11 here in Maryville. He said JC Gillespie Insurance was to be one of the very first insurance companies in Blount County. Today, there are probably close to 40, Bryan estimated.
This story is important and should be celebrated, he said.
“It means something to me, and it means something to this county and its people who have lived here before me,” said Bryan. “It’s about taking care of people and being a good steward.