Knoxville History


Late in the 18th century, hardy frontiersmen crossed the Appalachian Mountains into the valley of "The Tennessee". At the junction of the Holston and French Broad rivers, General James White established White's Fort. The settlement was later renamed for George Washington's secretary of war, Henry Knox. In 1792, the first frame house west of the Appalachians, Blount Mansion, was built to accommodate the governor of the vast territory south of the river Ohio. Blount Mansion, Knoxville's only National Historic Landmark, remains, and a reconstruction of White's Fort on land near its original site allow us to share a bit of history.

In 1796, when the Territory of the United States South of the River Ohio became the state of Tennessee, Knoxville became the first capital of Tennessee...and remained so until 1812. Knoxville's John Sevier was the first governor of Tennessee, serving six terms in all. Elected in 1816, Tom Emmerson served as the first mayor of Knoxville. The first official census, taken in 1850, showed a population of 2,076.

The War Between the States found sympathies of Knoxville inhabitants divided. Being a strategic point for both the Union and Confederate forces, a major battle took place on November 29, 1863 at Fort Sanders. The battle was an important victory for the federal forces.

A landmark event that was to have a profound effect on the area took place in the 1930's. A newly formed federal agency, the Tennessee Valley Authority, began its massively scaled plans to transform the entire valley with flood control and power generating dams on the Tennessee River. Knoxville would never be the same with the influx of new people, new ideas and the economic opportunities opened by the availability of low cost electric power.

Another event of great significance for the area came with World War II. Just 20 miles west of Knoxville, the village of Oak Ridge was chosen as the site of modern history's most closely guarded secret..."The Manhattan Project "...Knoxville again became the metropolitan seat of power generation. This time...nuclear power.

For the people of the Knoxville area, the pattern of the future was growing clear. A location that once meant partial isolation came to be of singular strategic value with the coming of air transport and the advent of great highways. Diversified new industries took root and prospered, while those already existing expanded. As growth and progress became synonymous with prosperity, the atmosphere within leadership circles became charged with an optimism that still prevails.

In the continuing saga of growth and expansion, aggressive business leaders and government officials started in 1976 to plan the 1982 World's Fair. Twenty-two countries and more than 90 corporations participated in the exposition, which attracted more than 11 million visitors.