A Brief History of Fountain City

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

Fountain City Places That Made A Difference

(Fountain City Lake, Circa 1900)


(As prepared and presented at the first annual observation of Honor Fountain City Day on May 27, 1974, by Miss Nannie Lee Hicks, retired teacher at Central High School and author of the popular book “The Adair Section of Knox County.”  Her book was reprinted by Fountain City Town Hall in 2000 and re-titled, "The History of Fountain City (with sections on Smithwood and Inskip.")
   I wonder how many of you have ever noticed the Tennessee Historical Highway marker on North Broadway in front of the casket factory (now Cancun Restaurant)?  Have you ever been curious enough to stop a minute and read the text?  It reads as follows:
   “Fort Adair:
   "Established in 1788 (186 years ago) this fort was used as a depot of supplies for the Cumberland Guard, a militia organization which furnished armed protection for parties of immigrants to the Cumberland settlement, later the town of  Nashborough, now Nashville.”
   Nashville is nine or ten years older than Knoxville and swarms of settlers from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina made their way through what is now Tennessee, through the wilderness to Nashville.  From the foot of the Clinch mountains at the present village of Blaine they followed a pathway that eventually was known  as Emory Road.
   Since the Indians were still hostile, the North Carolina government, as the marker states, sent the militia to protect the immigrants.  John Adair, a native of Ireland, came to  America and migrated to western North Carolina (now East Tennessee) where he became prominent as a leader, and where he was appointed by the governor of North Carolina to build a supply depot on the frontier in Hawkins County (now Knox County) where the soldiers could get supplies of corn, meal, bacon, flour, pork, and beef and such.
   Since their route to Nashville came through Beaver Creek Valley about two miles northwest of Adair’s Fort or supply depot, and the fort was only slightly off their line of travel, it was a perfect location for the commissary or supply depot.  The militiamen came from the Beaver Creek route to the fort by a pathway that crossed Black Oak Ridge near “Belcaro,” then through what is now Lynnhurst cemetery to the supply station.
   John Adair had previously been given 640 acres of land in this section by the governor of North Carolina.  His fort was near the southwestern border of this section of land.  Incidentally, James White, his nearest neighbor, had a settlement in Knoxville that same year in which Adair founded Fountain City.  As time went on, other settlers joined Adair.  Farming flourished in this part of Knox County for more than 100 years.
   In 1828, a church was organized in the John Adair section called Fountain Head Methodist Church - the forerunner of the present Fountain City United Methodist Church.
   In 1833, a camp meeting was moved from Lonas Chapel on the present Middlebrook Pike to a grove of trees opposite the Fountain Head Methodist Church (the location of the present Fountain City Park).  Camp meetings were largely attended for many years, especially the years before the Civil War.  Tents were used by the campers, while the preaching services were in sheds or arbors.  Sometimes on Sunday mornings as many as 2,000 attended the preaching service.  Camp meetings continued to be a drawing card to Fountain Head until about 1885.  Then it was that a Reverend Inskip from New York, a well known evangelist, established a camp ground in a grove of trees on Colonel Charles McGhee’s new railroad 3 miles west of the Fountain Head camp ground.  Since the Inskip site was conveniently located on the railroad, it was more easily reached than the old site,  so the older camp ground went out of business.
   In 1885, the Fountain Head camp ground owners sold their property (12 acres) to the Fountain Head Improvement Co. for $1,025.
   In 1886, a large 3 story, 50 room hotel, with porches on all three floors, was built overlooking the big spring and the camp grounds.  The hotel stood where the Manor apartment House now stands ((formerly stood).  The new hotel cost between $8,000 and $10,000 to build.  The hotel was reached by a conveyance known as hack (a large station wagon of today) and by private horse and buggies and surries.  The hotel was called the Fountain Head Hotel.
   In June of 1888, the Fountain Head hotel Co. sold the hotel to a company who incorporated under the name Fountain Head Land Co.  In 1890, the new company sold the hotel and camp meeting ground (the present Fountain City Park) to a syndicate of Kentucky capitalists.  In the fall of 1889, a charter was granted to this company for “the encouragement of immigration, the locating and building of towns and cities, the purchase, improvement, sale and establishment of industries.”
   In 1890, a steam railway called the “Dummy Line”  was built from Emory Place in Knoxville to Fountain Head.
   The summer of 1891 was the best season in the entire career of the hotel.  Many guests were entertained.  Miss Mary Donahue had charge of the dining room where marvelous meals were served for 50 cents.  Among other attractions added were the three bathrooms - one for each floor with hot and cold water.  An Italian band also played for the guest entertainment.
   The hotel property changed hands several times until it was turned into a sanitarium about 1915 or 1916.  In 1920, it was destroyed by fire, but was rebuilt - and the sanitarium gave way to the Manor Apartment House.
   The “Dummy Line” was in operation 16 years until 1905 when it was replaced by electric trolley cars.  Gasoline buses were installed in 1934.
   A sure enough real estate boom started in Fountain City in the spring of 1890. The hotel property and 14 acres of land surrounding the park was purchased in Fountain Head for $159,000.
   The first real estate office was opened at the Fountain Head Station.  Many lots were sold, but not too many residences were built.  After that the boom set in, so that today there are no dividing lines between Fountain City, Smithwood, Beverly, Inskip and Halls Cross Roads.
   In 1890, a Post Office was established at Fountain Head.  It was called Fountain City, however; because there was another Fountain Head in middle Tennessee.
   From the 1880’s until the mid 1920’s, hundreds of people came to the park for picnics - churches, political organizations, Odd Fellows, Masons, and Labor and Farm Unions. Probably the most famous speeches made in the park were made during the race for governor in 1886 when Robert Taylor, Democrat, and his brother Alf Taylor, Republican, made their historic race known as the “War of the Roses.”  A very large crowd assembled to  hear the famous debate.
   On July 14, 1893,  5,000 people attended a picnic in the park given by all the Baptist churches in Knoxville.  In 1890, many people came to Fountain City to see the newly constructed heart shaped lake.  Now they come and bring their children to feed the many ducks on that same heart shaped lake - but please do not call it a “duck pond.”
   In 1951, the Lion’s Club built the Lion’s Club Community Building.  It was named for the late Judge John W. Green, a distinguished lawyer, aristocrat, and friend of Fountain City, who resided on his estate on top of Black Oak Ridge.  It was he and the late Ben Ogle who saved the Fountain City Park from being sold off in residential lots.
   In 1937, Judge Green headed a movement for a community library.  The building was of concrete block construction and was built as a cost of $3,000.  In 1964, the City of Knoxville built the present library building.
   Fountain City Post Office was created in 1890 and remained a separate office until 1925,  when it became a branch of the Knoxville office.  It has been located in several different places - all within a short distance from the park.
   Even after the Dummy Line was built, the development of Fountain City was slow.  It was augmented by the establishment of  Holbrook  Normal College in 1893, a college built on the hill immediately back of the Fountain Head Hotel - site of the present Gresham Junior High School.  School opened September 4, 1893, with an enrollment of more than 100.  Dora Whitaker of New Market was the first student to enroll.  She was later Mrs. James B. Wright, Sr.,  wife of a prominent Knoxville attorney.  The college was in operation less than 10 years.  Even though excellent instruction was given, small tuition fees and no endowment hampered its operation so it was forced to close its doors.
   In 1900,  the school was taken over by the Tennessee Baptist Association who bought it for a school.  They paid the Knoxville and Fountain City Land Co.,  $13,000 for it.  On August 12, 1900, (two months after the purchase) the main building was destroyed by fire, but fortunately insurance of $13,000 was carried on the building, so that a second building was erected that was used by the Baptist until 1904.  In 1906, the college property was purchased by Knox County for the new Central High School which opened its doors in September 1906.  Central is the second oldest school in the county - Farragut having been organized in 1904.  Central used the buildings for 25 years until 1931 when the present Gresham Junior High main building was erected.  Additions to the building were added later.  Central used the buildings until 1971 when the present fabulous plant was erected - on a new site.  In two more years, Central will celebrate her 70th birthday.
   There was no grammar school in Fountain City until 1902 -1903.  Up until that time the children of the Fountain City area attended the Smithwood School.  The first Fountain City School was conducted in the Odd Fellows hall, corner of Hotel and Holbrook Drive, with one teacher.  Shortly thereafter, a frame building was erected where the sanctuary of the First Baptist Church now stands.  Then in  1916, a new school was built on the Central High School grounds and was used until 1931 when the present school was built a block away.  The old grammar school property was used by Central High as an annex until 1967.
   There are a number of churches in the area.  This is really the “Bible Belt.”
   Now, in 1974, you can literally see Fountain City growing from day to day - many homes and businesses.  There is really no need to go to Knoxville or West Town to get the things we use daily; we have everything out here.
   We have some of the most beautiful residential sections in the city. No part of Knoxville can begin to compare with our dogwood trail--it is absolutely like “fairy land.”
   With its schools, churches, business places and comfortable homes, it is a wonderful place to live.  I know, I live here!

(Transcribed by Jeanne Morris Jones, Central High School Class of 1944 on January 28, 2006.)