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


(Courtesy of John H. McSween)

James McMillan


Nannie Lee Hicks’“The History of Fountain City” mentions James McMillan (1793-1866) and his 600-acre farm on present-day Cedar Lane, but these photographs were not available for her book. Thanks to his descendants, Elizabeth M. Lockhart and John H. McSween, the memorable 1920s scene and McMillan’s portrait can now be published.

James, son of Alexander (1749-1837) and Margaret McMillan, was born on Sep. 25, 1793, near McMillan’s Station on the Holston River in north Knox County. He lived there until 1842 when he bought the first 140-acre tract on Cedar Lane from the Pleasant Grills family. The farm eventually extended from Highland Dr. to Rifle Range Rd. and from St. Joseph’s School to Fountain Ave.

On Jan. 1, 1818, James married Alice Houston, the daughter of Robert A.  Houston (1763-1834) and Margaret (Davis) Houston. Robert Houston built the stately hand-made brick mansion on McCalla Ave.  (now MLK Blvd.) that became Mount Rest Home.

When Knox County was established in June 1792 in the territory of the United States, south of the river Ohio, Houston was commissioned the first Sheriff of the county by Gov. William Blount.  

Between 1803 and 1828 Houston served as Sheriff, in the State Senate, as Secretary of State, then as Knox County Trustee for several years.  He was a charter member of the Board of Trustees of Blount College (later the University of Tennessee) and a trustee of the Hampden Sydney and the Female Academies.

In 1842 James and Alice McMillan first built a log cabin and tenant house near the large spring on Cedar Lane. He kept a journal from Mar. 23, 1825 to Nov. 11, 1866 in which he recorded the planting and harvesting of his crops and orchards, along with family births and deaths and many of Knox County’s historic events before, during and after the Civil War.

Cedar Lane, Circa 1920

(Courtesy of John H. McSween)

Perhaps the most significant entry in his Journal appears in Mar. 1844 where he writes: “Planted 30 odd apple trees east of Mr. Bell west of my house also planted cedars along lane west of house.”  Almost 165 years later many of those trees continue to make Cedar Lane one of our most delightful residential streets.

In the 1840-50s era therapeutic springs were popular. There one could experience the healing waters in a medical treatment protocol of the time called balneotherapy.  McMillan records his visit to a favorite East Tennessee spa on Aug. 28, 1845: “Went to Montvale Springs, Blount County, Tenn. & remained there until 4th Septm. – without deriving any benefit.”

Evidently he had experienced some difficulty collecting from those who owed him during a recession in 1849. He wrote these two shibboleths worthy of Benjamin Franklin repeatedly for one-third of a journal page: “Creditors have much better memories than debtors. Command you may your mind from play.”

The severity of some of the winters is noteworthy.  On Jan. 26, 1856 McMillan wrote: “One of the largest snows fell that I ever saw. The ground had been covered with snow the last 2 weeks – still dark and snowing occasionally – now 29th Jany. 1856.” The next entry on Feb. 10 emphasizes the severity: “Snow and ice still on the ground. Certainly the longest cold spell recollected in the United States.”  On Feb. 24th he wrote: “Weather moderated. Something like Spring.”

It was a landmark date when the railroad reached Knoxville in 1855 and the Journal made note of it on July 4th: “The cars on the Georgia and East Tennessee R. Road have finally arrived at Knoxville & (caused) a considerable jollification, the Gap City (probably Bulls Gap) also in Blast. I however stayed at home & planted.”

Religious camp meetings had occurred as early as the 1830s in Fountain City Park and McMillan reported that they continued into the late 1850s and lasted more than a week: “1859 August 19th Camp meeting began at Fountain Head and broke 30th.”

In 1860, he wrote: “(On) August 2nd Between 10 and 11 Oclock at night a singular & bright light appeared & immediately after an explosion that jarred the house. Waked all the family that was asleep, frightened the animals very much.”  In 1863, almost three years later, he would report a similar cosmic occurrence: “Jany 7th- at twilight, say 30 minutes after 5 Oclock, a bright light appeared north west, & as it disappeared, a noise followed like a distant clap of thunder.”

There were several reports of events that occurred during the Civil War years (1861-1865), but none as cogent as this: “1864 Jany 30th 7 Michigan Soldiers came to my house & behaved badly – said they were suffering for Bread. I let them have 2 bushels wheat (and) they went off without paying or saying goodby – they have been behaving badly all week.”

In the last entry in the journal, dated Nov. 1, 1866, James McMillan wrote these words, “Fair and frosty – 2nd and 3rd - Warm fair, fine weather up to the 11th  -  Raining and much needed.”

Having faithfully recorded events on his farm and in his community for more than 41 years, James McMillan passed on to his reward on Nov. 24, 1866, barely two weeks after his last entry. He is buried in the peaceful McMillan-Karnes Cemetery once on the eastern border of his farm at the end of Astor Road, near its intersection with Holbrook Drive.

Author’s Note: Thanks to McMillan descendants, John H. McSween and Elizabeth M. Lockhart, for permission to use the photographs. Also to James Brennan, Holly Cook, Charles A. Reeves and Jack Sterling. Additional information and photographs may be found on

2/3/09= 947 words.


View of Acreage Across from McMillan-Karnes Farm

(Circa 1920, Courtesy of Elizabeth Ann Lockhart)