Nature, community and a small-town lifestyle are growing organically at Stephens Valley
By Hollie Deese
Photography by Reeves Smith
Sometimes you need to make a change, to switch things up and choose a different way of living.
Paula Durham, 70, and her husband, Fred, have been in Stephens Valley since November 2018. Self-proclaimed empty-nesters, they were ready to downsize from their life in Green Hills – which was the first place they decided to move after their kids left home.
“My husband is a native. After college, when we were married in the early ’70s, we ended up raising our family not far from here on Moran Road. Then we built a home in Green Hills, and we were there for almost 20 years,” Durham says.
Green Hills was wonderful, with convenient shopping and restaurants. But eventually they saw a shift in the area — and in their lifestyle — and began to think of what to do next. Green Hills was getting hard to navigate, and most of the downtown activities they had once gravitated to didn’t interest them as much.
“I think sometimes the older you get, the more simple you like things,” she says.
When she heard about the Stephens Valley development — with its access to Natchez Trace, its front-porch living and its town center with shopping and restaurants — it was the only thing she wanted.
“The town center had enormous appeal for us, and it’s what I had dreamed of,” she says. “It would be so nice to be able to just walk out my back door, cross the street and be in an area where there are restaurants, coffee shops, a little shopping. But there was nothing in our comfort areas in Nashville that offered that. It just wasn’t available.”
So when they heard that lots were available to purchase at Stephens Valley, they were in the office that day.
Their home was built by Rochford Realty and Construction Company, which developed the community with Land Innovations. There are four other builders in the development — Legend Homes, Celebration Homes, DeFatta Custom Homes and Sipple Homes.
“We love it, and it’s all we need,” Durham says.
A real community
Among the first residents at Stephens Valley, Durham says they already feel like a big part of a growing, diverse community.
“Rochford has done a fabulous job of keeping everybody connected. When new people move in, they host a get-together at the welcome center, and they’re always providing anything that we would need to have a nice social event,” she says. “We’re grateful for that because it makes a strong neighborhood.”
Johanna Brooks, her husband and their two young daughters became part of the Stephens Valley community in June. They moved to Middle Tennessee from Arizona last year and had been renting in Westhaven, another walkable community in Middle Tennessee.
They had assumed they would come to Tennessee and get a lot of land, but they loved the community and seeing kids riding their bikes every day so much that they could not wait to sign up with Stephens Valley. It also was closer to his job at Vanderbilt, even though it was such a new development.
“It’s been amazing because everybody is coming in with a fresh start, and everybody is so eager to meet each other,” Brooks says. “Especially coming from somewhere where you don’t know anybody. We very much were seeking that sense of being in a neighborhood and having a sense of community.”
Being able to meet their neighbors, connect with them and invest in the growth of the community is exactly what developer John Rochford wanted when he first conceived of Stephens Valley.
“I like to tell people that it’s not an exclusive community, it is an inclusive community,” he says. “Stephens Valley isn’t just building houses and making money. It’s really about what it is, what it will become and how it makes a difference in people’s lives.”
Rochford understands the importance of what is being built here, and having his name on the project it makes it even more important that they do it right. The 1,000 acres that Stephens Valley exists on belonged to Rochford’s old neighbor Bill Stephens.
Stephens made work clothes and was one of the original advertisers on the “Grand Ole Opry” radio show.
“Stephens Valley offered the opportunity to bring together the best practices of everything a person would want to create harmony, with nature and with the community,” he says. “Not just build houses, but build a true community.”
Rochford was president of Friends of Warner Park twice and is committed to preservation and protection of the environment. He also has a commitment to creating spaces where people really want to live.
“I’m interested in your home, but I’m telling you I’m much more interested in what this is for people. The land and the efforts made to preserve the infrastructure protect God’s gift to mankind,” he says.
Stephens Valley is a conservation easement subdivision and will have 500 acres of open space — 400 acres that border the Natchez Trace Parkway. More than 90% of the tree canopy was preserved, and there are seven miles of sidewalks and trails. No hunting is allowed, and rabbits, squirrels, deer, turkey and other birds abound.
“When I first walked the property years ago there was this alligator turtle in the creek. She looked up at me and I said, ‘Myrtle,’ — I named her Myrtle — ‘I promise you that I’ll protect your environment,’” Rochford says. “And she’s still out there, protected and living in harmony with us.”