Copyright 2009 * 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

Howard Karnes on Vacation in Florida

(Courtesy of Elizabeth Ann Lockhart)

J. Howard Karnes


In 1900 the population of Knox County was 74,302. That same year the Census of Agriculture shows that there were 3,882 farms in the county with 6,954 horses, 3,076 mules and other livestock. Therefore an enterprising businessman would recognize a sizeable market potential for harness, saddles and other related farm equipment. Also, Knoxville was a railroad hub at the time and that meant neighboring counties in East Tennessee, Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina and Georgia also created a market for a company with quality goods and good service.

Large-scale, production-line manufacturing of affordable automobiles was not introduced by Ransom Olds until 1902. Henry Ford expanded the market by introducing the Model T on October 1, 1908. It was so cheap at $825 that soon a majority of American drivers were learning to drive on a Model T. Sales passed 250,000 in 1914 and, by 1916, the price dropped to $360 for the basic touring car and total national sales reached 472,000.

Howard Karnes (1859-1932) may not have known that in the future the horseless carriage would rule and the horse and buggy would gradually be replaced.  But, he recognized a window of opportunity and formed a partnership with W.C. Webb (1847-1912) in 1881. Karnes and Webb soon employed 12 skilled workmen in the manufacture and wholesaling of saddles, bridles, harness and horse collars.

By 1885 Karnes had acquired sole ownership and expanded his business to occupy Nos. 31-33 Market Square and employed 25. The Manufacturers of Knoxville, Tennessee (1901) said of the business, “His trade covers East Tennessee and contiguous states. By close attention to business he has built a trade that a man of his age should be proud of. Yet he is not a slave to his business. He is public spirited, genial and popular with everybody. He is also very much interested in live stock and farming.  He resides on one of his farms north of the city, near Fountain City, and owns a splendid 850 acre river bottom farm on the Clinch River, in the Ninth district, formerly known as the Gallaher farm.”

Karnes Home, Circa 1920

(Courtesy of Elizabeth Ann Lockhart)

Once known as “Magnolia Manor,” the Karnes house at 1909 Cedar Lane sits only a few hundred yards from the original John Karnes home in which J. Howard Karnes was born on September 4, 1859. Howard was the first of seven children of Civil War veteran John M. and Sarah (Gammon) Karnes. “Uncle Jack,” as he was known in the community, had served as a wagoner under Col. Joseph Cooper in Co. G of the 6th Tennessee Infantry (USA) and had become perhaps the best known farmer in north Knox County.

On May 11, 1859, John Karnes was married to Adaline McMillan (1835-1905), daughter of James (1793-1866) and Alice Houston (1794-1847) McMillan. James McMillan’s very interesting Journal includes an entry on the day he planted the first of the cedar trees along Cedar Lane. McMillan, whose large farm adjoined the Karnes farm, is the subject of a future article.

Howard Karnes attended school in his community and began his business career as a traveling salesman for Oates, White and Co., local harness and saddle manufacturers. As previously mentioned, he co-founded Karnes and Webb Harness and Saddle Co. in 1881. He became the sole owner in 1885, expanded the business and prospered for a period of 33 years, then sold it in 1918 and retired. His timing was appropriate as, by then, the automobile was fast becoming the popular mode of transportation and the nation was embroiled in World War I.

In his retirement Karnes made many trips to Florida resorts during the winter months. Although his health had been failing for more than a year, he continued to make occasional visits to Market Square and made his final trip only one week before his death on June 8, 1932 at 73 years of age. His services were conducted by Rev. J.E. Wolfe in Fountain City Methodist Church with burial in Greenwood Cemetery.

His nephews were the active pallbearers: James and Wallace Gillespie, John and Howard Karnes, Howard McCampbell and Powell May. The honorary pallbearers were a veritable “Who’s Who” of prominent Knox Countians: Judge John W. Green, S.V. Carter, Michael Shetterly, Frank H. McClung, Pryor Brown, Dr. A.F. Kern, Dr. J.B. Parker, Jacob Metler, John H. Boyd, Fritz Staub and J.H. Henderson.

Surviving her husband by some 24 years, Ida Powell Karnes continued to live in the original Karnes place until her death on November 18, 1956 at age 91. A member of Fountain City Methodist Church for 60 years, she was survived by her daughter Edith Karnes (Mrs. Hugh B.) Miller and son R. Houston Karnes; granddaughters Elizabeth Miller and Alice (Karnes) McSween Adams; and great-grandchildren Elizabeth Ann (McSween) Lockhart and John Houston McSween.

Author’s Note: Thanks to Elizabeth M. Lockhart and John H. McSween for permission to use the photographs and information from the Karnes Family Bible. Also to J. Steven Cotham, Jean Dobbins Payne and Allison Roberts of the Pendergrass AgVetMed Library at U.T.

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