Ask Doc Knox:

Who Created Fountain City's Savage Garden?

Dear Doc Knox

What can you tell me about Savage's Garden in Fountain City? A Japanese themed garden in Knoxville needs a backstory. I've tried Google and learned that it was established by Arthur Savage, but there has to be more to it. 



My Dear Diedra:

In fact there's a great deal of backstory, as you moderns say, and it has very little to do with the Australian pop duo of a few years ago. They must have purloined the good name of Savage Garden. 

For those who don't know, and I suspect that includes most Knoxvillians, Savage Garden is an underappreciated municipal gem, a startling sight on Garden Drive, off Broadway to the right just past Fountain City Park. It's named for Englishman Arthur Savage. 

Born in 1872, he was a merchant's son from Leamington Spa, England. Arthur Savage came to Knoxville as a teenager to work with his much-older brother, W.J. Savage. After some time in Canada and other points north, the elder Savage had come to Knoxville around 1882 to work with flour tycoon J. Allen Smith, but soon made a success of himself in manufacturing industrial equipment. He took in his little brother, and for a time the Savages were a dream team of inventor-industrialists who seem to have been geniuses in the business of manufacturing industrial equipment for a nationwide market.

By 1904, Arthur had split with his brother, eventually to become president of another company known as Ty-Sa-Man, which was located in what's now World's Fair Park. (A graying generation old enough to remember Ty-Sa-Man pronounce it as if it were one word, something like "Ticemmon.") They specialized in marble-cutting tools, which would also have come to good use in putting together a rock garden, which turned out to be the life passion of Mr. Arthur Savage.

As one with any experience with Knoxville history might suspect, the company has an unlikely literary connection. Savage was the Sa in Ty-Sa-Man. The Ty was Joel Tyler, grandfather of the writer James Agee, who was born in the Tyler home. In fact, Agee's father, the subject of the Pulitzer-winning novel, A Death In the Family, was an employee of their firm at the time of his death in 1916. The young Agee certainly would have known old Mr. Savage.

Savage and his wife, Hortense, spent their early marriage close in town, some of it in the Fort Sanders area. Arthur was never as civically involved as his ambitious, big-thinking older brother W.J., who was a major mover and shaker in Knoxville, president of the Chamber of Commerce, promoter of expositions, hydro-electric power, and a notable national park.

If Arthur Savage never dreamed as big as his older brother, he did love rock gardens. He established larger ones elsewhere in East Tennessee; another Savage Garden near Lake City was once famous. He established Fountain City's garden around the time of World War I, when he was in his late 40s. He and his wife Hortense moved here and began working on this exotic rock garden near their house. Fountain City was then in the latter days of its period as a resort, an escape from the city accessible by streetcar.

American culture in general was smitten with Asian and especially Japanese aesthetics, which were central to the Art Nouveau movement. Japanese art had been sold on Gay Street as early as 1909. The Savages were savvy about the arts, and Savage Garden reflects that era well.

Gardens require constant care, and he seems to have finished this one, with its stone tower and elaborate pagoda and fountains, in the 1920s. Sometime around 1937, a tornado hit Savage Garden, causing considerable damage. Arthur Savage was elderly by that time, and it sounds as if the garden never fully recovered.

In photographs. Mr. Arthur Savage, who had a full mustache, thinning hair, and spectacles, looks something like Rudyard  Kipling. He died at the age of 74 in July, 1946, the month after his older brother, Mr. W.J. Savage, expired.

The street, originally known as Tennessee Avenue, was renamed for Savage's project, as Garden Drive.

It was at least tended by a succession of owners over the years. In 1986 Bill Dohm and Patty Cooper, who began operating the nearby Garden Montessori School, have done substantial work toward renovating the garden, recently restoring the complex fountain.

We do appreciate your interest in this Knoxville rarity.

Yr. Obt. Svt.

Z. Heraclitus Knox

Come one, come all! Dr. Knox answers your questions regarding the history of the Knoxville metropolis. Send all your queries, big or small, to editorATmetropulseDOTcom.

Comments » 1

  • September 11, 2010
  • 2:34 AM
mkp writes:

Many people want to know the real story behind the Savage’s Garden in Fountain City. It has no big connection with the name of the Australian Pop singers. This has been created by Arthur Savage. Hence this garden has been named after him. It is a marvelous piece of work. He had come to Knoxville as a teenager from England. After working under his elder brother for sometime he could excel in the business of industrial equipments of his own. Sam | Oklahoma City Travel

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