Ask Doc Knox:

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sharp's Ridge

Dear Dr. Knox,

Sharp's Ridge is practically my back yard as a Lincoln Park resident and I have collected several urban legends from older folks in the neighborhood who live on my street. I have been very curious to know if there was any merit to them. 

Legend #1: Told to me by an older gentleman who was told the same by his Grandfather. The was a hotel on Sharp's Ridge in the 1800's that burned down. The man said there was a carriage road still leading to the site. I have hiked an old road in the area but found no clearing suggesting a structure. I have done some research but found nothing. It does seem logical as a stopping place for north bound travelers leaving Knoxville and would have been a wonderful viewing point of the town as it still is today. Such a site could yield artifacts if such a structure ever existed in the first place. The Higdon Hotel in Reliance, TN would be a comparable structure to something someone might have built at that time period, but why not rebuild it if it was burned down?

Legend #2: From the same source. There were Civil War battle emplacements on Sharp's Ridge. This seemed logical also as that era's combat focused on high ground and getting artillery to points that commanded good fields of fire. The source claimed to have dug musket shot in the area but had none to show. Being such a widespread conflict random (not well documented) emplacements could have existed, have any studies been done on the ridge? 

Random Question #1: What was The Hurray Abattoir that stood in Bruhin Gap and was demolished during construction of I-275? I read about it in a random internet posting somewhere. 

Random Question #2: Is there any record of any houses built on the ridge? I have found one site but it was little more than a shack apparently. Relics of it's existence still litter the woods and appear to date to 1940 or '50s. It was at the foot of the ridge and considered part of Lincoln Park neighborhood I suppose. 

I look forward to your answer, I have been wondering about these stories for several years and didn't really know who to ask. 

Curious in Lincoln Park 

[First, a Note From the Editor: For mercy's sake, please try to limit future queries to one at a time. The good Doctor's constitution is not what it used to be.]


My Dear Curious:

Dr. Knox's rule of thumb is that all stories passed from generation to generation are never entirely true, but always partly true. I suspect that's the case with these. 

Legend #1: I'm not aware of any hostelries on Sharp's Ridge proper, but proving none existed would call for more time than I and my overworked minions have at our disposal. It would seem like a lovely spot for a hotel today. 

In the 19th century, though, hotels were usually built in population centers, the main exceptions being "resorts" which, around here at least, were almost always near allegedly medicinal springs. Two such resorts were not very far from Sharp's Ridge. The Fountain Head Hotel was about two miles north of Sharp's Ridge, at the center of what we now know as Fountain City. Built in 1885, it was an elaborate four-story mansion with towers and balconies and a reputation as a romantic health resort. It boomed around 1890, but later went out of business and after serving time as a dormitory for a small college called Holbrook Normal, burned down around 1920. 

The other, and possibly the origin of the hotel story, was Whittle Springs, a refuge just to the northeast, along the road that still goes by that name. Though it first opened in 1890, it was completed in 1918 as a palatial Tudor-style building. It was one of the Knoxville area's finest hotels, and a posh dining option. Some guests, including Tennessee Williams father, Cornelius, lived there long term. It remained in business until 1954, when WNOX converted parts of it for studio use, and was finally torn down in 1964. A great loss. Anyway, in its heyday, Whittle Springs advertised horseback rides into nearby Sharp's Ridge, and for all I know may have maintained some property there. 

Legend #2: The Battle of Sharp's Ridge has escaped the chroniclers. Though the view is wonderful, gun emplacements wouldn't have had much effect on the forts, factories, or populated areas that were the main concern of Civil War commanders. "Knoxville" as it was defined then, was a good two miles to the south, well out of cannon range. During the siege of Knoxville, both Confederate and Union fortifications were concentrated in areas within a mile of what's now downtown. Bridges and railroad lines were another concern, but at that time, strange as it may seem, there weren't even any railroads running north of town. 

That said, it's likely the both Confederate and Union defenders of Knoxville saw some utility in Sharp's Ridge at least as an outpost for scouts to view the possible approach of enemy cavalry. It's visible in the background of Civil War photographs of Knoxville, and certainly appeared on Civil War maps. I'm certain Messrs. Longstreet and Burnside at least pointed at it.

As it happened, though, when the Confederates attacked, they came from the west. 

I inquired of Dr. Jim Tumblin, Fountain City historian, if he knew of gun emplacements there, and he knew of none for certain, but surprised me with a wrinkle: a memory of an essay from a Central High annual in the 1930s, concerning what was probably already a two or three-generation-old memory of Union guns firing from Sharp's Ridge at present-day Broadway at Confederate troops fleeing Knoxville to the northeast. If that story is true, it may have been a stray rebel detachment. In their retreat toward Blaine along the Holston valley, Longstreet's forces didn't need to come close enough to Sharp's Ridge to be much bothered by it. 

If you want to learn more, I'd invite you to pore over the voluminous Official Records of the war (the "O.R.") which are online, and available in book form at the Calvin McClung Collection downtown. 

I'm not aware there's ever been an organized archaeological dig on Sharp's Ridge. When people find musket shot they're often quite certain it's from the Civil War. It's hard to prove that any bit of lead was never fired at a Rebel or Yankee. And it's always possible that it was. There were troop movements as well as random violence all over Knox County during the war and for some years afterwards. 

However, there was also a lot of hunting. Sharps Ridge was a popular place for traditional Christmas-Day hunting parties, some of them fatal, up until the early 1900s. 

Random Question #1: The abattoir you mention was formally known as Knoxville Abattoir, but it was so closely associated with the Huray (one R) family that it was sometimes known as Huray's. Abattoir, as you know, is the polite term for slaughterhouse. Much slaughtering and packing was done in downtown Knoxville, even right on Market Square, until the 1870s, when certain hoity-toity sorts began to find objectionable the aromas and waste products of honest slaughter. With the city's gentle encouragement, these operations moved well outside of the city center, first to South Knoxville, and later also to the north. Knoxville Abattoir opened at Sharp's Gap by 1902, and soon thereafter Martin Huray (1870-1959) was in charge of it. His son Edward, who later ran the place, died in 1986, not long after the building was razed for interstate construction. Paul Huray, who must have been Martin's brother, was better known in town, ca. 1890, and was perhaps Market Square's most extravagant sausagemaker, known to build festive sculptures of multiple varieties of sausage. 

Random Question #2: Considering that the northern half of it was not even in city limits until 1962, the southern half annexed in 1917, Sharp's Ridge escapes some of our record-keeping resources. It's hard to prove who lived exactly where, with certainty. 

The prime home sites might have been at the very top of the ridge, in places now covered by TV and radio installations. But I've heard reports of what appears to be a house-sized foundation on the northern side of the ridge, above Lynnhurst Cemetery. And there are intriguing references to families living there even before the development of Lincoln Park in the 1890s. The Julius Ochs family lived somewhere on Sharp's Ridge in the mid-1860s. The Bavarian Jewish immigrants and their several sons lived in an apparently impressive estate known by the grand Old World name of Ochsenburg. Ochs, who was a Republican politician and civic leader, Knoxville's first lay rabbi, and a briefly successful merchant, was ruined in the Panic of 1867, back when bankruptcy was real, and Ochs moved into a slum neighborhood in downtown Knoxville. His resourceful sons, who spent parts of their childhood on Sharp's Ridge, grew up to be prominent Americans: one was a mayor of Chattanooga; another founded the modern New York Times. 

Yr. Obt. Svt.,

Z. Heraclitus Knox, Om.G.

Comments » 2

  • July 08, 2010
  • 4:55 PM
dixieflyer writes:

re the ochs home.
i believe the ridge above lynnhurst is a ridge other than sharps ridge. sharps ridge is south of i640 and lynnhurst is north of i640. not sure what the name of that ridge is. however, i could see how the area along the southeast slope of the ridge at broadway woould be an ideal spot for a large home or small farm. standing in the doorway at office depot and looking uo that way, it is easy to imagine a large spread on the side of that slope overlooking the arlington area.

i grew up looking into the southside of sharps ridge from oak hill. it always fascinated me. it's hard to believe that it has no significance in knoxville's history. in the early, early days it would have been a major obstacle for horse or ox cart and in later times development simply followed those early pathways around it i suppose.

  • July 08, 2010
  • 4:58 PM
dixieflyer writes:

re the ochs home.
i believe the ridge above lynnhurst is a ridge other than sharps ridge. sharps ridge is south of i640 and lynnhurst is north of i640. not sure what the name of that ridge is. however, i could see how the area along the southeast slope of the ridge at broadway woould be an ideal spot for a large home or small farm. standing in the doorway at office depot and looking uo that way, it is easy to imagine a large spread on the side of that slope overlooking the arlington area.

i grew up looking into the southside of sharps ridge from oak hill. it always fascinated me. it's hard to believe that it has no significance in knoxville's history. in the early, early days it would have been a major obstacle for horse or ox cart and in later times development simply followed those early pathways around it i suppose.

Share your thoughts

Comments are the sole responsibility of the person posting them. You agree not to post comments that are off topic, defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or an invasion of privacy. Violators may be banned. Click here for our full user agreement.

Remember personal info?



About This Blog


Come one, come all! Dr. Knox answers your questions regarding the history of the Knoxville metropolis.