Classic: Get to know Knoxville

Some call Knoxville the “Marble City” for its pink-hued stone quarried nearby, while others prefer “Heart of the Valley,” a reference to its central location in the Tennessee Valley. Elsewhere, you might also hear “Queen City of the Mountains” or simply “K-Town,” but very soon, the world will know this Appalachian gem as host to fishing’s biggest event — the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK'S Sporting Goods.

Welcoming its first Classic, Knoxville boasts an attractive blend of southern culture, historical relevance, conveniently accessible attractions and proximity to one of the nation’s premier waterways — the Tennessee River. Cutting through downtown, the big river originates from the convergence of the Holston and French Broad rivers, with its Fort Loudoun Lake the local section.

While Classic anglers will find a fertile river abounding with fish, fans and families will enjoy getting to know a warm and welcoming Knoxville. Let’s start with the stats.

Tennessee’s first capital, Knoxville 104.2 square miles makes it the state’s third largest city, behind Nashville and Memphis. Founded in 1791 by Revolutionary War officer James White, Knoxville was named after Revolutionary War general and Secretary of War Henry Knox. As the county seat of Knox County, its population stands around 186,239.

Character points

No stranger to grand events, Knoxville hosted the 1982 World’s Fair, an event that helped reinvigorate the city and spur the growth and development that makes this city an ideal Classic venue.

With the University of Tennessee’s flagship campus adjacent to downtown, Classic weigh-ins will be held at one of the nation’s largest indoor basketball facilities — Thompson-Boling Arena. Campus visitors will also see Neyland Stadium, home to the Vols' football team and one of the world’s largest stadiums.

The Tennessee Valley Authority, the nation's largest public power provider, has its headquarters in Knoxville, along with the Tennessee Supreme Court's courthouse for East Tennessee.

The earliest settlement in what is now Knoxville was made by Native Americans during the Woodland Period (defined as 1,000 B.C.-A.D. 1,000). One of the area’s oldest artificial structures is a burial mound located within UT Agricultural Campus.

And get this: the Knoxville Convention and Exhibition Center holds the world’s largest Rubik’s cube; a 10-foot-high, 1,200-pound gift from Hungary after it was displayed during the 1982 World’s Fair.

Like Mountain Dew? The green soft drink was invented in Knoxville.

Entertainment impact

Known for its diverse influence on jazz, blues and rock and roll, Knoxville has played a particularly important role in country music. The Cradle of Country Music Walking Tour through downtown explains the city’s connection to Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, Howard Armstrong, Dolly Parton, the Everly Brothers, Roy Acuff and others.

Notably, in his 1999 song “What I Need to Do,” country superstar Kenny Chesney referenced his hometown with “…maybe head up north to Knoxville, Tennessee...”

Other mentions/references include:

  • "Smoky Mountain Rain", Ronnie Milsap, 1980. Lyrics begin "Thumbed my way from L.A. back to Knoxville..."
  • October Sky, starring Jake Gyllenhaal (1999) was filmed in Knoxville and several counties in east Tennessee.
  • In the 1994 movie Pulp Fiction, Bruce Willis' character mentions moving to Knoxville from Los Angeles and being on "Tennessee time.”
  • The March 31, 1996, episode of The Simpsons features Bart and his friends driving to Knoxville after finding a promotional brochure for the 1982 World's Fair.

City features

Knoxville is roughly divided into the Downtown area and sections based on the four cardinal directions: North Knoxville, South Knoxville, East Knoxville and West Knoxville. The downtown complexion is truly a blend of architectural influences with James White House, a hewn-log structure dating back to 1786, not far from the modern look of the Knoxville Museum of Art, built in 1990.

Visitors also notice Knoxville’s sizable collection of George Franklin Barber homes. One of the premiere domestic architects of the late Victorian period, the largest concentration of Barber’s creations is found here.

Getting around in this Classic town is convenient, thanks to Knoxville Area Transit (KAT), which operates over 80 buses, road trolleys and paratransit vehicles (for disabled riders). And if you’re crossing the river, a quartet of vehicle bridges connect Downtown Knoxville with South Knoxville: the South Knoxville Bridge (James White Parkway), the Gay Street Bridge (Gay Street), the Henley Bridge (Henley Street), and the J. E. "Buck" Karnes Bridge (Alcoa Highway).

Historical glimpses

For a look at memories and lessons from years past, check out:

Alex Haley Heritage Square — The centerpiece is a 13-foot high bronze statue of the author and Pulitzer Prize winner.

Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame — International museum dedicated to preserving the history of women’s basketball.

Divided Loyalties Civil War Tour — A self guided driving tour presents Knoxville’s years of conflict and reconciliation with 15 stops including the Museum of East Tennessee History, historic Homes and cemeteries, forts and museums.

Haunted Knoxville Ghost Tours — America’s leading historical, investigations-based ghost tour employs trained paranormal investigators to lead participants to sites of traumatic happenings.

Keep it fun

Well worth a casual visit or a day of urban exploration, Knoxville’s vibrant downtown comprises three distinct sections:

Market Square — A pleasantly relaxed collection of shops and eateries where locals and visitors have mingled since the 1860s. Just a short stroll from the University of Tennessee, this kid- and pet-friendly area hosts outdoor concerts, movies and Shakespeare on the Square, while offering water play fountains and abundant green space.

Old Knoxville — Also known as the “Creative Corridor,” the area bordered by Central and Jackson Avenues offers an array of shops, restaurants, trendy coffee shops, galleries and music/dance venues; all framed by architecture bespeaking Knoxville of yesteryear.

Gay Street — Popular and diversely relevant since the city’s founding, this thoroughfare gathers an eclectic mix of historic theaters, elegant art galleries, live performance radio shows and some pretty cool dining spots into a walkable area. With several of its buildings in the National Register of Historic Places, Gay Street hosted the 1796 Constitutional Convention that yielded Tennessee’s statehood, and in 1854, became Knoxville’s first paved road.

Other cool stuff:

Sun Sphere — Built for the 1982 World Fair, this 266-foot high, 26-story tower holds a gold-colored glass-paneled sphere 75 feet in diameter. A popular attraction for nearly four decades, the Sun Sphere offers a stunning 360-degree view of Knoxville with an observation deck that’s free and open to the public daily.

Zoo Knoxville— Abounding with curious creatures, the zoo features Arya, one of only 400 Malayan tigers in the world and queen of the 1.6 acre Tiger Forest.

Navitat Knoxville — Featuring the Ijams Canopy Experience, this tree-based adventure park offers six different trails with various challenge levels and activities including zip lines, bridges, elevated tunnels, balancing challenges, rolling barrels and climbing nets.

Take a Ride: For a memorable perspective, view the Classic’s host city and adjacent waters from The Star of Knoxville, an authentic stern wheel riverboat, or the Three Rivers Rambler, a vintage steam engine train touring Knoxville’s scenic countryside.

The Great Outdoors: Hikers, bikers, runners, paddlers, climbers and anglers appreciate Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness, where over 50 miles of trails and greenways link a nature center, lakes, historic sites, quarries, adventure playgrounds, five parks, and a 500-acre wildlife area — all within the heart of the city.

For more info, www.visitknoxville.com.