The North City Sector has a rich history that dates back more than two centuries to the original European settler, an Irishman named John Adair and his family. In 1788, the Governor of North Carolina gave Adair a land grant for a square mile of wilderness in what was then called the Grassy Valley. Adair’s Station began as a supply post or commissary for the Cumberland Guards. The Guard was charged with protecting the settlers traveling along “Yellow Mountain Trace” from Morganton, North Carolina, to the Nashville area. By the end of the 1800s, within the present-day boundaries of the North City Sector, four separate but connected communities began to form. Fountain Head (later to become Fountain City), Smithwood, Beverly, and Inskip each developed their own community trade centers, churches, and schools.
The 1880s saw a boom in Knoxville’s industrial growth; 97 new factories were built that decade. With the use of coal for factory processes, and for home heating and cooking, the early downtown suburbs were dirty with coal dust. Residents began to look for ways to escape the conditions. The first mechanized street car, the Dummy Line, built by the Fountain Head Railway Company was completed in 1890 and provided a way for downtown residents to visit the beautiful Fountain Head resort area. The line’s name referred to the fact that it was not a real train but a steam engine that could run forward and backward without turning around.
Also in 1890, with the establishment of the first post office in the community, the name was changed to Fountain City to avoid confusion with another Fountain Head in Sumner County. A trip on the Dummy line cost 10 cents at the time, and for another 50 cents riders could enjoy a good meal at Mary Donahue’s dining room. The Dummy Line had a bad habit of breaking down mid-trip; its replacement with an electric streetcar in 1905 and gas-powered cars after 1934 corrected its unreliable operation. With the environment, amenities, and public transportation of Fountain City, it was not long before people began to build permanent houses. The Fountain City Land Company, which was a group of entrepreneurs from Kentucky headed by Col. J. C. Woodward, bought 430 acres around the park to subdivide and called it “a new town made of good moral fiber” in sales promotions. At the turn of the 20th century, Fountain City had little more than 400 people living there. However, by 1950, it had gained close to 20,000 new residents.
The historic Dummy Line street car
In 1893, Holbrook Normal College established a campus in Fountain City overlooking the park. Although the first building was lost to fire in 1900, a second one was soon built and later became Central High School, one of the earliest public high schools in Knox County. The building was dramatically modernized in 1931 with designs by Baumann and Baumann and eventually became Gresham Middle School. There was no grammar school in Fountain City until 1903; prior to that children went to the Smithwood Grammar School. Also in 1931, Baumann and Baumann designed Fountain City Elementary, which was the largest elementary school in the County in the 1940s. Gresham Middle School and Fountain City Elementary are still in use today.
Gresham Middle School is still in use today.
The Smithwood community formed east of Fountain City at the intersection of Tazewell and Jacksboro where local businesses like Hill’s Cash Store were located. A commercial node still exists there. The community was named Smithwood after John Smith, John Adair’s grandson, who contributed land for the establishment of Adair’s Creek Baptist Church and, later, for the land on which Smithwood School was constructed.
The Beverly community center developed just down the road from Smithwood at the intersection of Tazewell Pike and Beverly Road. After the Civil War, Tazewell Pike was designated as one of five toll roads located throughout Tennessee by the State Legislature. It was a heavily traveled route and the money collected was used to improve the road. Additionally, several prominent businessmen built homes along Tazewell Pike, where a Neighborhood Conservation Overlay (NC-1) is located.
The area was nameless until the 1870s, when church meetings brought attention to the quiet farming community. The National Camp Ground was established in the area by the Rev. Dr. Inskip on a farm owned by Arthur Crozier. The site was chosen because of its proximity to the railroad line. In 1872, the formal opening of the National Camp Meeting took place with thousands of people in attendance. The railroads ran special trips from Knoxville in order to accommodate all of the people traveling to the area.
In 1888, the Sterchi sons went into the furniture business. Shortly thereafter, J.G. Sterchi bought out his brothers, and by 1913 he was a millionaire. He continued to live in the community and built his grand Greek Revival mansion on Dry Gap Road, which is still standing.
The Sterchi Mansion
A quasi-downtown evolved at the corner of Inskip Drive and Central Avenue. It was here in 1946 that Eldridge Litton opened Litton’s market. It was his grandson who many years later closed the original market and reopened it in Fountain City as Litton’s Market and Restaurant, which is still popular today.
When the Fountain City Press, a local newspaper, advertised Copeland Garage as Fountain City’s first auto repair shop, it was clear that times were changing. Broadway evolved into the primary northbound arterial from Knoxville, and Fountain City became home to commuter suburbs. Some of Knoxville’s earliest suburbs, like Adair Gardens and Gibbs Drive, show a progressive transition from dependence on electric streetcars, which were discontinued in 1934, to the automobile.
In September 1925, Dr. Reuben Neil Kesterson, one of the first dentists in Knoxville, began developing the Kesterwood subdivision off of Tazewell Pike. This new subdivision was near Greenwood Cemetery, which Kesterson had carefully designed after the death of his three-year-old son. The house built for his family in 1928 is still located on Kesterwood Drive.
Harrill Hills, a suburb laid out in 1927, was named after Gaines Harrill, who founded Knoxville’s first transfer and hauling company and previously owned the land on which the subdivision was built. The suburb’s slogan “the beautiful north side,” and the promise of a lake that never materialized, helped draw commuters from Knoxville. The Great Depression and World War II, however, slowed development and the development was not completed until the mid 1950s.
This sector has many historic commuter suburbs.
By the 1950s most of the farms between Smithwood, Fountain City, and Inskip had disappeared. From 1950 to 1958, 56 new subdivisions were created until little developable land was left. Broadway took on the commercial form that is recognizable today, and this development caused many of the local trade centers to go out of business. In 1962, Fountain City was incorporated into the Knoxville city limits. What had once been Grassy Valley had evolved into an urban community.