Hound dog art in Knoxville


There seems to be some kind of story and surprise behind just about every nook and cranny of Knoxville. It's got old buildings and new buildings; normal-looking structures and funny-looking structures; statues of people; statues of bears; even statues of hound dogs. If you get bored here, you are looking in the wrong place!
The replica of White's Fort that stands today in downtown Knoxville.

Early history

Many places in Tennessee started under a different name. So did Knoxville. It was founded by Revolutionary War veteran James White, who bought about 5,000 acres between where First and Second Creeks pour into the Tennessee River. He built a fort there called White's Fort.
This statue in Knoxville's Holston Park depicts the treaty negotiations.
Not everyone who lived in Tennessee was happy about this settlement. Most of what we now call East Tennessee was claimed by the Cherokee nation before this time, and at the time Knoxville was first founded many of the Cherokees still believed it was rightfully theirs.

In the summer of 1791 there was an important treaty signed in what is now downtown Knoxville between Cherokee chiefs and William Blount, who had just been appointed head of what was then known as the Southwest Territory. It was called the Treaty of Holston, and Blount believed that he had "purchased" much of what is now East Tennessee when it was signed.
A map shows the Knoxville area in 1795
About that time, Blount chose the fort and the treaty grounds to be the capital of the new Southwest Territory. He renamed the place Knoxville, in honor of Secretary of War Henry Knox. A town was laid out that year -- which makes Knoxville the first "planned" city west of the Appalachian Mountains. Within a couple of years the place even had a college (Blount College) and a newspaper (the Knoxville Gazette).

When Tennessee became a state in 1796, Knoxville became its first capital. It remained so until 1812, and then it served as state capital again in 1817-18.
Ayres Hall at the University of Tennessee

The University of Tennessee

"UT," as it is known in Tennessee, goes back further than you might realize. The school traces its origins to Blount College, which was founded in Knoxville way back in 1794. Now to put this in some context, only a year before that time the settlement of Knoxville was attacked by Native Americans and 13 people were killed.


Blount College wasn’t like most colleges today. There were very few students. There were, of course, no sports teams. Like most colleges of that day, it taught the so-called “classics” – subjects like Latin, Greek, logic, and philosophy.

One other thing about Blount College: it was co-educational, which means women could take classes there just like men. This was pretty unusual for back then.

The University of Tennessee flag
In 1807 Blount College became known as East Tennessee College, and then later East Tennessee University. It moved from what is now downtown Knoxville to the present location of the school in 1828.

Like so many other southern institutions, East Tennessee University was devastated by the Civil War. And although many of the students of East Tennessee University fought for the Confederacy, most of the trustees (the people responsible for operating the school) were loyal Unionists. So were most of the people in Knoxville.

This ended up being very important. When the war was over, the federal government reimbursed East Tennessee University for damage done to its campus during the war (but did not do the same for any other college in the South).

The University of Tennessee campus
After the war, Congress passed a law creating a system of land grant colleges. In 1868, Tennessee began arguing about where to put its primary land grant college. There were two main contenders: Murfreesboro and Knoxville.

At the time, Tennessee’s governor was William Brownlow, a Methodist clergyman, Unionist, and newspaper editor from Knoxville. The legislature was also dominated by people who had favored the Union cause during the Civil War. Under this direction, the state government chose to put its main land grant college in Knoxville. A few years later, East Tennessee University became known as the University of Tennessee .

For more on the history of the University of Tennessee, click here.

A ticket to the 1982 World's Fair

The World's Fair

World’s Fairs are big deals. They are put on by an international group called the Bureau of International Expositions, and they take place every year or so in a different city around the world.

In 1975, some civic leaders in Knoxville began working on the idea of getting a World’s Fair there. There were, to say the least, a lot of people who thought they were crazy. After all, there had never been such an event in the southeast. How could Knoxville land such an event?


The World's Fair site
Somehow, they did. The 1982 World’s Fair took place in Knoxville, in a former railroad yard west of downtown that contained Second Creek. It eventually brought over eleven million visitors to Knoxville. It also resulted in  upgrades to Knoxville's interstates, roads, and restorations of several old buildings (such as the Bijou Theater).

Every such fair has a theme, and the 1982 World’s Fair theme was “Energy Turns the World.” Its centerpiece was an unusual structure known as a “Sunsphere,” which had an observation deck and a restaurant inside.

Today the Sunsphere is still there, in the middle of what is now called World’s Fair Park.

For more on the 1982 World's Fair, click here.

The Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville


1. (TRUE OR FALSE) Knoxville was originally started under the name Neyland's Fort.
2. (TRUE OR FALSE) The original name of the University of Tennessee was Blount College.3. The structure that served as the architectural centerpiece of the 1982 World's Fair is the _________.
The streetcar on display at the East Tennessee Historical Center
For more information:

We strongly recommend that you visit the East Tennessee Historical Center at the corner of Gay Street and Clinch Avenues downtown.

Here are some good books on the history of Knoxville (all of these are written on an adult reading level):

1. From the Shadow Side, and other stories of Knoxville, Tennessee by Jack Neely. Neely also writes a column for the Metro Pulse newspaper, which can be found on line here.

2. Knoxville by Betsey Beeler Creekmore.

3. To Foster Knowledge: A History of the University of Tennessee by Montgomery, Folmsbee and Greene