Same Place, Different City: Comparing Two Knoxvilles

Viewing the changes from the city of 100 of years ago to the city today

Knoxville’s National Cemetery, established during the Civil War and one of the oldest national cemeteries in America, is the final resting place of veterans from most of America’s wars, and still sees a burial now and then.
The contrast between these photographs, one taken around 1902, the other a few days ago, shows a century’s accumulation of gravestones, but also, at the top, an odd incongruity. The original monument, paid for by thousands of Union veterans and their families and completed in 1901, featured a bronze eagle—anchored in the monument, perhaps unfortunately, by an iron rod. The monument survived intact for less than three years.
During a summer storm on the early evening of August 22, 1904, a lightning bolt hit the monument, ripping it apart and sending chunks of marble into the neighborhood, damaging houses on Tyson Street. After the bizarre incident, Knoxville Republican congressman Henry Gibson secured federal funding to rebuild the monument, this time with an eight-foot marble statue of a Union soldier, less attractive to lightning. Completed in 1906, it has survived 105 summers.

Knoxville’s National Cemetery, established during the Civil War and one of the oldest national cemeteries in America, is the final resting place of veterans from most of America’s wars, and still sees a burial now and then. The contrast between these photographs, one taken around 1902, the other a few days ago, shows a century’s accumulation of gravestones, but also, at the top, an odd incongruity. The original monument, paid for by thousands of Union veterans and their families and completed in 1901, featured a bronze eagle—anchored in the monument, perhaps unfortunately, by an iron rod. The monument survived intact for less than three years. During a summer storm on the early evening of August 22, 1904, a lightning bolt hit the monument, ripping it apart and sending chunks of marble into the neighborhood, damaging houses on Tyson Street. After the bizarre incident, Knoxville Republican congressman Henry Gibson secured federal funding to rebuild the monument, this time with an eight-foot marble statue of a Union soldier, less attractive to lightning. Completed in 1906, it has survived 105 summers.

These photographs were taken in a different city. It was called Knoxville, and it had roughly the same coordinates of latitude and longitude as ours does, but it was a different city. None of its citizens still walk the streets of Knoxville today.

To a Knoxvillian of 2011, a visit to this other Knoxville might be more disorienting than a trip to Dublin or Sydney or even Mumbai. Transportation was different, architecture was different, food was different, currency was different, accents, customs, and clothing were different. Live drama was much more popular than football. French cuisine was much more common than Italian or Mexican. White-haired veterans of a long-ago civil war passed French and German-speaking newcomers on the sidewalks. It was home to a university, high on a hill on the west side of town, but the city’s biggest institutions were factories.

Without a few frames of reference, it would be easy to believe that the other Knoxville never existed. But with the help of latter-day Knoxville photographer David Luttrell, and photographs borrowed from the Library of Congress—most of these were taken for the Detroit Publishing Co., a publisher of postcards—we thought we’d have a look at the two Knoxvilles to see what remains of that other one, and what doesn’t.

© 2011 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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