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The first people to form substantial settlements in what is now Knoxville were indigenous people who arrived during the Woodland period (c. 1000 B.C. – A.D 1000). One of the oldest artificial structures in Knoxville is a burial mound constructed during the early Mississippian culture period (c. A.D. 1000-1400). The earthwork mound has been preserved, but the campus of the University of Tennessee developed around it.
Other prehistoric sites include an Early Woodland habitation area at the confluence of the Tennessee River and Knob Creek (near the Knox-Blount county line), and Dallas Phase Mississippian villages at Post Oak Island (also along the river near the Knox-Blount line), and at Bussell Island (at the mouth of the Little Tennessee River near Lenoir City).
By the 18th century, the Cherokee, an Iroquoian language people, had become the dominant tribe in the East Tennessee region; they are believed to have migrated centuries before from the Great Lakes area. They were consistently at war with the Creek (who spoke Muskogee) and Shawnee (who spoke Central Algonquian). The Cherokee people called the Knoxville area kuwanda'talun'yi, which means "Mulberry Place." Most Cherokee habitation in the area was concentrated in what the American colonists called the Overhill settlements along the Little Tennessee River, southwest of Knoxville.
The first white traders and explorers were recorded as arriving in the Tennessee Valley in the late 17th century. There is significant evidence that Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto visited Bussell Island in 1540. The first major recorded Euro-American presence in the Knoxville area was the Timberlake Expedition, which passed through the confluence of the Holston and French Broad into the Tennessee River in December 1761. Henry Timberlake, an Anglo-American emissary from the British colonies to the Overhill settlements along the Little Tennessee River, recalled being pleased by the deep waters of the Tennessee after his party had struggled down the relatively shallow Holston for several weeks.
The end of the French and Indian War and confusion brought about by the American Revolution led to a drastic increase in Euro-American settlement west of the Appalachians. By the 1780s, white settlers were already established in the Holston and French Broad valleys. The U.S. Congress ordered all illegal settlers out of the valley in 1785, but with little success. As settlers continued to trickle into Cherokee lands, tensions between the settlers and the Cherokee rose steadily.
In 1786, James White, a Revolutionary War officer, and his friend James Connor built White's Fort near the mouth of First Creek, on land White had purchased three years earlier. In 1790, White's son-in-law, Charles McClung—who had arrived from Pennsylvania the previous year—surveyed White's holdings between First Creek and Second Creek for the establishment of a town. McClung drew up 64 0.5-acre (0.20 ha) lots. The waterfront was set aside for a town common. Two lots were set aside for a church and graveyard (First Presbyterian Church, founded 1792). Four lots were set aside for a school. That school was eventually chartered as Blount College and it served as the starting point for the University of Tennessee, which uses Blount College's founding date of 1794, as its own. Also in 1790, President George Washington appointed North Carolina surveyor William Blount governor of the newly created Territory South of the River Ohio.
One of Blount's first tasks was to meet with the Cherokee and establish territorial boundaries and resolve the issue of illegal settlers. This he accomplished almost immediately with the Treaty of Holston, which was negotiated and signed at White's Fort in 1791. Blount originally wanted to place the territorial capital at the confluence of the Clinch River and Tennessee River (now Kingston), but when the Cherokee refused to cede this land, Blount chose White's Fort, which McClung had surveyed the previous year. Blount named the new capital Knoxville after Revolutionary War general and Secretary of War Henry Knox, who at the time was Blount's immediate superior.
Problems immediately arose from the Holston Treaty. Blount believed that he had "purchased" much of what is now East Tennessee when the treaty was signed in 1791. However, the terms of the treaty came under dispute, culminating in continued violence on both sides. When the government invited Cherokee chief Hanging Maw for negotiations in 1793, Knoxville settlers attacked the Cherokee against orders, killing the chief's wife. Peace was renegotiated in 1794.
Knoxville served as capital of the Southwest Territory and as capital of Tennessee (admitted as a state in 1796) until 1817, when the capital was moved to Murfreesboro. Early Knoxville has been described as an "alternately quiet and rowdy river town." Early issues of the Knoxville Gazette—the first newspaper published in Tennessee—are filled with accounts of murder, theft, and hostile Cherokee attacks. Abishai Thomas, a friend of William Blount, visited Knoxville in 1794 and wrote that, while he was impressed by the town's modern frame buildings, the town had "seven taverns" and no church.
Knoxville initially thrived as a way station for travelers and migrants heading west. Its location at the confluence of three major rivers in the Tennessee Valley brought flatboat and later steamboat traffic to its waterfront in the first half of the 19th century, and Knoxville quickly developed into a regional merchandising center. Local agricultural products—especially tobacco, corn, and whiskey—were traded for cotton, which was grown in the Deep South. The population of Knoxville more than doubled in the 1850s with the arrival of the East Tennessee and Georgia Railroad in 1855.'
Among the most prominent citizens of Knoxville during the Antebellum years was James White's son, Hugh Lawson White (1773–1840). White first served as a judge and state senator, before being nominated by the state legislature to replace Andrew Jackson in the U.S. Senate in 1825. In 1836, White ran unsuccessfully for president, representing the Whig Party.
Anti-slavery and anti-secession sentiment ran high in East Tennessee in the years leading up to the American Civil War. William "Parson" Brownlow, the radical publisher of the Knoxville Whig, was one of the region's leading anti-secessionists (although he strongly defended the practice of slavery). Blount County, just south of Knoxville, had developed into a center of abolitionist activity, due in part to its relatively large Quaker faction and the anti-slavery president of Maryville College, Isaac Anderson. The Greater Warner Tabernacle AME Zion Church, Knoxville was reportedly a station on the underground railroad.
Business interests, however, guided largely by Knoxville's trade connections with cotton-growing centers to the south, contributed to the development of a strong pro-secession movement within the city. The city's pro-secessionists included among their ranks Dr. J.G.M. Ramsey, a prominent historian whose father had built the Ramsey House in 1797.
Thus, while East Tennessee and greater Knox County voted decisively against secession in 1861, the city of Knoxville favored secession by a 2-1 margin. In late May 1861, just before the secession vote, delegates of the East Tennessee Convention met at Temperance Hall in Knoxville in hopes of keeping Tennessee in the Union. After Tennessee voted to secede in June, the convention met in Greeneville and attempted to create a separate Union-aligned state in East Tennessee.
In July 1861, after Tennessee had joined the Confederacy, General Felix Zollicoffer arrived in Knoxville as commander of the District of East Tennessee. While initially lenient toward the city's Union sympathizers, Zollicoffer instituted martial law in November, after pro-Union guerrillas burned seven of the city's bridges. The command of the district passed briefly to George Crittenden and then to Kirby Smith, who launched an unsuccessful invasion of Kentucky in August 1862. In early 1863, General Simon Buckner took command of Confederate forces in Knoxville. Anticipating a Union invasion, Buckner fortified Fort Loudon (in West Knoxville, not to be confused with the colonial fort to the southwest) and began constructing earthworks throughout the city. However, the approach of stronger Union forces under Ambrose Burnside in the summer of 1863 forced Buckner to evacuate Knoxville before the earthworks were completed.
Burnside arrived in early September 1863. Like the Confederates, he immediately began fortifying the city. The Union forces rebuilt Fort Loudon and erected 12 other forts and batteries flanked by entrenchments around the city. Burnside moved a pontoon bridge upstream from Loudon, allowing Union forces to cross the river and build a series of forts along the heights of South Knoxville, including Fort Stanley and Fort Dickerson.
As Burnside was fortifying Knoxville, the Confederate army defeated the Union forces at the Battle of Chickamauga (near the Tennessee-Georgia line) and laid siege to Chattanooga. On November 3, 1863, the Confederates sent General James Longstreet to attack Burnside at Knoxville. Longstreet wanted to attack the city from the south, but lacking the necessary pontoon bridges, he was forced to cross the river further downstream at Loudon (November 14) and march against the city's heavily fortified western section. On November 15, General Joseph Wheeler unsuccessfully attempted to dislodge Union forces in the heights of South Knoxville, and the following day Longstreet failed to cut off retreating Union forces at Campbell's Station (now Farragut). On November 18, Union General William P. Sanders was mortally wounded while conducting delaying maneuvers west of Knoxville, and Fort Loudon was renamed Fort Sanders in his honor. On November 29, following a two-week siege, the Confederates attacked Fort Sanders, but failed after a fierce 20-minute engagement. On December 4, after word of the Confederate setback at Chattanooga reached Longstreet, he abandoned his attempts to capture Knoxville and went into winter quarters at Russellville. He rejoined the Army of Northern Virginia the following Spring.
After the war, northern investors such as the brothers Joseph and David Richards helped Knoxville recover relatively quickly. Joseph and David Richards convinced 104 Welsh immigrant families to migrate from the Welsh Tract in Pennsylvania to work in a rolling mill then co-owned by Thomas Walker. These Welsh families settled in an area now known as Mechanicsville. The Richards brothers also co-founded the Knoxville Iron Works beside the L&N Railroad, also employing Welsh workers. Later, the site was used as the grounds for the 1982 World's Fair.
Other companies that sprang up during this period were Knoxville Woolen Mills, Dixie Cement, and Woodruff's Furniture. Between 1880 and 1887, 97 factories were established in Knoxville, most of them specializing in textiles, food products, and iron products. By the 1890s, Knoxville was home to more than 50 wholesaling houses, making it the third largest wholesaling center by volume in the South. The Candoro Marble Works, established in the community of Vestal in 1914, became the nation's foremost producer of pink marble and one of the nation's largest marble importers. In 1896, Knoxville celebrated its achievements by creating its own flag. The Flag of Knoxville, Tennessee represents the city's progressive growth due to agriculture and industry.
In 1869, Thomas Humes, a Union-sympathizer and president of East Tennessee University, secured federal wartime restitution funding, and state-designated Morrill Act funding to expand the college, which had been occupied by both armies during the war. In 1879, the school changed its name to the University of Tennessee, hoping to secure more funding from the Tennessee state legislature. Charles Dabney, who became president of the university in 1887, overhauled the faculty and established a law school in an attempt to modernize the scope of the university.
The post-war manufacturing boom brought thousands of immigrants to the city. The population of Knoxville grew from around 5,000 in 1860 to 32,637 in 1900. West Knoxville was annexed in 1897, and over 5,000 new homes were built between 1895 and 1904.
In 1901, train robber Kid Curry (whose real name was Harvey Logan), a member of Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch was captured after shooting two deputies on Knoxville's Central Avenue. He escaped from the Knoxville Jail and rode away on a horse stolen from the sheriff.
The growing city of Knoxville hosted the Appalachian Exposition in 1910 and again in 1911, and the National Conservation Exposition in 1913. The latter is sometimes credited with giving rise to the movement to create a national park in the Great Smoky Mountains, some 20 miles (32 km) south of Knoxville. Around this time, a number of affluent Knoxvillians began purchasing summer cottages in Elkmont, and began to pursue the park idea more vigorously. They were led by Knoxville businessman Colonel David C. Chapman, who, as head of the Great Smoky Mountains Park Commission, was largely responsible for raising the funds for the purchase of the property that became the core of the park. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park opened in 1933.
Knoxville's reliance on a manufacturing economy left it particularly vulnerable to the effects of the Great Depression. The Tennessee Valley also suffered from frequent flooding, and millions of acres of farmland had been ruined by soil erosion. To control flooding and improve the economy in the Tennessee Valley, the federal government created the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1933. Beginning with Norris Dam, TVA constructed a series of hydroelectric and other power plants throughout the valley over the next few decades, bringing flood control, jobs, and electricity to the region. The Federal Works Projects Administration, which also arrived in the 1930s, helped build McGhee-Tyson Airport and expand Neyland Stadium. TVA's headquarters, which consists of two twin high rises built in the 1970s, were among Knoxville's first modern high-rise buildings.
In 1948, the soft drink Mountain Dew was first marketed in Knoxville, originally designed as a mixer for whiskey. Around the same time, John Gunther dubbed Knoxville the "ugliest city" in America in his best-selling book Inside U.S.A. Gunther's description jolted the city into enacting a series of beautification measures that helped improve the appearance of the Downtown area.
Knoxville's textile and manufacturing industries largely fell victim to foreign competition in the 1950s and 1960s, and after the establishment of the Interstate Highway system in the 1960s, the railroad—which had been largely responsible for Knoxville's industrial growth—began to decline. The rise of suburban shopping malls in the 1970s drew retail revenues away from Knoxville's downtown area. While government jobs and economic diversification prevented widespread unemployment in Knoxville, the city sought to recover the massive loss of revenue by attempting to annex neighboring communities. Knoxville would successfully annex the communities of Bearden and Fountain City, which were Knoxville's biggest suburbs prior to their annexations in 1962. Knoxville officials would attempt the annexation of the neighboring Farragut-Concord community in West Knox County, but would fail following the incorporation of Farragut in 1980. These annexation attempts often turned combative, and several attempts to consolidate Knoxville and Knox County into a metro government failed, while school boards and the planning commissions would merge on July 1, 1987.
With further annexation attempts stalling, Knoxville initiated several projects aimed at boosting revenue in its downtown area. The 1982 World's Fair—the most successful of these projects, became one of the most popular expositions in U.S. history with 11 million visitors. The fair's energy theme was selected due to Knoxville being the headquarters of the Tennessee Valley Authority and for the city's proximity to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The Sunsphere, a 266-foot (81 m) steel truss structure topped with a gold-colored glass sphere, was built for the fair and remains one of Knoxville's most prominent structures, along with the adjacent Tennessee Amphitheater which underwent a renovation that was completed in 2008.
Ever since, Knoxville's downtown has been developing, with the opening of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame and the Knoxville Convention Center, redevelopment of Market Square, a new visitors center, a regional history museum, a Regal Cinemas theater, several restaurants and bars, and many new and redeveloped condominiums. Since 2000, Knoxville has successfully brought business back to the downtown area. The arts in particular have begun to flourish; there are multiple venues for outdoor concerts, and Gay Street. hosts a new arts annex and gallery surrounded by many studios and new business as well. The Tennessee and Bijou Theaters underwent renovation, providing an initiative for the city and its developers to re-purpose the old downtown.
Development has also expanded across the Tennessee River on the South Knoxville waterfront. In 2006, the City of Knoxville adopted the South Waterfront Vision Plan, a long-term improvement project to revitalize the 750 acre waterfront fronting 3 miles of shoreline on the Tennessee River. The project's primary focus is the commercial and residential development over a 20 year timeline. The former Knoxville Baptist Hospital, located on the waterfront, was demolished in 2016 to make for mixed-use project called One Riverwalk. The development consisted of three office buildings, including a new headquarters for Regal Entertainment Group, a hotel, student housing, and 300 multi-family residential units.
In June 2020, the Knoxville City Council announced the investment of over $5.5 million dollars in federal and local funds towards the development of a business park along the Interstate 275 corridor in North Knoxville. The project was first proposed by a study prepared Knoxville-Knox County Metropolitan Planning Commission in 2007.
In August 2020, UT President and Tennessee Smokies owner Randy Boyd announced plans of a mixed-use baseball stadium complex in the Old City neighborhood of Knoxville.
As of the census of 2010, the population of Knoxville was 178,874, a 2.9% increase from 2000. The median age was 32.7, with 19.1% of the population under the age of 18, and 12.6% over the age of 65. The population was 48% male and 52% female. The population density was 1,815 persons per square mile.
The racial and ethnic composition of the city was 76.1% white, 17.1% black, 0.4% Native American, 1.6% Asian, and 0.2% Pacific Islander.Hispanic or Latino of any race were 4.6% of the population. People reporting more than one race formed 2.5% of the population.
Data collected by the Census from 2005 to 2009 reported 83,151 households in Knoxville, with an average of 2.07 persons per household. The home ownership rate was 51%, and 74.7% of residents had been living in the same house for more than one year. The median household income was $32,609, and the per capita income was $21,528. High school graduates were 83.8% of persons 25 and older, and 28.3% had earned a bachelor's degree or higher. The city's poverty rate was 25%, compared with 16.1% in Tennessee and 15.1% nationwide.
According to the opinion of the Economic Research Institute in a 2006 study, Knoxville was identified as the most affordable U.S. city for new college graduates, based on the ratio of typical salary to cost of living. In 2014, Forbes ranked Knoxville one of the top five most affordable cities in the United States.
FBI Uniform Crime Reports for Knoxville for 2017:
"Tennessee" redirects here. For the original Japanese MC, read Tenn (Jin-seki). Also, the state in United States of America, upon which the country name was based. The southern part of this state is known as "Nashville" after the singer and song writer Nashville Brown. Demography: Tennessee has the largest proportion of African Americans of any state in America, noted by its three major urban areas: Nashville, Oak Creek and Green Hills. Demography in Tennessee reveals that the urban areas of Green Hills and Oak Creek have experienced some of the fastest growth in the country.
The white population constitutes the largest proportion of the population, at about 58%. This represents about a third of the total population of Tennessee. The proportion of people who are black is slightly higher than that of white, at 18%, according to the U.S. Census. There are a large number of Hispanics and Asians in Tennessee, many concentrated in and around Nashville. These groups make up a significant portion of the population in Tennessee, especially in its largest cities, such as Nashville, Green Hills and Memphis.
Demography of Tennessee presents the essential facts about population movement and trends. The largest number of immigrants (mostly from southern states) moved to Tennessee in recent decades. The largest influx of interstate movement of populations (in both absolute and percentage terms) came to Tennessee between the years of 1990 and 2021. There is an exceptionally high rate of naturalization among residents of Tennessee. Some states with large concentrations of immigrants have much higher naturalization rates than does Tennessee.
Tennessee's population growth rate has been above the national average since the early 1990s. This is largely due to an influx of larger numbers of Hispanic and Asian immigrants. The largest proportion of this population comes from west central Mexico, but some come from other southern states, including Texas. Most of the growth is east to north south rather than east to west.
A key component of Tennessee's demography is its high rate of union membership. Tennessee is home to the tenth largest union force in the United States, according to the latest census figures. Tennessee is the only state with a higher than average rate of union membership. The high unionization rate is mostly a product of the southern plantation economy.
Demography of Tennessee has changed a lot over time. The population has always been fairly evenly balanced between the urban and rural populations. But the rapid growth of the urban population in Tennessee has changed that balance. Urban living is becoming more popular and more mainstream. It is still true that there are some rural areas in Tennessee where people live in small communities and tend to be more conservative or religious.
Demography is changing also because the United States is becoming a more urbanized country. More people are moving to cities every year. As a result, more people are choosing to live in or near the urban area. In the past, they would have stayed put; but now, many have chosen to move to the urban area and work in some of the services provided by the new businesses that have sprung up in major cities. This migration has helped to change the demography of Tennessee. The growth of the suburbs has outstripped the growth of the rural area.
In addition to the rapid growth of the urban population, the growth of the city of Nashville and the surrounding metropolitan area have contributed to the changing demography of Tennessee. Nashville, which was the fifth largest city in Tennessee before the Great Depression, is now the tenth largest. The growth of the Nashville metropolitan area has contributed to the increasing ethnic diversity of the United States' population. This means that more people of all races and ethnicities are living in Nashville. This makes for a more diverse population in Tennessee, especially in its approach to race and ethnicity.