W.A.A. Conner

Copyright * All rights reserved
J.C. (Jim) Tumblin, OD, DOS
3604 Kesterwood Drive, East
Knoxville, Tennessee 37918-2557
(865) 687-1948

Fountain Citians Who Made A Difference

W.A.A. Conner

(1823-1905)

From 1890 to 1905 the Fountain Head Railway (popularly known as "The Dummy Line") ran from Central Market (now Emory Park) to Fountain Head (the corner of Hotel Avenue and Broadway). The line was a boon to Fountain Citians who worked downtown with up to 10,000 fares collected in a day at five cents from Central Market to Arlington, ten cents to Fountain Head and fifteen cents for a round trip.

Only prominent families or important landmarks had a "stop" on the Dummy Line. Lucy Curtis Templeton mentioned several of them and described the route in her column "A Sunday Country Calendar" in the Knoxville News-Sentinel on January 10, 1960:

"It left town from a station on the corner on North Broadway and Holston (now Tyson) Street, which runs along the northern side of Old Gray Cemetery. … After the "dummy" left the station in town it puffed along Holston Street past the National Cemetery, past the old General Hospital, then due north until it came to what is now Woodland Ave. The area was a true woodland then; there was only one stop in the lovely grove after leaving the Foster Scotts. This stop was at the home of Mr. Eugene Mynders, about midway between the turn into Woodland and the next bend, which was on a hillside above Mucktown and below the F.A.R. Scott’s large brick residence on top of the hill where St. Mary’s Hospital now stands.

"After some semi-circling south here, the ‘dummy line’ turned north once more, ran through Lincoln Park where there was a siding used to let one train pass another. … After leaving Lincoln Park, the line took a turn to the east, ran along what is now Walker Boulevard, and crossed Broadway at Arlington where there was a station. It then resumed its course along Walker Boulevard past the brickyard and then the Apple Tree Station on the McCampbell farm.

"… The line then turned north again past Whittle Springs through a pleasant meadow to Greenway, where there was another station. …From this point, the ‘dummy’ ran along the same route followed later by the streetcars and buses. The first streetcars did not go over Walker Boulevard. … From Greenway it was a straight shoot to Fountain Head. It was not until years later that North Broadway was extended along what had been the old ‘dummy’ line, although there might have been a side road there. The main highway ran to the right through Smithwood."

The three "stops" between Greenway and Fountain Head were Smith’s, Conner’s Station and Woodward. The first two were near major parcels of land that had come down through the Adair-Smith family--portions of John Adair’s original 640 acres. The John Smith home stood near the present site of CiCi’s Pizza, then occupied by his son James Harvey Smith, John Adair’s great grandson. Conner’s Station (Hillcrest and Broadway) was near the home of W.A.A. Conner, who was married to Emily Alzira Smith (1832-1897), daughter of John Smith and Maria L. Christian and sister to James Harvey. Woodward (Gibbs Road and Broadway) was at Park Place, the Woodward-Williams Mansion built by Col. J.C.Woodward, the Lexington, Ky. capitalist who developed the park and the lake to promote real estate sales by his Knoxville and Fountain Head Land Company.

Our subject, William Armstrong Alldredge Conner, was born in Knox County, the fifth child and only son of Thomas (1791-1873) and Margaret Alldredge Conner. Thomas, a veteran of the War of 1812, was born in Franklin County, Va. the eighth child of William (1760-1836) and Jemima Menefee Conner. They had migrated into Beaver Valley about 1790 to join Jemima’s brother, John Menefee, who founded Menefee’s Fort on Beaver Creek in 1787. (In one of those quirks of history, a descendant of the Menefee family would later intermarry with a descendant of John Adair, the founder of Fort Adair, another in the chain of outposts arching the Tennessee River and early Knoxville.)

The inimitable Weston A. Goodspeed in his History of Tennessee, from the earliest times to the present (Nashville, Tn.,1887), summarized W.A.A. Conner’s biography:

"W.A.A. Conner, prominent farmer of the 2nd District, was born in Knox County, November 4, 1823 and remained under parental roof until 26 years of age. He then married Emily A. (Alzira) Smith (on July 24, 1850), daughter of John Smith, one of the pioneers of the county, and located at his present homeplace.

"He began with very limited means, but by industry and frugality has gained a very comfortable home. He resided 17 years in a log cabin, after which he built his commodious residence.

"On November 2, 1862 he was conscripted by Confederate officers, but escaped the same night and made his way to Kentucky, where he remained until Federal troops occupied Knoxville, after which he returned to his home.

"He served as a Justice of the Peace from 1864 to 1884, and was chairman of the County Court from 1875 to 1877. At the organization of the Knoxville, Tazewell, and Jacksboro Pike Co. he became a stockholder and soon filled the various offices of the director, secretary and treasurer.

"To his marriage, referred to in the beginning of this sketch, ten children have been born- four deceased. He and his family are members of the Baptist church and he has filled two terms as Moderator for the State of Tennessee. He and his nine sisters constitute a family of which but two survive."

The accessibility that the Tazewell Turnpike provided to Beverly, Gibbs, Graveston and other points in northeast Knox County accounts for the fact that, before central Fountain City developed, Smithwood had several well-developed businesses. The Tennessee State Legislature in its 1865-66 session had provided for six turnpike companies, including the "Kingston Turnpike Company" and the "Knoxville and Tazewell Turnpike Company."

Originally the tollgate seems to have been at the present intersection of Central Avenue and Broadway and, at first, the standard fees were 5 cents for a man and a horse, 20 cents for two horses and a wagon and 60 cents for six horses and a wagon.

The turnpike, later called the "Tazewell and Jacksboro Turnpike," continued to serve the community as a toll road until 1895. Capt. William Rule’s Knoxville Daily Journal on October 27, 1895, reported that turnpike commissioners J.S. VanGilder, Dr. Frazier, W.A.A. Conner, Pulaski Hall and Col. Mynatt transferred eight miles of road to the county for $10,000 payable in 1896, 1897 and 1898. The toll was lifted. Publisher Rule commented, "The territory which this road opened up was, of course, greatly benefited. The increased revenue to the county caused by the enhanced values to property given by this pike has more than aggregated the sum which the county pays, and goes to show the value of building good turnpikes everywhere they can possibly be made."

Upon John Smith’s death in 1883, his property was divided among family members. Emily Smith Conner received 85.6 acres of farmland, which ran from near Smithwood Baptist Church to Broadway at Hillcrest, bounded by Jacksboro Pike and present-day Rennoc Road (then Fountain Head Pike). Preliminary investigation suggests that the Conner log cabin was located at the present site of Mynatt’s Funeral Home. The "commodious residence" mentioned in Goodspeed may have been the large house later remodeled for the funeral home.

The community of Smithwood is named for John Smith. He had given property earlier for both Smithwood Grammar School and Smithwood Baptist Church. Conner Avenue, Rennoc Road (Conner spelled backward) and Conner’s Station on the Dummy Line were named for William and Emily Conner.

In his comprehensive genealogy of the Conner Family, Ancestors and Descendants of William Conner (1755-1836) (Knoxville, 1995), William H. Irwin, Jr. indicates that William A.A. Conner was also postmaster at the Smithwood Post Office from 1890 to 1894. He died on February 7, 1905 and his wife, Emily A. Smith Conner, died August 24, 1897. Both are buried in Smithwood Baptist Church Cemetery.

(Author’s Note: Thanks to Conner descendants, John Harrison Cooper, Sr. and Mary Christine Cooper Miller, who provided the rare photograph of W.A.A. and Emily Conner. Thanks also to William H. Irwin, Jr. for his landmark Conner genealogy and to Fred Cannon for the photographic expertise.)

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