It takes lots of hands to help keep our green spaces looking their best! No experience required and both adults and families are welcome—even if you can’t stay for the whole time, come for as long as you can. Bring tools if you have them.
The first in a series of articles from neighborhood historian and board member emeritus Andy Anderson.
Acquiring H-1 Historic Overlay Zoning
The Old North Knoxville neighborhood association first applied for H-1 overlay zoning (historic zoning) in November 1979. A few members of the H-1 committee canvassed the neighborhood (the original triangular boundaries of Woodland Avenue, Central Street, and Broadway). The canvassers were Paul Thornton, Sam Peake, and Jo Ann Anderson. They went to every home and business explaining what H-1 was and they had cards for them to sign showing whether they were for or against the overlay. Many of the homes had absentee landlords and ONK had to get their addresses to send them a card by registered mail.
A meeting was held in October 1980 with ONK members, Knoxville City Council members, and other city representatives to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the H-1 zoning. ONK then had meetings discussing the zoning and voted to go forward with trying to get the H-1 designation.
In October, 1981, after many months of work on fulfilling the requirements for the zoning, the application was completed. Neighborhood members could purchase a copy of the application that was to go to the Metropolitan Planning Commission (the organization that is now Knoxville–Knox County Planning). During the time leading up to the MPC meeting held on November 9, 1981, a lot of false information on what you could or could or not do with the H-1 zoning was being spread through the neighborhood. This resulted in several neighbors and absentee landlords contacting their City Council representative.
The first reading for H-1 was heard at City Council on November 24, 1981, and was approved; however, the second reading on December 8 was turned down. ONK’s first attempt at obtaining an H-1 overlay was not successful.
In May of 1991, the H-1 historic overlay was addressed at an ONK meeting by Ann Bennett of the MPC and Historic Zoning Commission. A motion was made and passed for work to begin on another application for H-1 zoning.
In August a draft for an ONK design guidelines application was started. Drawings, diagrams, and photos were needed for this part of the project. These were completed by several neighbors and nonprofits donating their time and efforts. The Historic Zoning Commission met with ONK members to discuss the H-1 overlay application. If it was approved, ONK would become a part of the Knoxville Landmarks Register.
In April and May of 1992, draft copies of the design guidelines were approved by the Historic Zoning Commission. With this accomplished, the first hurdle was cleared for ONK to receive the H-1 overlay zoning.
The next step was a meeting with MPC, and the final approval was granted by City Council on October 13, 1992.
It took a lot of time and effort by the neighborhood; however, ONK finally received the H-1historic overlay zoning. ONK was among the first neighborhoods in Knoxville to receive the designation.
ONK presented Ann Bennett with a certificate of appreciation for all her hard work in helping the neighborhood receive the H-1 overlay.
National Register Designation
In September 1987, the Metropolitan Planning Commission released survey results for areas of Knoxville that might be eligible for local, state, and national historic district designations. A score of 45 meant an area would have a chance of success. Old North Knoxville had a score of 55.
Early in 1991, the East Tennessee Community Design Center was commissioned to help ONK on historic register research. In February and March, street streetscape photos were taken for National Register nomination. The homework for the Historic Register was finished in mid-April and turned in to Ann Bennett of the MPC. Once everything was accomplished, she turned in the application to the state for approval.
In November of 1991, the application for the National Register of Historic Places was to be voted on by the Tennessee Historical Commission. In early January 1992, the state advisory committee reviewed and approved the ONK nomination to the NRHP. On January 22, the state review committee of the Tennessee Historical Commission reviewed and approved the nomination, which was then sent to the National Park Service for review.
On May 14, 1992, ONK was approved to be a National Register Historical District.
This was another great effort accomplished by a lot of neighbors, Ann Bennett of the MPC, East Tennessee Community Design Center, and many local, state, and national committees.
1987 Zoning Changes
In 1987, Old North Knoxville asked City Council for a general neighborhood rezoning from R-2 to the more restrictive R-1A. The city started working with the Metropolitan Planning Commission to define the boundaries of the proposed new zoning.
The MPC met on February 12 and approved the boundaries. The City Council met on April 7 and passed the request on first reading. The measure did not require a second reading.
As part of the change, some ONK areas that were previously R-3 were changed to R-2.
For background on zoning designations, see the city’s web page on land use classifications.
Beloved longtime neighbor Beth Booker died January 23 after a long and hard-fought battle against cancer.
Beth spent more than 20 years in ONK, and her contributions to our neighborhood are enormous. She served on the board and chaired the beautification committee for many years. With her husband, David, she launched the First Creek Greenway cleanups and led them for two decades, contributed recipes and stories to the newsletter, and shared countless cuttings and photos from her spectacular garden. She was instrumental in creating, beautifying, and maintaining the Old North Knoxville Park on Oklahoma Avenue. She even started the ONK tradition of the Easter Egg hunt for children, first held in her yard on East Scott Avenue and then moved to ONK Park. A dietitian by profession, she gave the world the Rule of 95: if the temperature reaches 95, it’s OK to have ice cream for dinner.
Beth was a gifted and prolific cook, baker, and knitter, wildly generous with her talents, her time, and her thoughtful care. The influence of her kindness, intelligence, strength, energy, and humor will continue making our neighborhood—and the world—a better place for many years to come.
A memorial event is in the planning stages for spring. Meanwhile, we hold David and their daughter, Lauren, in our hearts.
“Beth and David have lived in the neighborhood for almost 22 years and begin, almost immediately, working to create beauty in the community; gardening in our parks, partnering with KKB for cleanups, and twice a year 1st Creek cleanups (21 years!). She also contributed her time and energy being a board member and committee chair for Old North. Besides that, she was selfless in her individual support of neighbors and others.”
—Susie Laise Smith
“When I moved to Knoxville three years back I became involved in the ONK community. I live right in the middle of the First Creek Greenway, and wondered how it could be made safer and cleaner, a better place. Beth was the Beautification Chair at the time, and was very welcoming and supportive of my ideas. She was behind my efforts of connecting me with the right people in Knoxville. Now we have a better swing set, a planting with a park sign, and have plans to improve the whole park. Without Beth’s encouragement and guidance it would not have been possible.
“As time passed, I became a good friend of Beth’s. Though she had increasing health struggles, she would always care for my well-being. She has given me many seeds and plant seedlings from her garden, and we met there often when Covid started. Beth was a friend until the very end. She packed a wellness gift bag, which was delivered to me the day before she passed away. It was heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time.
“It is an honor for me to have taken on her former ONK position. I will do my best to continue Beth’s love and care of nature in ONK.”
Please leave a comment with your own memories of Beth.
by Pamela Franklin Jones
Twenty-two years ago, on a gloomy fall UT game day, we began house hunting in Knoxville, Tennessee. We were looking for a family home in a neighborhood with sidewalks and a large garden.
Although the realtor had put some thought and effort into showing us some houses, it soon became apparent that they were not what we had in mind. After a long fruitless search that day, we retreated to the motel and talked about our options. Glancing through a local free paper, we found in the room which had a few classified listings, a For Sale notice spanning two columns caught our attention. It advertised a handyman’s dream, and there was a picture of the house which looked as if it had potential. An open house was set for 12 o’clock the next day, which was Sunday, when we would be returning to our hometown in South Carolina.
The next day, we drove to the open house hoping to be admitted early due to the fact that we had a long drive home that day. The morning drizzle had turned into a heavy cold rain, but we were anxious to check out the house before we left Knoxville. The mansion, for it was a mansion, was in a rather rundown area but close to I-40 and in a neighborhood with sidewalks. Knocking on the door, it was opened by the owner, but we were not admitted because she was still in the midst of staging the rooms. We had to cool our heels in the local McDonald’s for an hour or so, and then drove back to the property.
Having bought and sold several properties in the past, this was easily the most astonishing viewing ever. It was raining outside, but it was also raining inside! In almost every room, containers were placed to catch the leaks. A veritable waterfall was pouring from an upstairs bathroom through the dining room ceiling and making its way to the basement. It was very dim, and rather a rabbit warren, because the house had been subdivided to make a total of nine apartments. We tried not to exchange glances as the children ran excitedly upstairs already choosing their bedrooms. One had a balcony, one a huge wall mirror, one a roof deck and its own bathroom, but without exception, every room had holes in the roof with damp rotting plaster falling down to the floor. There were large gaps in the floorboards which had been attacked by termites, and we had to walk carefully. There were doors which had swollen shut and could not be opened, there were horrifying bathrooms and really disgusting kitchens . . . but we could all see the potential for this tired old place.
Later, we discovered that the city had tried to demolish it at least once, and had also attempted to sell it at auction but were unsuccessful. However, on that day of our viewing it for the first time, I stood at a kitchen window and gazed out at the jungle of undergrowth and trees that was the buffer between us and the back road and knew that I wanted to buy this house.
When we finally corralled the children and left to start our drive home, it soon appeared that we were all of one accord. We could see the potential, and although this would be our biggest renovation project yet, we were confident we could do it.
After some negotiation with the seller and against the advice of our lawyer, we eventually closed on the property and then spent three months in an apartment waiting for the house to be rewired and replumbed and brought up to code.
Twenty-two years and two roofs later, we have a history with the Dunn Mansion. It has excelled our expectations in every way. It is indeed a wonderful family home, and we have made it our own. It will always require work as any old house does.
Apparently, some previous tenants believed that we acquired some ghosts with the house and would return on our first Hallowe’en to request a tour of their previous apartment. We did certainly have some occupants in the guise of hundreds of pigeons living in the attic who would leave in the mornings and return with a rush of wings at night until we sealed the holes and evicted them. If the ghosts are here, they are friendly ghosts. For a long time the floors were impossible to get clean because of the coal dust that had filled all the cracks. Nothing was quite as bad as the rats that apparently lived in the rear bank and had the run of the place for years. They were quite used to humans and very bold, even sitting behind a plate on the dresser eating their supper whilst we were eating our supper at the table!
Regardless, we have faced every hurdle and solved it together and have not shirked the work that it took to save this house. It has been a labor of love. There are still many tasks to complete and some to begin over again but this is home. No regrets!
Let’s celebrate fall by cleaning up our beautiful greenway!
Join us Saturday, September 25, from 9 am to noon, rain or shine. Come for the whole time or as much as you can.We’ll meet at the intersection of Sixth Avenue and Cottage Place, at the Cottage Place parking lot. The Beautification Committee will provide water and snacks, gloves, trash bags, rakes, grappling hooks, ropes and hand sanitizer. We will follow CDC guidelines. Children are welcome if accompanied by a guardian.
Please come to ONK Park to help with weeding and cleanup—badly needed after the hot rainy summer. For this cleanup, we’ll try working in the evening and hope that more people will be able to help out.
When: Wednesday September 8, 6–8 pm. Rain date is Thursday, September 9. Come for the whole time or as much as you can—any help is greatly appreciated!
Where: Old North Knoxville Park, East Oklahoma Avenue
We’ll provide water and snacks, gloves, trash bags, trash grabbers, rakes and some gardening tools, and hand sanitizer. Please bring your own gardening tools and gloves if you have them. We will follow CDC guidelines. Please wear a face mask if you want. Children are welcome if accompanied by an adult. Feel free to bring your dinner for a picnic break!
Save the date: Fall First Creek cleanup, Saturday, September 25, 9am–noon!
Let’s celebrate spring by keeping our beautiful greenway clean from trash! And let’s celebrate that we can safely do so again.
When: Saturday, May 8, from 9 am to noon, rain or shine. Come for all or part of the time. Any help is greatly appreciated!
Where: The intersection of Hoitt and Luttrell, by the greenway.
We will provide water and snacks, gloves, trash bags, rakes, grappling hooks, and ropes. And hand sanitizer! We will follow CDC guidelines. Children are welcome if accompanied by a guardian.
When we are done we will order pizza as a reward for our hard work (we may need a few dollars from everyone to cover the cost in these lean times).
For more info, contact Margareth Olsson.
At the March Old North Knoxville board meeting, Pete Creel was elected to serve as president for 2021. Joy Guilford will continue to serve as treasurer and Donna Spencer as secretary. The vice president slot remains open.
The board thanks outgoing officers Susie Laise Smith, president, and Jessica Larsen-Varney, vice president, who both served for two years.
Also leaving the board with thanks are Beth Booker, Beth Bostrum, and longtime Historic Zoning Commission liaison James Pierce.
Newly elected board members are Veronica Cordell, Maegan Martin, and Sean Bolen, who will serve as HZC liaison.
Board meetings take place the first Monday of every month and are currently being conducted over Zoom. If you’d like to attend, email Donna Spencer, email@example.com.
We’ll be electing new board members in a Zoom meeting Monday, February 8, 6:30pm.
All ONK neighbors are invited to join online or by phone. Email Donna Spencer, firstname.lastname@example.org, for login information.
Monthly potluck meetings will resume as soon as it’s safe to gather—meanwhile, keep in touch online here and at facebook.com/groups/OldNorthKnoxville (registration required).
With so many area festivities canceled this year (including our own Holiday Home Tour), the city is sponsoring a Knoxville Neighborhood Holiday Trails events beginning November 30, encouraging people to celebrate safely by driving and walking through neighborhoods to view lights and decorations.
The official ONK route follows East Scott from Central to Kenyon, then proceeds along Kenyon to Armstrong, West Glenwood, and back down Oklohama to Central. View a map of the route.
For more information and a list of all participating neighborhoods, see the City of Knoxville’s Holiday Trails page.