By Mike Steely
Every section of Knox County is unique and offers a variety of home styles, historic sites, restaurants, neighborhoods, and culture. East Knoxville has all that and more.
From downtown Knoxville to Interstate 40, the east side of the city may be the most diverse section in our region. East Knoxville basically is that portion along Magnolia Avenue, Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard, Dandridge Avenue and adjoining streets. Part of the area was actually a town, known as the City of East Knoxville in 1855 and was annexed into Knoxville in 1868.
Residential neighborhoods in that section, Park City and Mountain View, were also their own small towns until annexed into the city in 1917. Park City became the Parkridge neighborhood and Mountain View became Morningside.
In recent years urban renewal projects have and are changing the area of East Knoxville. Much of the renewal projects have looked at Magnolia Avenue and Martin Luther King with the idea of preserving buildings, stopping blight, and improving sidewalks.
County Commissioner Sam McKenzie said it takes public and private effort to revitalize a neighborhood and laments the fact that some government offices have moved out of East Knoxville, including the county clerk’s office departure from Knoxville Center Mall. He said businesses are starting to relocate and that an urban format radio station there is helping restore spirit.
“The future is extremely bright, people are getting excited. East Knoxville is the most diverse area in Knox County, there’s lots of movement back to there and a lot of pride,” he told The Focus.
“I think it’s important to keep schools in neighborhoods. It seems there’s always a push to close down inner city schools, but the Stem Academy helps and Austin-East is doing well,” he said. “What I’d like to see is the county making a larger connection with my district and I’d like to see it reconnect with the Beck Center.”
In its earlier days, Parkridge was known as Shieldstown, established in the 1850s. It was on the main route, then, between Knoxville and Asheville. By the 1880s neighborhood were added. In 1907 Shieldstown was incorporated as the town of Park City. The neighborhood has many Barber designed homes and much of it today is within a Historic District.
Park City was a fashionable neighborhood of Knoxville, built before the automobile and thriving along the main route west to downtown and east toward Asheville. The construction of I-40 detoured much of the traffic away from Magnolia Avenue.
Fighting urban blight is the first priority of the Parkridge Community Organization. The idea is to develop housing rehabilitation, improve living conditions, and enhance the appearance of the neighborhood. The Organization assists the city in planning and development of city services and gives residents a forum.
The Parkridge Community Organization was formed in 1982 and serves residents in the northwest part of Park City. Monthly meetings are held the first Thursday of each month at the Parkridge Community Center at 2361 East Fifth Avenue.
This year two Parkridge residents were nominees for the Good Neighbor award: Calvin Chappelle and Travetta Johnson.
Jerry Caldwell, president of the Parkridge Community Organization, told The Focus that Parkridge is one of the largest neighborhoods in Knoxville. He said the population changes now and then but more and more are students or faculty at UT and many bike from there to the campus.
The change in traffic patterns and the density in businesses along Magnolia has hurt the once thriving small businesses there, leaving little room for a mega-store or mall. He said, “Our best hope for an exciting new business would be a Trader Joe’s on Magnolia, so we have to figure out how to make that dream happen.”
“Blight is slowly receding as neighborhood residents restore more houses, but we recognize the need to have a more concerted effort to manage the blight,” Caldwell said. “Working with the city and MPC over the past two years has been a dream. David Massey and the Office of Neighborhoods provide inspiration and guidance and contact information for projects where the city involvement is desired or appropriate.”
“Last year a neighbor suggested we do a mural in an ugly I-40 overpass on Sixth Avenue. With city permission and support, and coordination with TDOT, and lots of volunteer support from Parkridge, Fourth and Gill, and Old North Knoxville, we created the Sixth Avenue mural. That garnered the Orchid Award and Spirit of Kristopher Award,” Caldwell said.
“We are also participating in updates to the Central City Sector Plan and the Magnolia Avenue Corridor Redevelopment Plan. With these efforts we hope to preserve the historic nature of the neighborhood and regenerate the vitality of neighborhood businesses and residences, he continued.
“We are supporting Abby Fields, a community supported agriculture effort on the site of the original Standard Knitting Mills buildings. The progress to date is a cause for pride among neighbors,” he said.
Caldwell said that 2014 will be a banner year and there will be more parties and shrimp boils and occasions to assemble.
“If resources are programmed to support Magnolia Corridor redevelopment, new restaurants and small businesses will continue to come. More people are walking and biking downtown. Parkridge is a great place to live today. Socially it can’t get much better than this. Economically we will work on restoration and hope,” he said.
“Our neighborhood will be as good as we make it. The future looks bright,” Caldwell said.
Holston Hills was originally developed back in the 1920s, at the same time the Holston Hills Country Club was built. The club is doing well yet today with golf, tennis, and swimming.
The neighborhood has lots of nature and the houses are diversified as far as design. Most were built between the 20s and 60s, several before the stock market crash. Some are post-war ranchers and many have large lots and large trees.
“Holston Hills is one of the nicest neighborhoods in Knoxville,” Commissioner McKenzie said.
The Ijams Nature Center’s 25th Annual River Rescue is Saturday, April 5, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. and one of the sites is the Holston River Park at 3300 Holston Hills Road. The Tennessee Valley Unitarian-Universalist church is sponsoring the clean up there. If you’d like to get involved with the clean-up you should contact Ijam’s Nature Center at 577-5717 and find out where all the clean-up sites are for that day or find them on the internet at www.ijams.org.
Dandridge Avenue is a surprising place. You can stand at the Alex Haley statue and look up the hill to what was once Confederate Army headquarters. It’s an odd feeling.
During the early days of the Civil War East Tennessee Confederate General Felix Zollicoffer occupied the historic home. Alex Haley, the African-American prize winning author of “Roots” and “Malcolm X,” is immortalized in an oversize sculpture, sitting with a book in his hand. The Haley memorial is part of Morningside Park, which has a greenway, gazebo, two playgrounds, a picnic shelter, and a long greenway leading to a Frisbee Golf course.
The Haley Heritage Square part of the park was finished in 1998 under Mayor Victor Ashe and the sculpture is striking but warm in appearance. Haley moved to East Tennessee in his last years and bought a 157 acre farm near Clinton and the Appalachia Museum. Today the farm belongs to the Children’s Defense Fund.
The Mabry-Hazen House is now a museum. The home was built in 1858 and was called “Pine Hill Cottage” by Joseph Mabry, Jr. He was a strong supporter of the Southern cause and outfitted an entire Rebel Regiment. During the conflict both sides occupied the house but when the Union took control they fortified the grounds. Mabry’s granddaughter, Evelyn Hazen, kept many dogs and cats at the home and, before her death in 1987, she put in her will that the home should become a museum. The historic home opened as a museum in 1992.
The house has connections with literature and it is only fitting it should be up the way from the Haley sculpture. Mabry’s daughter married Rush Hazen, a benefactor to Leonora Whitaker Woods, who’s life was the basis for the book “Christy.” Even Mark Twain wrote about a gunfight that killed the builder of the home and his son in “Life on the Mississippi.”
Just beyond the Mabry-Hazen house is the Beck Cultural Center, a unique center and museum of African-American rotating exhibits.
Beck Cultural Center
No one anywhere has the vast collection of African-American history as Knoxville’s Beck Cultural Center. Located at 1927 Dandridge Avenue the Beck Center has permanent and featured exhibits. The center is active in the research, collection, conservation and display of artifacts, photographs, books, films, writing and memorabilia of Black history in East Tennessee.
Permanent exhibits include the Hastie Room, featuring the life and times of William H. Hastie, Jr. the first African-American federal judge in the United States. The Pioneer Stairway features an array of achievers, including Knoxville’s first Black Mayor, Daniel T. Brown.
The Beck Center is open Tuesdays through Saturday 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. and admission is free. You can call 524-8461.
Chilhowee Park, Knoxville Zoo
The Chilhowee Park and Exposition Center is owned by the city of Knoxville and fronts onto Magnolia Avenue/Asheville Highway. The 81 acre park hosts a variety of events each year, including the Tennessee Valley Fair, concerts, exhibits, etc. There is a 3-acre lake, bandstand, 4500 seat amphitheater, 57,100 sq. ft. exhibition hall, barns, arenas and picnic shelters. In April alone there’s a poultry exhibit, cattle fair and trade show. The National Hot Rod Association will be there May 2nd through the 4th.
Within the fairgrounds is The Muse, formerly the Discovery Center, which features exhibits and activities for curious children. In April The Muse has things for toddlers, kids art, yoga, and how solar energy works.
You can check out the activities and the calendar at themuseknoxville.org.
Founded in 1948 the Knoxville Zoo is the city’s largest year-round attraction with more than 400,000 visitors each year. The Zoo is a leader in conservation and education and is known nationwide for the breeding of red pandas and playing a role in preserving endangered tortoises and turtle.
The Zoo will open an all-new play area in April called the Nature Play. It will feature thing like fairy houses, doors to nowhere, and teepees made of living vines. The play area invited kids to get “hands on” with making mud pies and building their own forts.
The Zoo gets nostalgic by bringing back the “Zoo Choo” train and offering rides to kids in the Nature Play area.
New animals are also part of the Zoo this spring with a new species of antelope and European White Storks.
On April 26th the Zoo hosts “Magical Makebelieve Saturday, an event that offer young guest a chance to meet some of their favorite storybook characters and take part games and activities. The event is free with the Zoo admission.
The Knoxville Zoo and Chilhowee Park may draw more people to East Knoxville than any other event, especially tourists and out-of-towners.
The Chilhowee Park neighborhood surrounds both the Park and the Zoo to the west. Originally part of two large farms it developed in the late 1850s and was briefly part of the City of East Knoxville and Park City. The residential area, in the 1920s, saw residents move away to the growing suburbs and it became the home of textile workers and, later, many African-American homeowners moved there as urban renewal projects downtown uprooted them.
The park neighborhood has been nominated to be listed to the National Register of Historic Places.
Unique Places in East Knoxville
Fifty-three years ago three brothers opened a pizza restaurant on Magnolia and today the Pizza Palace continues to pull in customers. Coming from Greece, the Peroulas brothers, Al, Gus and Arthur, worked as cooks and dishwashers until they opened the popular restaurant.
Although pizza and spaghetti was little known or appreciated in Knoxville way back then, the brothers’ recipes soon became popular and they expanded at the same site. Arthur’s son, Charlie, joined the restaurant.
The popularity became nation-wide in 2007 when the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins & Dives” visited. The Pizza Palace was featured again the following year in the All American road Trip book was published.
Today the little pizza spot on Magnolia thrives and past customers often come by and eat when in Knoxville.
Mountain Dew started on Magnolia!
Pepsi owns Mountain Dew now, but bet you didn’t know that it was started at 1921 Magnolia Road. Two brothers, Barney and Alley Harman, operated Hartman Beverage and came up with the soft drink as a mixer for whiskey. They had trouble finding a good mixer in Knoxville so they invented their own. Their original formula was altered years later.
Initially Mountain Dew was sold only in East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. Pepsi bought the brand in 1965. But the birth of Mountain Dew was in Knoxville.
Knoxville Botanical Gardens
Only five minutes from downtown is the Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum(KGBA), featuring garden paths, whimsical round buildings, terraced spaces, exotic trees, and horticultural splendors.
Located at 2743 Wimpole Avenue the Botanical Garden was founded in 2001 on the property of the historic Howell Nurseries. Several events are sponsored there each year, everything from weddings, classes and concerts. The gardens are open every day, 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. and have walking trails, a Dogwood Nature Trail, a bamboo forest, a visitors center, and thousands of feet of stone walls.
There’s also fantastic views there and a Round House Courtyard, ivy-covered stone greenhouse, and clusters of old-growth trees in the Sunken Gardens.
The Howell Nursery was the oldest continually operated businesses in Tennessee until 2003 when it closed, having sold plants for more than 217 years. You can call the garden at 862-8717 or find them on the internet at www.knoxgardens.org.