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 to inspire an appreciation for the city’s culture.
Learning about a city’s history makes one more aware of its geography and its buildings, leading to a better sense of place. KHP’s downloadable driving tours of Near-West, North, East, and South Knoxville provide opportunities for residents to discover and appreciate the many historical landmarks found throughout Knoxville that can be seen easily from a vehicle or explored on foot.
A Driving Tour of South Knoxville
Starting at the south end of the Henley Bridge, this 22.6-mile-long driving tour of South Knoxville makes a broad loop around the largest, and least linear, of the city sectors. The tour takes in notable Civil War Forts, industrial icons, sections of the Urban Wilderness, and a few neighborhoods, cemeteries, and literary sites that inform the city’s culture.
Chapman Highway was built in the early 1930s, expressly to connect Knoxville more directly to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The road is named for Col. David Chapman (1876-1944), wholesale drug executive, Spanish-American War veteran, and conservationist who became known as the Father of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Notable on the left after the bridge is the Kern's Bakery building, founded by German immigrant Peter Kern, who originally based his business on Market Square. Long after his death, his company, now a larger and more specialized industry, built this bread factory in 1930, and used it for the rest of the century. It is now under redevelopment.
Out on Maryville Pike, on the southern edge of the city sector, lies Mt. Olive Cemetery, notable for its extraordinary monument to the memory of those who died on the Sultana, the Mississippi riverboat that exploded near Memphis at the end of the Civil War in April 1865. The riverboat was carrying Union soldiers recently freed from Confederate prison camps. Among the approximately 1,200 who died were scores of soldiers from East Tennessee, several from South Knoxville. Although 400 miles from the site of explosion, this 1916 monument is believed to be the largest monument to America's worst maritime disaster.
Island Home Park is a residential community distinguished by marble pillars at two entrances off Island Home Avenue. Containing approximately 200 homes, for many years it remained close yet detached from downtown, separated by, until recently, the stagnant post-industrial corridor along Sevier Avenue. Major developments since 2005, including the growth of Ijams Nature Center and Urban Wilderness trails, plus business developments began changing the dynamics surrounding the neighborhood. Adjacent is the Tennessee School for the Deaf, a statewide educational institution that dates back to 1844 (the school was downtown for its first 80 years) but moved here in 1924 on the former “Island Home” showplace of merchant-prince Perez Dickinson (1813-1901) from where the community gets its name.
Suttree Landing is named in honor of Cormac McCarthy's 1979 novel, Suttree, which is set along the riverbanks of Knoxville, ca. 1951. A couple of scenes in the gritty novel take place near here, including one where the title character's ditches a stolen police car in the river. One of Knoxville's newest public parks, the site has a deep heritage. Here, by 1880, was a half-mile oval horse-racing track, making good use of this unusually flat patch of floodplain. It was rented and promoted by Cal Johnson, who grew up in slavery, but prevailed as a creative and successful businessman. He loved horses and horse racing, and rented this space in the 1880s and early 1890s, during which it was used by both white and Black sportsmen, for both horse and bicycle racing.
Donations to support the work of the Knoxville History Project, an educational nonprofit, are always welcome and appreciated. Learn more at KnoxvilleHistoryProject.org