Knoxville Tennessee Throughout History

Theresa Hus
5 min readNov 13, 2020

If you’re interested in history, there’s a good chance you know a bit about the city of Knoxville, Tennessee. Although it was never quite as prominent as its more populous neighbors, Nashville and Memphis, a lot has happened in and to the city of Knoxville. With a history that dates back to revolutionary war times, there’s a lot to cover; let’s get into it!

The beginnings of Knoxville

Just south of the Great Smoky Mountains, the site that would become the town of Knoxville is one of awe-inspiring natural beauty and geopolitical significance: Tennessee Valley. This fertile river valley is naturally suited to agriculture, and settlers and Native Americans alike have prized its land for this same reason.

Although it was first inhabited by nomadic native North American tribes as far back as 1000 AD, the first European settlers arrived in the area where Knoxville is located at the end of the 18th century. These settlers resided in this area illegally, but US government orders to relocate were mostly futile, and contention between squatters and the federal government ended when Tennessee was founded as a state in 1796.

Although tensions sometimes flared up between the local Cherokee tribes and settlers, the land upon which Knoxville was founded was purportedly purchased from the Native Americans by the town’s founder, James White. Despite this, the early years of the city of Knoxville were fraught with tension.

Knoxville, the state capital of Tennessee

Territorial conflicts notwithstanding, Knoxville quickly became one of Tennessee’s most populous cities and an important agricultural and trade hub. Due to its importance in the state economy and societal landscape, Knoxville was chosen as the location for the first meeting of the general assembly of the state legislature.

Although the capital was later moved to Murfreesboro, Knoxville remained an important city in the state’s trade and agriculture based economy. With its location in the fertile Tennessee valley on the banks of the Tennessee river, it was used primarily as a hub for trade and a center for the production of corn, tobacco and whiskey.

This status as a trade center led to an influx of merchants, travelers, and immigrants that sought opportunity in this rapidly growing new town. This led Knoxville to gain a less-than-favorable reputation as a rough town where the crime was commonplace and sophistication nowhere to be found that was more true than would have liked to admit.

Unfortunately, Knoxville had more to worry about than just a bad reputation. On the cusp of the outbreak of the civil war, Knoxville was plagued by a deep divide between pro-secessionists and Union supporters. This would soon come to light and plunge Knoxville into instability and overwhelming tension.

Knoxville during the civil war

When the Union-held Fort Sumter was fired upon by Confederate troops, the civil war had begun, and it was anything but civil. Knoxville was instantly plunged into conflict because the city was home to a strong pro-Union element, but the majority of its legislature was in favor of secession.

As a crucial manufacturing and infrastructure hub, both sides were eager to take possession of Knoxville. The city was largely against secession due to its manufacturing-heavy economy, as well as its lucrative location with its railroad and river access. Residents saw little benefit in siding with a government fighting for the interests of slave owners in the deep south.

Regardless of the city’s divided loyalties, it’s government voted with a 2–1 majority to side with the confederacy. The process of fortifying the city began, and earthworks were erected in defense of Knoxville’s strategic location. However, before the construction of these fortifications were finished, the city was abandoned to the rapidly advancing Union army.

Post-civil war Knoxville

After the civil war ended with the formal surrender of Confederate generals in Appomattox, Virginia on the 9th of April, 1865, Knoxville continued rapidly growing in economic influence. Although many other cities further south were plunged into distress and instability, the city of Knoxville was able to return to form relatively quickly due to assistance from northern investors and businessmen.

This assistance led to Knoxville becoming a thriving, rapidly expanding metropolis, at its peak, coming in as the third-largest trade center in the reconstruction period. Knoxville continued to function as an industrial and trade hub up until the beginning of the great depression in the early 1930’s.

Prior to the second world war, Knoxville became the focus of national attention due to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Tennessee Valley Authority, which proposed a variety of measures to bolster agriculture and industry in the Tennessee valley. These measures were immensely successful in improving regional economic and social stability.

Throughout the decades following the first world war and the great depression, Knoxville experienced a great deal of economic distress, civil unrest and public upheaval. After struggling to right societal imbalances and injustices, Knoxville emerged as a thriving, progressive metropolis that was more than just an economic center.

Knoxville today

Modern day Knoxville is a fascinating place. Although it is the site of many important historical events and actions, to the uninitiated observer, little of this is apparent. Many things have yet to improve, such as crime rates and unemployment, but the city has established itself as one that will strive to improve going forward.

This effort to improve the city has resulted in the forming of a uniquely vibrant, culturally unique society that pervades every aspect of city life. The economy is thriving, and despite its below-average safety statistics, Knoxville is a great place to buy a home and settle down. Going forward, Knoxville has the potential to become one of the greatest cities in the nation.

If you’re interested in making this historic city your home, you’ll need to contact one of the real estate agents in Knoxville TN. These skilled, experienced real estate professionals are the best choice when it comes to buying a home in Knoxville, and you can rely on them to find you a home that suits your budget and your needs. Who knows? Before you know it, you might just be calling the city of Knoxville home!



Theresa Hus

Theresa has single-handedly created the entire Sales and Marketing Training Program at from scratch, and has closed approx 20m in sales.