secret_history (2007-16)

The Bermuda Triangle of History

Fresh out of British nobility? Try a historic name this time

by Jack Neely

I couldn't help but notice that on Middlebrook Pike in West Knoxville, there's a church called Park West. I wonder if they know there's another place called Park West a few miles away on Cedar Bluff, that's a hospital. The church and the hospital are both on the west side of town, sure enough. There's the West part. But where's the park? I've had the same question about Parkside Drive. No park, but lots of parking lots. If people really like parking lots as much as they seem to, wouldn't it be appealing to call it Parkinglotside Drive?

Wishful nomenclature in West Knoxville is no new outrage.

Bearden's Forest Park Boulevard, which has been there for more than half a century, is a useful little road, connecting Kingston Pike and Sutherland Avenue. But it will disappoint anyone looking for a forest, a park, or a boulevard.

It's my impression that nomenclature seems to be a challenge for suburban developers. Guys who put together financing and infrastructure and materials to build new subdivisions can't be expected to do everything.

Looking around West Knoxville's newer subdivisions, I suspect that all suburban developers work from the same book, a registry of British gentry, now yellow with age and use, stained with Amstel Light and Applebee's honey pepper sauce. They pass it around when they're eating together. They flip through, pick the name of some obscure British duke or earl, and then they affix it to a Park or a Glen, or a Cove, or a Court, or, if they're feeling racy, a Chase. Even if there's nothing of that sort within spitting distance. Especially if. There you go, they say. Got you a name for your new place.

I'm afraid they've used them up, though, the names of almost all known British dukes and earls, both London airports, and the only British member of the Rat Pack. They're all honored with West Knoxville street names.

Based on the evidence, you might assume that such desperation is due to a major shortage of authentic local names. But in fact there are bona fide, historic suburban names that haven't been used much lately. I thought I'd offer a few just as a public service.

On a wall at the McClung Collection downtown is a huge, colorful map of Knox County as it was in 1895.

The areas around downtown have names that are at least recognizable. If you let your eyes wander out into the rural parts of the county, though, you may get disoriented. A lot of the countryside in 1895 looks like an unfamiliar fantasy world, an Oz of exotic names you've probably never heard of even if you're extraordinarily old. There's Kangaroo, Tennessee. There's Stinette, and Hercules, and Bermuda. Waneta, and Rodelm, and Mayo. Mabel, and York, and Roseberry City, and Treeville. All of them in Knox County.

A few are familiar: Halls Crossroads is on the map, and Campbell (Station), and Ball Camp, and Concord, and Fountain City. Each community that was home to a few dozen people had a post office, and each post office had to have its own name. In some cases, the name reflects something obvious about the community. In some cases, though, you wonder if folks just picked names like they pick names for racehorses, just because there wasn't another that shared it. Why was there a place called Kangaroo, along the south bank of the Holston, in the Forks of the River area? Beats me. Maybe there was a race of East Knox Aussies now forgotten.

Some of these places considered themselves "towns"; some were just farmers' conveniences. Since the poverty of historic names on new developments seems most acute in West Knox, it may be most helpful to remind folks of those.

Go to the intersection of Pellissippi Parkway and Lovell Road, and feel the gentle wind of trucks speeding past. You're actually in or very near downtown Bermuda, Tenn. There was even a Bermuda School. I don't know the origin of it, but Bermuda is a bona-fide historic West Knox County name. But is there a single street named Bermuda today? Of course not. Just some Bermuda grass. And maybe, on the guys cutting it, some shorts.

West Knox in general is kind of a Bermuda Triangle of local history. Except that it's not really a triangle. A Bermuda Trapezoid, maybe.

In West Knoxville, near the county line and just north of what's now Farragut, is a friendly-sounding place called Mabel. Where'd our Mabel go off to? I don't know, but it has potential for a blues song.

You occasionally see ducks and geese on Third Creek, but out Western Avenue, near Third Creek Road, is a place called Swan.

There's no Rocky Hill on the map, but there's a town very near there, called Stinette. It sounds kind of sharp and dangerous. Maybe there was once a modest fellow there named Abner Stinette, and Rocky Hill moved in from Philly and beat him up.

Treeville was north of Oak Ridge Highway, near Emory Road. It's one of the few places on that map I was able to learn any detail about. A 1914 survey did not include a census of Treeville's trees, but did note that Treeville was home to 44 people.

Another that does have some history was on the northwestern side of the county, two miles northwest of Halls, but still in Knox County: Twinville. I'm not sure whether multiple births were more prevalent there, but unlike some of the others, which show up on that map and hardly anywhere else, there are some records of Twinville, which lasted for at least half a century. It was once big enough to have supported three competing general stores.

Virtue, Tenn., was on Turkey Creek, west of Concord. Knox County lost its Virtue long ago, but it's one of the few vanished P.O.s that at least left a trace: Virtue Road still connects Kingston Pike to Boyd Station Road.

Cowards die a thousand deaths, but one was apparently enough for Cowards, Tenn.: it was about two miles northwest of Ball Camp. Could be an excellent name for the next West Knox gated community. Cowards Manor.

Richland, Tenn., was near Campbell Station, an area that would later be called Loveville, harking back to an older family name, respelled Lovell. You'd think promoters of new developments, who are always trying to think of subtle ways to flatter their customers, wouldn't need much arm-twisting to revive a historic name like Richland.

So, developers, don't ever assume there's no history in that cow pasture you're laying new cul-de-sacs on. And history, like some columnists, is full of free suggestions.