Downtown Knoxville in the 1970s

The Knoxville History Project Shares Photographs by Army Psychologist Ros Mol

At the nonprofit Knoxville History Project, we are always on the lookout for old images for our Knoxville Shoebox digital collection. If you have interesting photographs, postcards, or brochures, from any era, we’d love to hear from you so we can preserve the visual history of Knoxville and make it available for researchers of the future. 

This month, we highlight four photographs taken in the early 1970s, during the final years of the Vietnam War, by an army psychologist named Ros Mol. Finding himself stationed in Knoxville, Mol roamed the city with a good camera, taking photographs of things that intrigued him. He came repeatedly to a somewhat derelict section of downtown before it became known as the Old City. 

Jackson Avenue Ramp

Jackson Avenue‘s brick-lined ramp, re-opened in early 2021 after a major renovation, was constructed in 1919 to access the newly raised portion of Gay Street. In this early 1970s photograph, the now unfamiliar brick building on the left is one of two old railroad headquarters buildings for the Knoxville-based East Tennessee, Virginia, and Georgia Railroad—which, in 1894, became a main component of J.P Morgan’s new Southern Railway. These 1880s Second Empire buildings were demolished in the late 1970s. In the center of the photograph is a glimpse of the Emporium Building on Gay Street, which opened as Sterchi Brothers Furniture store in 1902, and now houses art galleries managed by the Arts and Cultural Alliance, as well as the administrative office for the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra.

West Jackson and N. Central

In the1970s, West Jackson Avenue hosted a haphazard mix of businesses. But some of its elaborate old late 1880s warehouses, seen here on the left, were mostly vacant. Although not all these buildings have survived, the one with the distinct arched third-story windows (center left) is a rare Knoxville example of 1880s Richardson Romanesque architecture, featuring terracotta ornamentation and satyr figures. In the distance, Sullivan’s Saloon building served as an appliance warehouse. Although it’s not the oldest part of town, the term “Old City '' seemed apt to maverick developer and preservationist Kristopher Kendrick, who helped to bring new life to this once-derelict area in the late 1970s and early ‘80s.

JFG Building

Looking east along West Jackson Avenue, the JFG Building on the right takes center stage. Built in 1924, it served briefly as home for the Bowman Moore Hat Company before that business moved to Bearden in the 1930s. In 1926, JFG, which stands for James Franklin Goodson, one of the best-known regional coffee roasting companies, established its headquarters here. Connecting the main JFG building to a warehouse across the street was a long conduit, which transported clattering coffee beans, lending a distinctive coffee-roasting aroma to the area. The long building on the left, known as the Jackson Terminal Building, was built during the 1880s as a freight depot for East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia Railroad. 

L&N Station

When completed in 1905, the L&N Railroad Station, then on Asylum Avenue (now Western Avenue) was designed to look fancier than the Southern Railroad station, just a few blocks away on Depot Street. When this photograph was taken in the early 1970s, the L&N station was no longer operating – it witnessed its last regular passenger train in 1968. Knoxville’s 1982 World’s Fair brought new life to the old station when it was converted to house restaurants, including a Ruby Tuesday. The building was renovated once more and reopened in 2011 as the L&N STEM Academy, operated by Knox County Schools. 

Knoxville's Old City: A Short History

Discover the rich history of this section of downtown in Knoxville’s Old City: A Short History, a lavishly illustrated, 350-page book, by Jack Neely.  Available at KnoxvilleHistoryProject.org, Union Ave Books, and several Old City retail stores.

To get in touch, please contact us at (865) 337-7723 or email paul@knoxhistoryproject.org.


The mission of the Knoxville History Project (KHP) is to research, preserve, and promote the history and culture of Knoxville, Tennessee. Through research and engaging programs, KHP tells the city’s stories, focusing on those that have not been previously told and those that connect the city to the world. KHP’s stories, programs, and publications educate and help residents and visitors understand the city’s past and its complicated but dynamic heritage, and also inspire an appreciation for the city’s culture.

Donations to support the work of the Knoxville History Project, an educational nonprofit, are always welcome and appreciated. KHP’s best-seller, Historic Knoxville: The Curious Visitor’s Guide and the latest collection of stories, Knoxville Lives IV, is available at knoxvillehistoryproject.org and local bookstores, including Union Ave Books.

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