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Background Report

Historical Development and Historic Resources
Map 4: Historic Resources

Settlement Patterns
The first European settlers came to the western part of Knox County in the early 1790s. Traders from Virginia had visited the East Tennessee area since the 1740s to trade with local Cherokees. The “Yellow Mountain Trace” (Emory Road) and the North Carolina Road brought increasing numbers of people into the county. Soon after it was formed in 1792, the Knox County Court requested that a 30 foot wide public highway be surveyed to extend the North Carolina Road west from Knoxville to the blockhouse at Campbell’s Station. This route, now known as Kingston Pike, was the first improved road in Knox County.

The area known as Bearden generally stretches west along the corridor of Kingston Pike and the Norfolk Southern railway from Lyons View Pike to Sutherland Avenue, east of Northshore Drive. The area’s first white European resident was probably James Miller, who operated a trading post during the late 1700s. John Gamble opened a tavern at the same location in 1817 when the area was called Erin. The name Bearden was adopted in 1883 after Marcus De Lafayette Bearden, who owned a farm on Weisgarber Road. Bearden had been a captain in the Union Army during the Civil War and was Mayor of Knoxville 1868-69. Bearden also served in the Tennessee legislature and was instrumental in getting Eastern State Hospital (now Lakeshore Mental Health Institute) located on Lyons View Pike. By 1900, Bearden had a rail depot, post office, blacksmith, grist mill and a few stores. Bearden was never incorporated. Its area was annexed by the City in 1917 and 1962.

The area where Homberg Drive runs parallel to the railroad once was an African-American community. Its residents worked in brickyards, located adjacent to the tracks. This community built the Wallace Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church (5103 Homberg Drive) in 1930.

Historic Resources
There were many large houses built along Kingston Pike for the city’s affluent residents during the middle of the 19th century. Today several of these houses are on the National Register of Historic Places or the Knoxville-Knox County Landmark Register.

Drury Armstrong, who owned several hundred acres on both sides of Kingston Pike, built Crescent Bend overlooking the bend of the Tennessee River in 1832. The building is now a museum. A second residence, Bleak House, was built on the same property for Armstrong’s son in 1856. This building served as headquarters for Confederate General Longstreet during the siege of Knoxville in the Civil War, and from its tower sharpshooters killed Union General William Sanders. The building is now a museum operated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Prior to the siege, Longstreet had been headquartered at Knollwood, a Georgian-style mansion overlooking Bearden on the north side of Kingston Pike, west of Northshore Drive.

Bleak House
Bleak House

The Neoclassical H.L. Dulin House was designed by Henry Russell Pope. The building served as Knoxville’s art gallery from the 1960s until the early 1980s, and is now leased by Calvary Baptist Church.

During the 1920s, Knoxville experienced rapid suburban expansion. The city’s rail connection to the Appalachian region fueled strong growth in wholesale and manufacturing. The growing popularity of the automobile allowed many new industrialists and some new workers to buy homes further out from the city. Around 1810, Captain William Lyon had purchased a large tract overlooking a bend in the Tennessee River with a view of the distant Smoky Mountains. The area, subsequently known as Lyons View, was annexed by the city in 1917. Cherokee Country Club, Knox County’s first 18-hole golf course, was built on Lyons View in 1907. The present buildings date from 1928. Large homes were built for the city’s wealthy families in Lyons View and on vacant lots along Kingston Pike during the late 1910s, 1920s and 1930s. These include numerous fine examples of the work of the Beaux-Arts trained architects Barber and McMurry. Barber and McMurry were also responsible for the gatehouse and residence of Westcliff (1928), which is now an apartment and condominium complex.

The city’s streetcar system was extended along Kingston Pike to Lyon’s View Pike in 1913. Although the area was accessible by streetcar, most of those wealthy enough to live in these neighborhoods had little use for streetcars, and low-income and multi-family development in the early years of the century were limited.

Sequoyah Hills was Knoxville’s first subdivision to be completed with curvilinear streets. Begun in 1925, the community attracted Knoxville’s wealthier citizens. In many ways, Sequoyah Hills still serves as a model for sensitively-planned residential development: All utilities were placed underground, roads follow the contours of the land, and trees were preserved wherever possible. The mature size of these trees continues to distinguish the original subdivision from later development in the western half of Sequoyah Hills. Entry gates, street lights and street furniture were also provided. Because vehicular traffic at the time was lighter than today, there are few sidewalks, although there is a gravel path along the planted median of Cherokee Boulevard.

Sequoyah Hills, circa 1930
Sequoyah Hills, circa 1930.

There is a prehistoric Indian burial mound still visible in the boulevard’s median. This mound probably dates from the Late Woodland period (c.900-1100 A.D.). As early as the late 19th century, there was evidence this site had been opened and looted. Another mound preserved on the University of Tennessee Agriculture Campus is of a similar period and purpose, and gives an indication of what the mound on Cherokee Boulevard must have looked like prior to its desecration.

The 100-acre Talahi addition to Sequoyah Hills contains many decorative lampposts and gateway markers. Streets in Talahi were paved in concrete, and Papoose Park was built as an enclosed play area for children. The street improvements in Talahi are a historic district on the National Register. The small commercial center of Sequoyah Hills, called Council Point, was part of the original plan for the subdivision. Barber and McMurry designed many of the large residences in Sequoyah Hills, as well as the neighborhood’s school and branch library. Knoxville’s first Dogwood trail was opened in Sequoyah Hills in 1955.

In the 1920s Daniel Clary Webb and his wife purchased 60 acres in what is now Westmoreland Heights and moved into a house already on the site. They obtained water from a nearby spring. Ed Manning, part owner in a mining company, bought a lot from Webb, and the two installed a waterwheel to pump water from a larger spring to the west. Manning engineered the project, and Charles Barber of Barber and McMurry designed the stone wheelhouse which still stands today. In 1923, Webb, Manning and others formed a corporation to build the Westmoreland Heights subdivision, which was served by the waterwheel. Most of the homes date from the 1930s. With the advent of electricity, an electrical pump replaced the waterwheel’s functional role. In 1940, the subdivision was connected to the city water system.

Westwood was another subdivision planned to begin in 1925. A few homes were built during the 1920s, but the Depression put the development corporation out of business, and construction of housing did not resume until the late 1930s.

The Forest Heights area is made up of four subdivisions which were progressively developed during the 1930s and 1940s. The Forest Hills subdivision is on the National Register of Historic Places. Forest Hills is a prime example of a pre-World War II automobile suburb, featuring Tudor Revival and Colonial houses on large lots, with curvilinear streets winding up the side of the ridge, overshadowed by 200-year-old pine and oak trees.


Forest Hills

Western Plaza was the first shopping center built outside of Knoxville’s downtown. It was substantially remodeled, first in the late 1980s and again in 2004. Because Kingston Pike has historically served as Knoxville’s main through-road commercial corridor, there are several noteworthy commercial developments in the West City Sector. There has been a gas station on the site wedged between Kingston Pike and Lyons View Pike since 1930. The Cherokee Porcelain Enamel Corporation at 5300 Homberg Drive produces porcelain products. Their building has a porcelain façade and is a good example of 1940s roadside commercial architecture. A prefabricated steel-frame house clad with a similar porcelain enamel material used to stand at 1106 Bearden Drive. The house dated from c.1946, and was one of five examples in Knox County of the national prefabricated housing industry which flourished briefly after World War II. The house was demolished in the early 1990s.

 

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