By Mike Steely
Every week now for several weeks The Focus has been looking at Our Neighborhoods around Knox County. Each neighborhood or community is special and unique, with its own proud history and with its own claim to the history of our area. This week we look at Governor John Sevier Highway, from one end to the other.
It is no surprise that the highway leading from Alcoa Highway to Andrew Johnson Highway, some 18 miles of State Route 168, is named for Tennessee’s first governor. What is surprising is the amount of growth along and near the route. Many Knox and Blount residents use the route as a quick bypass to I-40 or to the Knoxville Airport.
The highway begins on Alcoa Highway and runs east and, along the way, passes several important and historic sites, growing neighborhoods, businesses, and the busy intersection of Chapman Highway. It also passes by the new State Veterans Cemetery, the Forks of the River Industrial Park, and Strawberry Plains Pike.
Throughout its 18 miles are scattered retail and convenient stores, neighborhoods and single family homes on side roads, and South-Doyle High School. From Alcoa Highway to the French Broad River, the area is mostly residential. Once across the bridge headed east, the area is highly industrial at the Forks of the River section.
Nick Pavlis, Knoxville’s Vice-Mayor, represents part of the John Sevier Highway area and says he’d like to see a farmer’s market on the west end during the season to complement what is already there. “At the Chapman Highway side I am impressed how that area continues to grow and add new businesses. I am formulating a plan to try to lure a Target store to that area. I hear more requests for that than any other business for South Knoxville,” Councilman Pavlis told The Focus.
John Sevier, the man
Governor John Sevier Highway is aptly named because the home of Sevier is just off the highway near the Chapman Highway interchange. Sevier became our state’s governor after being the one, and only, governor of the “lost” state of Franklin. The Tennessee patriot was elected several times as Tennessee’s governor, had been a leader in the defeat of the British at the Battle of Kings Mountain, and also served as congressman and state senator. Because of his defiance of North Carolina and the establishment of the State of Franklin, Sevier was captured and jailed but his supporters freed him and he returned to the Southwest Territory (now Tennessee).
Andrew Jackson and John Sevier become verbal and physical enemies over time and once even faced each other in an aborted duel.
Sevier came to the territory in the 1770s and sometime after 1790 moved to the 355-acre Marble Springs farm. The site contains a two-story long home and other 1800 century buildings including a cabin that had been a tavern.
The Tennessee patriot died in Alabama while running a boundary there and was buried there. Years later his body was exhumed and brought to Knoxville. Today he, his first and his second wife are buried on the grounds of the Old Knoxville Courthouse, their original tombstones placed in the side of the building.
A recent book about Sevier’s life “John Sevier, Tennessee’s First Hero” by Gordon T. Belt, was issued recently by The History Press of Charleston, S.C. Belt is Director of Public Service for the Tennessee State Library and Archives and founding editor of The Posterity Project, an award winning blog devoted to archives and the history of Tennessee.
The book gives a birth-to-death account of Sevier, the man, his adventures, politics, family, and how he interplayed in pre-state and post-state events. It is interesting reading for anyone, especially history buffs.
South/Doyle Homeowners Association
Commissioner Mike Brown represents much of the area around John Sevier Highway and was the founder of the South/Doyle Homeowners Association back in the 1970s.
“We’ve had a 90% success in controlling development there. The John Sevier Highway as began in the 1960s as a traffic moving highway. It was completed in the 1970s with the idea of having limited access,” Brown said
“We were promised a four lane road and I hoped it would be, but it didn’t. It’s three lanes and they used the bourn to get the three lanes,” he said, adding, “There’s a tremendous amount of truck traffic on it every day. It was designed as a Scenic Route and that limits the amount of buildings, setbacks, etc.,” he said.
“We have more and more people wanting commercial zoning but there are 13 parcels along the highway zone commercial, we hope they will use those before adding another,” Brown told The Focus.
“Martin Mill Pike is already backed up with traffic and there’s a developer who wants to put 300 homes there,” he said.
South Knoxville Senior Center
If it is water aerobics, sewing, games or fellowship, you will find it all at the South Knoxville Senior Center just off Gov. John Sevier Highway at 6729 Martel Lane.
Jane Ward, center coordinator, (whose birthday is today, April 21st!) says there are several things coming up beyond their normal activities. On May 2, Mayor Tim Burchett will be there to talk about the upcoming county budget.
On Monday, April 28 there is a gospel singing from 1 until 3 p.m. and on May 7th and 8th the center hosts the South Knoxville Crafter and Beaders Fair from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m.
“On May 23rd we’ll have a Parking Lot Sale,” she said. The cost is only $10 and the sale runs from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m., with May 30th as a rain date.
You can call the Senior Center at 573-5843 or find them at www.knoxcounty.org/seniors/south_knox.ph.
The I.C. King, Forks of the River Parks
At the junction of Alcoa Highway and Gov. John Sevier Highway is the I.C. King Park and near the eastern side of the Sevier Highway is the Forks of the River Park.
Forks of the River Park, on Strawberry Springs Pike just west of John Sevier Highway has 12 ball fields including AYSO soccer fields, bathrooms, and a ½ mile walking trail.
I.C. King Park, at the intersection of John Sevier and Alcoa Highway has a boat ramp, mountain bike trails, fishing, picnicking, and a natural trail. Doug Bataille, Senior Director at Knox County Parks and Recreation told the Focus the park has been adopted by the Appalachian Mountain Bike Club, with more than 200 members, and the club has been working to improve the trails there. He also said that KUB is planning to work in I.C. King part in the near future to install a new gas line, which will result in a new parking lot and improvements there. He said when the work begins the park will be closed for a couple of months until the project is completed.
The Ramsey House and Old Lebanon Cemetery
Thomas Hope, a master cabinet maker and carpenter built the Ramsey House, home of Colonel Francis Alexander Ramsey, about 1795. The house was built in the Georgian style with a central hall design. It is known for its walls of pink marble and carved consoles at corner of the roof.
Three generations of Ramsey’s lived there but following the Civil War the home was sold and began to deteriorate. Today the house is fully restored and open to visitors. Operated by Association for the Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities, the home and some 100 acres give anyone an idea of how the wealthier pioneers lived.
The historic home is available for weddings, special events, etc. It is open Wednesday through Saturdays, 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. and there are many special events there each year. Admission is $7 and you can Google it at www.ramseyhouse.org or call them at 546-0745.
On May 10th the home will host the Swan Pond Experience – A Songwriters’ Workshop. On May a Vintage Baseball game will be there featuring Knoxville vs. Springfield.
The Ramsey House is located just off east John Sevier Highway, turning east on Thorngrove Pike.
The Lebanon in the Forks churchyard is the site of the oldest Christian Church in Knox County. Many early settlers, including Knoxville’s founder James White, is buried there. The old Presbyterian Church burned in 1981 but the cemetery is kept up and a portico supports a pavilion containing the church bell. The site is on the National Register of Historic Places and often overlooked by history buffs. Standing in the cemetery you can look out at the Holston River. Just a brief distance the river joins the French Broad River and becomes the Tennessee River.
One of the earliest burials there is for the wife of the church minister who died while the men were chasing down the Cherokee who had raided the region. The woman’s body was taken down river by other women, in a canoe, and buried high on the hill.
The historic old cemetery is now owned by the organization that owns and operates the Ramsey House, the Association for the Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities, Knoxville Chapter.
You can find the beautiful old cemetery by taking John Sevier east until you cross the French Broad and then taking a left on Asbury Road. Follow it until you cross under the railroad and the graveyard in on the right.
Tennessee Veterans Cemetery
Just on the east side of the river on John Sevier is the Tennessee Veterans Cemetery. The cemetery opened in 2011 and will eventually have room for 28,000 graves for members of all military services. Bill Griffith, cemetery director, has said there are already more than 700 burials there, in graves and in cremation vaults. Two other sections are under development and both veterans and their spouses can be interred. Spouse burial is $ 700 in the same plot as the veteran or $ 150 for cremation remains.
The cemetery overlooks the French Broad River at 2200 John Sevier Highway. You can call the director at 594-6776.
Bet you didn’t know that a large health spa once was located not far off John Sevier Highway.
Today Neubert Springs is a neighborhood of houses and farms but at the turn of last century Neubert Springs was a thriving resort with a family owned hotel, mineral waters, and a dance pavilion with live music. It had a lake with a beach, handmade ice cream, and the hotel had wide porches on all three levels.
Founded by August Neubert and his wife, who were German and Swiss, the couple had moved from Wartburg and their spa thrived through the 1920’s. The business declined as hotels opened in the Smokey Mountains and has disappeared today except for a single sign. Today what was the hotel and grounds are privately owned.