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A Brief History of Downtown Knoxville’s Iconic Skyline

As a member of the Knoxville community, have you ever wondered how the city skyline came together to be such an iconic part of the city’s history? Knoxville is a city with deep rooted history and great people, which makes it one of the best places to be. The development of the Knoxville city skyline has taken place over hundreds of years and still continues to evolve each year. If you’re here for a history lesson or just to brush up for weekly trivia – the following article will give you insight on how Knoxville came to be.

The Historical Knoxville City Skyline

Prior to European colonization, the area we know and love as Knoxville served as hunting grounds for Native Americans. The city was first settled in 1786 by James White after receiving a land grant from North Carolina. What started as a cluster of cabins and small homes developed into a thriving city renamed Knoxville in 1791. As the city grew, many people from mountainous and rural communities began migrating to the thriving city to pursue work and trade. The city grew so much so that in 1794 it became the home of the University of Tennessee, originally known as Blount College. 

Throughout the 1800’s Knoxville served as one of the largest distribution centers in the south due to the thriving railroads and convenient location. The success of Knoxville during this time period made the territory a hot commodity during the Civil War. The Union and Confederate army fought for possession of the city. It was the Battle of Fort Sanders that would leave Knoxville in the hands of Union troops. 

Later on during the reconstruction era, Knoxville utilized trading their many resources like coal, lumber, and marble to build the economy to be stronger than ever. Knoxville’s successful marble industry led to the nickname Marble City. These resources would differentiate Knoxville from other southern cities as it has several natural resources and river-based power. This allowed for the investment into Knoxville’s first high rise condominium, The Burwell Building (built 1907). This neoclassic high rise started out as Holston National Bank until its reorganization in 1975, transforming the building into a residence.

Knoxville booming by the late 1920s., and companies expected that through the building of the Andrew Johnson Building. This hotel allowed for tourists excited for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a posh place to stay before adventuring into the mountains that tower the building to the south.

The Path Towards Modern Knoxville

The success and growth of the TVA led to an influx in population in the 1950’s. However, the rise in population plateaued until the World’s Fair of 1982. This event helped boost the popularity of the city to be viewed more like Charlotte and Atlanta. Over 11 million people came from all over the world to attend the World’s Fair of 1982 that took place near downtown and the University of Tennessee campus. The iconic sunsphere, the most notable part of the city skyline, was built in honor of this celebration. The area surrounding it coined the name World’s Fair Park. Even today, this park hosts several events. In fact, within the month of October there were a series of concerts located in this park. These events help to bring the Knoxville community together and World’s Fair Park serves as a place of history and relaxation for all.

Overall, the city has continued to grow over time. With the growth of the city, it is certain the skyline will continue to evolve over time. As a Knoxville based business, we are excited to see how it changes in the next few years! If you love Knoxville, check out our website for more apparel options! We also have merch for lovers of the city skyline and the iconic Knoxville sunsphere.




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