Discovering "Convenience and Beauty" in a Fountain City Cottage

Staycation is no longer a neologism. My spellchecker may not recognize the word, but Merriam-Webster does. The term turned up in the 2009 edition of the publisher's Collegiate Dictionary.

The term vacation, on the other hand, has been around since the mid 15th century. According to Webster's, the first recorded use of the term to describe a "formal suspension of activity, typically in reference to schools, courts, etc.," dates from 1456.

But, the vacation as getaway is strictly a modern phenomenon. In fact, as the American equivalent of what the British call "going on holiday," vacation's a relative latecomer to the American lexicon, first entering everyday usage around 1878. And it's no coincidence that date coincides with the era when the railroads, industrialism, and urbanization really started to take hold.

Yet, most of those early "vacations" were essentially staycations of sorts. The getaways might have been measured in miles, but the distances involved barely broke into double digits. Summer heat combined with primitive sanitation and horse-drawn transportation made getting the heck out of Dodge for the season an appealing proposition. As a result, places like Cape May, Atlantic City, and Coney Island sprang into existence, "resorts" that are now barely an hour's drive from the cities they served.

Those celebrated resorts are only the most famous examples, however. Most America cities in the Victorian era had a summer community a few miles out of town. Sited at the terminus of the streetcar line and typically taking advantage of a lake or hilltop to beat the heat, their rambling matchwood hotels and summer cottages offered welcome respite in the days before air conditioning.

The few remnants of Knoxville's summer community—Hotel Avenue, the duck pond, and the name—are what give Fountain City a distinct identity today. Like most of its kin, the old hotel burned down long ago. But a few of Fountain City's original summer cottages are still around, including this one on Midlake, just up from the duck pond. Although converted into a permanent residence sometime in the '20s—its porch enclosed and dormers added to enlarge the upstairs—it's still readily recognizable as not just a summer cottage, but also as Design #8 from George Barber's Cottage Souvenir #2. And, partly renovated with refinished hardwood floors and updated with a new kitchen, it's still the same "cottage of convenience and beauty on a small scale," that Barber drew up almost 120 years ago. m

412 Midlake Drive

1,846 sq. ft.

3 bdrms, 2.5 baths

$129,900

Contact: Jennifer Montgomery

Coldwell Banker: 693-1111