Up until this month, my blogging always focused on our European travels. I know a lot about many places in Europe, especially about Provence. To be honest, I know more about the Luberon than I do about Knoxville, Tennessee, which has been my home for most of my adult life. Last year I did a lot of research on Savannah, Georgia for the Slow Travel Gathering and helped write a whole series of weekly posts about Savannah for the Slow Travel message board. I felt a little embarrassed that I knew much more about another US city where I've never lived than I knew about my own city.
I'm actually a transplant to Knoxville and East Tennessee. I first came to Tennessee from the Baltimore-Washington area when I was 17 years old, to a small college about 70 miles east of Knoxville. Except for a year and a half in Philadelphia for grad school and our 14 months in Europe a few years ago, I've been here ever since. I'm proud of many things about this area, but I've never written much about it.
Earlier this month we hosted our friend Sophie from France and tried to share the best of our city and state with her. In my opinion, Tennessee is often a very misunderstood state, and most people don't know anything about Knoxville at all. So I thought I'd use the next two posts to share some interesting things about my city of Knoxville, Tennessee.
1. Knoxville was founded in 1786, by James White, who came here from North Carolina. His fort has been restored and sits on a bluff just adjacent to downtown Knoxville. The oldest house in Knoxville is Blount Mansion, which dates to 1792.
2. Knoxville is named for Henry Knox, President George Washington's Secretary of War. (But we have nothing to do with Fort Knox.)
3. During the Civil War, Tennessee seceded from the Union and aligned with the Confederacy, although there were some strong alliances with the Union in East Tennessee. Knoxville was a major trading center of some strategic importance, and several key battles were fought in the Knoxville area. The Union forces defeated the Confederate army at the Battle of Fort Sanders in December 1863 and controlled Knoxville for the rest of the war.
4. Knoxville is situated on the Tennessee River and Fort Loudon Lake. The Tennessee River is formed where the French Broad River and Holston River come together, just east of Knoxville.
5. Many of Tennessee's rivers were dammed by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) during Roosevelt's "New Deal" to stimulate the economy after the depression. As a result, there are many beautiful lakes in this area. There are seven large TVA lakes within 30 minutes or so of Knoxville. The lakes provide some wonderful recreation and scenery but are also used for transportation. TVA corporate headquarters are in Knoxville.
6. There are about 180,000 people in the city of Knoxville, making it the 123rd largest city in the USA and the third largest city in Tennessee. Knoxville is the county seat of Knox County, which has a population of about 420,000. (My address is Knoxville, but I live in the county-- not the city.)
7. The mayor of Knoxville is Bill Haslam, who recently announced that he is running for Governor of Tennessee. He is a down-to-earth guy with a lot of integrity. Bill was a businessman before he entered politics just a few years ago. He is from one of Knoxville's most prominent and philanthropic families.
8. Knoxville is 37 miles from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited park in the US park system (8-10 million visitors annually). The park is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. The park covers 814 square miles and has 800 miles of trails, including a 70 mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail. The highest point is Clingman's Dome at 6,643 feet.
9. The 1982 World's Fair was held in Knoxville and did a lot to help with road construction and redevelopment in the downtown area. There were 11,127,786 visitors. This was the last successful World's Fair in America. The 266 foot Sunsphere was the "theme" structure of the fair and provides a unique element in the Knoxville skyline today.
10. Knoxville is considered the "cradle of country music," and many famous stars such as Dolly Parton, Roy Acuff, Chet Atkins and the Everly Brothers got their start here. Country western star Hank Williams Sr. spent the last night of his life at the old Andrew Johnson Hotel in downtown Knoxville, dying somewhat mysteriously on December 31, 1952.