We recently received a parcel of letters from students at the Garden Montessori School, and have endeavored to answer each as it appeared on the polished surface of our fine mahogany desk. Though the doctor has a one-question rule, he was touched by the appearance of actual handwriting on actual paper, and allowed this one exception.
Dear Dr. Knox,
Why did you choose to write about Knoxville? Why do you put your stories in Metro Pulse? What do you like about Knoxville?
I put my stories in Metro Pulse chiefly because that publication's editor, Mr. Coury Turczyn, permits me to, and because some people who read Metro Pulse seem to like to read them. I think healthy cities are cities that have some sense of their own history, and I want to be sure my home town knows its own stories.
I like lots of things about Knoxville, such as all the fun things to do downtown, special events like First Night and the Rossini Festival, and interesting and unusual places like the Savage Garden, which is right beside your school. I like how green it is in the spring and summer, and how we have interesting weather; it gets very hot here, and sometimes very cold. I like the fact that we have lakes and mountains in the area, and a big river going through the middle of it all. I like to go to the opera and the symphony. I like the fact that the city's history is complicated, and produces lots of surprising stories. But I especially like all the
interesting people who ask me questions.
Dear Doc Knox,
What year was Knoxville founded?
Dear Doc Knox,
Do you know how old downtown is?
Mitty and Moe's questions have approximately the same answer, because for several decades in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, downtown and Knoxville were approximately the same thing.
This year, Knoxville will turn 220 years old. James White built a mill and a fort on the site now occupied by the State Street Garage in the late 1780s, but it didn't look much like a town until sometime after September, 1791. That was when James White hosted a lottery in which he sold lots for people to build houses and businesses on an orderly pattern. That event is considered to be the founding of Knoxville. His son-in-law, Charles McClung, was involved in laying out some of the first streets.
Most cities start very quietly, as a tiny place no one ever heard of, but which grow to be important later. Knoxville wasn't like that. Knoxville was an important town right away because, from the day it was founded, it was capital of the Southwestern Territory, a very large part of America administered by the Washington administration. The Southwestern Territory included all of what's Tennessee today and some more land to the south of it. In 1796, representatives from across the territory came to Knoxville to found a state, and then Knoxville became Tennessee's first capital, just as it had been capital of the Southwestern Territory. It was all that activity that got the town going. Knoxville remained the state capital for more than 20 years, but in 1819 the capital moved to Middle Tennessee to be more central to the whole state.
And now we come to the issue of "downtown." Before the Civil War, even though Knoxville was sometimes important, it was very small. If you said you were "going to Knoxville," you were going to what we think of as downtown. Knoxville was just a square of land on the north side of the river. Most of the rest of Knox County was farms and forests. Even UT was not exactly in Knoxville. Downtown was Knoxville, and it was founded in 1791, too. However, it probably didn't seem much like a downtown, with sidewalks and streetlights and theaters and lots of big buildings close together, until later. Market Square started in 1854, about the same time the city got streetlights and paved roads. By the 1870s, downtown had a big theater and streetcars and hotels and lots of big stores that just got bigger and bigger as the years went on.
If you want to see what downtown looked like back in the late 1800s, Market Square and the Old City are the best places to look. There used to be buildings like that, brick buildings two, three, and four stories tall, all over downtown. The city started building tall buildings--more than four stories, anyway--starting around 1890.
Dear Doc Knox:
I live on Ellistown Road. Do you know when it was built?
S. Elizabeth McConnell
That question is very easy to answer, and the answer is no, I do not know.
Ellistown Road, sometimes called Ellistown Pike, is in northeast Knox County, running from the Maloneyville area along Washington Pike, southeast to Ellistown, crossing Rutledge Pike, just north of the Holston River, near the historic community of McMillan Station.
Because it had always been well outside of Knoxville's city limits, Ellistown Road isn't listed in the old City Directories at the library, which tell us very much about the history of roads in the city. We checked with some old-timers in that area, and didn't find anyone who knew for certain.
However, your road does appear on some old maps. My minions did some spot-checking of maps on file at the McClung Collection, and found Ellistown Road on a 1941 map of Knox County. However, it appears to have different shape from the modern-day Ellistown Road. Traveling north on it back then, you'd swerves strongly to the right--the east--before encountering Washington Pike.
Other roads linking the Holston River with Washington Pike appear in that general area, one on an early automobile-club map in 1927, and another as early as 1895, but they're not clearly named, and it appears as if each one has a different shape from the one before.
On an earlier map, from 1887, no such road appears at all, connecting Rutledge Pike and Washington Pike. So either those Victorian mapmakers missed it, or that cross-road was first built sometime after that.
So our estimate is that a road serving the general purpose of Ellistown Road first appeared around 1890, but changed a lot over the years, and was definitely named Ellistown Road sometime before World War II. We bet it's something you can learn even more about than Dr. Knox knows, by talking to your older neighbors and looking through some more old maps at the library.
Dear Doc Knox,
Why was the Lonsdale community named that?
Kaitlynn A. Fields
Lonsdale was originally a suburban community, on the northwest side of Knoxville, outside of city limits.
A community called Lonsdale was there by the 1890s. The development was kind of unusual because the streets were all named for states, with streets named for Civil War generals from both sides, mixed together. It was not officially a part of the city of Knoxville until a huge annexation in 1917.
Not all sources agree about every detail, but it's said to have been named by a real-estate developer named Will Ragsdale, who wanted to pick a name that would honor both his mother, whose maiden name was Lonas, and his father, whose last name was Ragsdale. So he called it Lonasdale. But people liked to say it a little faster, and write it a little quicker, so over the years, it got shortened to Lonsdale.
That's one story. By another story, Ragsdale shortened it, himself, to begin with. It might have been a tough thing to explain to his mother, that he was reducing her family name by 20 percent.
There's something kind of funny about all that. You'd think that combining parts of two last names, and then dropping a letter, would result in a strange word that doesn't exist anywhere else. You might try that in your class, and see what crazy-sounding names you come up with.
But Lonsdale, spelled that way, is a famous English last name. There's an Earl of Lonsdale, and a Lonsdale Square in London. There's a Lonsdale Belt, which is an award for boxing in Great Britain, and a Lonsdale Cup, which is an award for horseracing. There are lots of places in England, Australia, and Canada named Lonsdale. It sounds pretty fancy, and sometimes that's all it takes to make a name for a community that sounds good. and maybe it would have sounded like a good name even if the guy's parents didn't have those names.
The split-last-name story may be true, as far as we know, but we bet he was influenced by the lordly ring of Lonsdale. If a developer named Fred Kallangitang, whose mother's name was Borrulible, had picked the name Lonsdale, it would not have been unusual. Then and now, developers like to use names of British earls for developments.
In East Knoxville is a place called Burlington, which was developed at about the same time as Lonsdale. Nobody seems to know where it came from; people have wondered for years. But there's also an Earl of Burlington.
With profoundest esteem, and best wishes to you in your further studies,
Z. Heraclitus Knox, 7th Earl of Lordingdale
Come one, come all! Dr. Knox answers your questions regarding the history of the Knoxville metropolis. Send all your queries, big or small, toeditorATmetropulseDOTcom.