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Knoxville is rich with history from the seven homes of the Civil War and the First Frontier to historical museums. Exploring these homes and museums is a great way to learn history - and have fun at the same time - and are ideal for history enthusiasts and families.
History of Knoxville and East Tennessee
East Tennessee History Center – A regional history museum with a premiere genealogy research library and an award-winning research archive. From pioneers and the Lost State of Franklin, to the Civil War, Tennessee Valley Authority, and the Cradle of Country music, the East Tennessee Historical Society Museum tells the story of the region’s unique and often colorful past. The museum interprets 200 years of the region’s history through its permanent exhibit, “The East Tennesseans,” and through temporary exhibits.
Cradle of Country Music Walking Tour – This downtown walking tour highlights some of the earliest Country music stars and performances in Knoxville. The one-hour walking tour begins at the East Tennessee History Center and includes markers regarding Hank Williams, Dolly Parton, The Everly Brothers, Roy Acuff, the “Midday Merry-Go-Round” and more.
Beck Cultural Exchange Center – This center is a museum for research, preservation and displays of the achievements of Knoxville’s African-American citizens from the early 1800s. The center’s collection includes books, photographs, newspapers, recordings, biographies and works of art.
Haley Heritage Square – Home of the 13-foot bronze Alex Haley statue – the largest statue of an African-American in the United States. The magnificent statue honors Alex Haley, author of numerous novels, including Roots. Haley called Knoxville his “adopted home.”
Volunteer Landing – Take a stroll through 200 years of Knoxville history at Volunteer Landing on the Tennessee River. Audio, text and photographs along the way tell fascinating stories of Knoxville’s life as a river town – from Cherokee times and European settlement to the era of grand steamboats and the Civil War, to the 1982 World’s Fair and, on football Saturdays, the orange and white “Volunteer Navy.” At the east-end is a hands-on steamboat playground for children.
Bleak House – Confederate Memorial Hall – During the 1863 siege of Knoxville, this 15-room Antebellum home was headquarters to Confederate generals Longstreet, McLaws and Jenkins. A flatboat ferry at the foot of the backyard garden moved cannons across the river. The mansion was built between 1854 and 1858 for newlywed owners, Robert and Louisa Franklin Armstrong, and was named after the Charles Dickens novel, popular at that time. Bricks were baked on site for the construction of the Tuscan Villa style house. Bleak House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is an Official Site of the Civil War Discovery Trail. The house is owned and operated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy Chapter #89.
Mabry-Hazen House – The historic Mabry-Hazen House provides a unique window into 130 years of Knoxville’s heritage. Shown are many of the original furnishings, silver, china, clothing and papers from three generations of the Mabry-Hazen family. In addition to its importance as a Civil War museum, it also represents the Victorian era. Nearby is the Confederate Cemetery, established in 1861, where 1,600 Confederate soldiers are buried. The home served as headquarters for both Confederate and Union forces during the Civil War. Prominent Knoxvillian Joseph A. Mabry, Jr., built it in 1858 and it is on the National Historic Register.
Farragut Folklife Museum – Admiral David G. Farragut, who was born near Knoxville, was the first Admiral of the U.S. Navy and a Civil War hero. His life is the focus of the Farragut Folklife Museum, a repository for the David Glasgow Farragut Collection, which consists of East Tennessee artifacts, photographs, manuscripts and letters. In addition, the museum preserves the heritage of the town of Farragut, named for the famous family.
Fort Sanders – A 13-day siege of Knoxville ended with a smashing Federal victory on November 29, 1863. The fort’s earthen walls were 20-feet high, almost vertical, and in the cold of winter, were slick with ice. In a valiant but doomed attack, Confederate forces tried to scale the walls, but failed. In a battle that lasted only 20 minutes, 813 of the 4,000 Confederates died, with only 13 Union deaths. Although no physical evidence of this fort remains, a historical marker, a United Daughters of the Confederacy marker and a monument to the 79th New York Highlanders commemorate the battle.
Old Gray Cemetery – This historic cemetery was established in the 1850s. Many of its tombstones and monuments are beautiful examples of Victorian art and architecture. The list of those buried in the cemetery is a virtual who’s who of Knoxville past. They include United States senators and congressmen, governors, and more than 26 Knoxville mayors.
Knoxville National Cemetery – Located beside Old Gray Cemetery, separated only by a stone wall, is Knoxville National Cemetery, begun in 1863. Among those buried there are Union casualties from the Battle of Fort Sanders, veterans from later wars, and one lone Confederate soldier.
Armstrong-Lockett House (Crescent Bend) – Built in 1834, this house is called Crescent Bend because of its location near the “crescent bend” in the Tennessee River. A stately house with beautiful grounds, the home is furnished with the Buck Toms Collections of 28th Century American and English furniture, decorative arts and an outstanding collection of English silver. W.P. Toms Memorial Gardens consist of seven terraced spectacular gardens leading to the river.
Blount Mansion – This National Historic Landmark is the circa 1792 home of Territorial Governor William Blount, the first and only governor of the territory southwest of the Ohio River. It is also the birthplace of Tennessee statehood in 1796. The frontier capital still stands on the original site. The mansion exhibits one of the finest collections in the area of late 18th century American furnishings.
James White’s Fort – Located on a bluff above the Tennessee River near downtown Knoxville, the fort was built in 1786, by General James White, Knoxville’s founder. Originally it consisted of his home, three cabins and the stockade wall used as protection against possible Indian attacks. For preservation of authentic artifacts, a museum, blacksmith’s shop, smoke house and loom house were added later.
Marble Springs State Historic Farmstead – John Sevier, Tennessee’s first governor, built his house when he came to the state capital in 1796. Marble Springs continued to be his home during his six terms as governor and two terms as a U.S. Representative. Furnished with Sevier family artifacts and period furniture, this working farmstead also includes log structures and farm animals.
Ramsey House Plantation – This historic home, built in 1797 by Thomas Hope for Francis Alexander Ramsey and his sons, is set on 100-acres of rolling Tennessee hillside in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. The house is a Georgian-style design and is significant for its original interior and exterior architectural features. The exterior is made from local pink marble and blue limestone and the interior contains elaborate wood detailing as well as early furnishings and decorative arts. The details of the house were unusual for a home built on the new frontier. The plantation also maintains vegetable and flower gardens on the property that feature heirloom and native plants. All of the plants on the plantation are from Tennessee or other Southern gardeners.