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Background Report

History

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.

Fountain City
The area called Fountain Head began to gain popularity in the 1830s for its fresh water springs and peaceful environment. One of the better-known springs was chosen as the location for the Fountain Head Camp Ground, which was used by the Methodist Church for religious meetings. In the 1870s, Fountain Head Camp Ground gained popularity as a health resort, and during the yellow fever epidemic in Memphis a large group of refugees came to the camp ground. In the 1880s, when the Fountain Head Camp Ground lost appeal as a church meeting spot due to competition from the National Camp Ground in Inskip, the Methodist Church sold the land to the Fountain Head Improvement Corporation, and a hotel and park were developed on the site in 1886. Soon afterwards the Fountain City Lake was constructed in a marshy area of the park using the heart-shaped design of F.G. Phillips.

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.

Smithwood
Tazewell Pike was built in the 1790s to connect the stations to mills and ferries. The area along Tazewell Pike was composed of small farms with log cabins until the mid 1800s and was the home of many French-Swiss families who came to Knoxville in search of religious freedom.

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.

Beverly
Further east, the Beverly community was settled by William Anderson. His cabin, dating back to approximately 1810, is still standing but has been moved to Murphy Road. Isaac Anderson, William’s son and a well-known Presbyterian preacher, started a school in 1802 in a cabin on the property; it was called Union Academy. In 1812, Anderson moved the school and his ministry to Maryville in Blount County where the school became Maryville College.

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 main industry that developed in the area was started by Charles Baum in 1889. Baum’s Home of Flowers became one of the largest greenhouses in the Southeast. It is said that in the early years Charles would hang a scarf outside to indicate to the neighbors that a new kind of flower was blooming.

Inskip
John L. Tillery settled in the Inskip area, west of Fountain City, in 1795. He was joined by other settlers including the Mathis, Zeigler and Sterchi families. This area built up around the railroad and coal yards. The Coster Yards provided employment to many residents. It was once the primary switching yard for all major railroads that accessed the region.

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.

 

Recent History

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.

A lot of historical places in the North City Sector have been lost to urban development and fire. The streetcar tracks were dismantled, and the Fountain City station burned to the ground. Many historic homes, like the Victorian style Williams Mansion that sat on Broadway across from Gibbs Drive, have been demolished. Not a trace of Baum’s Home of Flowers remains on Tazewell Pike. However, there are still many historical gems that can be found within the area and it is important that they be preserved.

 

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