Dear Doc Knox:
I recently moved to Conner Drive in Fountain City. I believe Conner Drive was named for the Conner family whose home once stood where Mynatt's Funeral Home is now located, which is at the corner of Conner and Rennoc (which is Conner spelled backwards). Is there a story as to why this street is named Rennoc?
My Dear J. Curious:
For this one, we were obliged to consult with our Fountain City guru, Dr. Jim Tumblin, historian and mystic keeper of the lore and legend of Fountain City. Dr. Tumblin is, unlike some who employ that honorific, an actual doctor, a retired optometrist. We assumed he'd know this subject well, and as it happens, he does.
Irish immigrant John Adair was more or less Fountain City's founding father, the first major settler there, in the 1790s. His granddaughter was named Emily Alzira Smith (1832-97); in 1850, she married an industrious local fellow named William Armstrong Allredge Conner.
A frugal, hard-working chap, Conner (1823-1905) lived in a log cabin for several years before commencing construction on what was then an imposing mansion.
When the Civil War came along, he tried to mind his own business, but in 1862, the Confederates conscripted Conner, then a 39-year-old father with several children, against his will. He escaped to Kentucky, where he stayed for about a year until Knox County was in Union hands.
Almost immediately upon his return he became a Justice of the Peace, and, in 1875, served a term as a member of Knox County Court, the county's legislative body. Conner was involved in building the first Tazewell-Jacksboro Turnpike from downtown Knoxville, and it was a pretty big deal. They paid themselves back for the investment by making it a toll road, which still seems like the most reasonable way to finance road construction and maintenance.
Dr. Tumblin reports, "when the Adair property was divided (1887, as I remember) the W.A.A. Conners inherited a giant plat that extended from [what's now] the Colonel's Liquor Store (at Hillcrest and Broadway) to the Smithwood Baptist Church. Their home is the shell that became Mynatt's Funeral Home on Rennoc Road." At the time, Fountain City was mainly a resort, the Victorian-era equivalent of a spa, usually visited by way of Knoxville, with the old Fountain Head Hotel at its nucleus.
It was, for better or worse, regarded as a sanctuary for refugees from the mosquito-borne epidemics of the Deep South, though many, having arrived, didn't survive. By one account, Conner helped bury victims of a Memphis yellow-fever epidemic in the 1870s.
By the time they built the famous steam "Dummy Line" from Knoxville to the Fountain Head Hotel in 1890, one of the last stops, by the then-elderly W.A.A. Conner's property, was Conner Station.
He outlived his wife, and lived to the age of 82. He died the same year the Dummy Line that serviced his property was transformed into an electric streetcar line.
Conner and his wife had 10 children in all, which never hurts in terms of immortalizing your name. And it turns out that Dr. Tumblin himself is a great-great nephew of W.A.A. Conner. (Following is Dr. Tumblin's own article about old man Conner.)
Dr. Tumblin's not sure when the streets were so named, and library sources for this spot so far outside of what was then city limits are patchy, but he suspects it may not have been until long after Mr. Conner's era, perhaps as late as the 1930s.
Soon there was also a Conner Road, and, as Dr. Tumblin explains, the only way to further honor Mr. Conner without confusing people with a proliferation of Conners was, when establishing another street in his honor, to spell his name backwards.
Spelling a word backwards is a handy way to pick a new name without going to the trouble of thinking of one. We have a friend who owned a cat named Lartnec. It was a stray she'd found prowling along Central. Hence Lartnec. It's an effective technique. Try it at home!
Yr. obt. svt.,
Z. Sutilcareh Xonk
For Further Reference:
"Fountain Citians Who Made A Difference" by J.C. (Jim) Tumblin, OD, DOS
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