Ought-to-see Chilhowee

Move into a slice of history

Urban Renewal

by Matt Edens

The â“Energy Expoâ” of 1982, as the World's Fair was sometimes known, wasn't Knoxville's first foray into exhibitionism. Seven decades earlier, the city hosted a series of three national festivals. The first, 1910's Appalachian Exposition, was so successful it was held for a second time the following year. Then, in 1913, the city hosted the National Conservation Exhibition.

Technically, one could argue that it wasn't Knoxville that actually hosted those fairs. All three were held outside the city limits, on the eastern edge of the incorporated suburb of Park City. Comprising much of what's now considered East Knoxville, the former bedroom community took its name from the park that formed the backdrop for those three fairs: Chilhowee Park.

The small lake, larger than it is today, was originally a private retreat owned by the Beaman family. But around 1890, the property was leased to William Gibbs McAdoo. The streetcar impresario (who would later play a prominent part in the development of New York's subway system and serve as President Wilson's Treasury Secretary) transformed Beaman's property into a pleasure park open to the public. It offered swimming, boating, a dance pavilion and a penny arcade, all connected to downtown Knoxville by a new electric streetcar line, the city's first.

Dubbed Lake Ottosee (as in, the lake you â“ought to seeâ”), it was similar to amusement parks and other destination attractions that were a common component of the era's streetcar-driven residential development. Back then, a developer would secure rights to a large parcel of land, lay out the streetcar line and then add the amusement park at the line's terminus to lure riders. On the way out to the swimming hole, riders would pass brand new houses and newly surveyed lots sprouting for sale signs. Park City was pretty much a textbook example.

The transformation, a relatively compact example of suburban sprawl, didn't happen overnight. It took 40 to 50 years for the former fields east of Knoxville to fill with houses. Some of the oldest and grandest were along Magnolia. Park Avenue, as Magnolia was originally known, was one of Knoxville's ritzier neighborhoods, made obvious today by the handful of historic mansions that remain along its length (some of them sprouting improbably out the back of post-WWII commercial buildings). But you can find homes of almost every age and style in Park City, from grand Queen Annes to tiny shotguns, stately colonials to quaint craftsman bungalows, and even the occasional rancher.

There are also quite a few houses like this circa-1940 Tudor on Woodbine. Solidly built and, at 1,954 square feet, bigger than it looks, you can find similar homes in Emoriland/Fairmont, North Hills, Forest Heights and Island Home. But, since this house is in the Chilhowee neighborhood, just a few short blocks from the Knoxville Zoo, it can be had at considerably less cost. With hardwood floors, a fireplace and tons of original features, it's hardly a compromise when it comes to fit and finish. In fact, if you're shopping for an impressive home at an inexpensive price, this is one house you, well, Ottosee.

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