South Knox Stories: Updates on a Few Landmarks South of the River

In 2011, Chris "Bo" Hiscock gave me a tour of the home-made bus stop he constructed for his friend, Willard "Noonie" Joiner, a stroke survivor who relies on public transportation to get around. Joiner often used one particular bus stop on Island Home Avenue, just down the street from Hiscock's house, that lacked a bench or shelter. That is, until Hiscock built Joiner a bench from scrap lumber, and fixed up a shade umbrella to shelter the bench. On a small wooden sign Hiscock painted the words "Noonie's Stop." The friends worried the city would tear down the probably illegal structure, though a codes enforcement official I spoke to at the time told me that wasn't going to happen.

I ran into Hiscock at Vestival early this May. He said Noonie's bench still exists, and Noonie still uses it regularly. Someone made off with the umbrella, Hiscock says, but he's on the prowl for another one.

Hiscock's tiny house has long been known as the Blue Grass Theatre, and now a hand-lettered sign hanging from the front porch makes it official.

On a recent afternoon, I found the friends sitting on the porch doing what they like best:

"We laugh, drink beer, and listen to bluegrass," says Joiner.

Along with these activities, Hiscock is always working with his hands—either making something, like a model of a biplane out of beer cans, or growing something, baby hops vines and salvaged irises. About a year ago, he broke two fingers of his left hand jumping off the South Knox rope swing. Now, he can barely move his fingers, and it's difficult for him to play guitar like he used to.

"I didn't play guitar real well, but I had fun," Hiscock says.

He is thinking of switching to hammer dulcimer. If anyone has a hammer dulcimer or an outdoor picnic umbrella they'd like to get rid of, they can swing by and leave it in the yard of the Blue Grass Theatre.

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Sadly, the South Knox rope swing on the Will Skelton Greenway near Island Home Airport is no more. During a rainy few weeks this winter, the majestic tulip poplar, leaning out over the Tennessee River at a 45 degree angle, loosed its roots from the muddy bank, crashed into the water, and was swept away. This most perfect of rope swings had a ladder nailed to the trunk, and a rope with a handle hanging from a dead branch near the top. This tree was the site of dumbfounding acts of courage and skill, mostly performed by teenage boys with the power to switch off their instinct for self-preservation. People of all walks of life, many with a healthy sense of skepticism about the dead limb, and the janky ladder, took the plunge off the rope swing, a plunge nearly religious in its leap of faith—an extreme baptism.

In one of the trippier passages of An Entrance to the Woods, Wendell Berry writes, "I feel drawing out beyond my comprehension perspectives from which the growth and the death of a large poplar would seem as continuous and sudden as the raising and the lowering of a man's hand."

Several other trees in the area may be good candidates for the next incarnation of the South Knox rope swing. Until then, we salute you fallen poplar, a beloved specimen of our state tree.

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Will the Fort Dickerson Quarry Lake ever be, as Mayor Victor Ashe envisioned in the 1990s, "Knoxville' largest public swimming pool"?

Since 2011 the Fort Dickerson Quarry Park has been open to the public for hiking and sight-seeing. Visitors could gaze into the blue depths of the lake, but city police officers frequently issued citations for swimming in the irresistible water.

Before summer begins, the city plans to put up new signs around the quarry reflecting a change in policy, according to Mayor Madeline Rogero's communications manager, Jesse Mayshark.

The new signs are designed to discourage swimming, advise of the dangers of swimming in a deep quarry lake, and absolve the city of any liability in the event of accidents while swimming.

Buried under the cautionary language is this fact: As of Memorial Day weekend, officers will no longer be writing tickets for swimming in the Fort Dickerson Quarry.

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UPDATE: On Tuesday, May 28, Knoxville's Parks and Recreation Department erected a new sign at the entrance of the Fort Dickerson Quarry Park Greenway. The new sign reads: "There are serious dangers to swimming in a quarry. The City of Knoxville does not authorize, invite, or recommend swimming here, and is not responsible for any death or injury."

The language of the new sign is designed to discourage swimming "without being prohibitive," says Mayshark. He stresses that all other park rules will still be enforced, including park hours (dawn to dusk) and the ban on alcohol.