Historic Zoning – History of Old North Knoxville

The following text is taken from the Old North Knoxville Historic District Design Guidelines document, provided by the Knoxville Historic Zoning Commission and the Knoxville-Knox County Metropolitan Planning Commission.

Old North Knoxville was developed as part of the incorporated city of North Knoxville. Its growth was a result of the expansion of the streetcar, Knoxville’s booming economy and growing population after the Civil War, and other technological advances that made suburban living desirable. The long straight streets of Old North paralleled the streetcar line. The automobile did not have a major influence on Knoxville until the 1920’s so there are only a few driveways or garages in the neighborhood; most of them were built after 1920. Some carriage houses remain behind the oldest houses, but most people did not own a horse and carriage. They depended on the streetcars for transportation, and used neighborhood sidewalks to reach the streetcar lines.

Several original subdivisions make up the current Old North Knoxville Historic Overlay District. Within each of these subdivisions, streets are laid out in a grid pattern, usually parallel with the nearest major street (Broadway or Woodland) where a streetcar could be found. Old North is a typical streetcar suburb, with a strong pedestrian orientation guiding its design. Most of its residents walked to their homes from the streetcar stop. The blocks were rectangular with parallel streets and service alleys. Interesting angles were formed where the streets met.

The town of North Knoxville was incorporated on January 16, 1889. Larger than the current Old North Knoxville neighborhood, it was a series of speculative real estate expansions that reinforced the image of a desirable residential area. The town grew rapidly. The city of North Knoxville provided a central water supply touted as superior to the neighboring Knoxville’s water. It had improved streets (unlike some areas of Knoxville), fire protection, a city hall and a school for approximately 100 students. Electric lights were installed in 1899. City gas lines and a sewer system were planned, but not built before Knoxville annexed North Knoxville in 1897.

The architectural styles in the neighborhood reflect economic conditions and living customs of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The houses range from the large middle and upper class areas developed along Oklahoma, Scott, Glenwood and Armstrong to the smaller homes found on some sections of Oklahoma, Harvey and other locations. The smaller homes are worker housing that emerged during Knoxville’s industrial revolution, some of it tied to the Brookside Knitting Mill then located on Baxter Avenue, and some located in the neighborhood because the streetcar lines were available. Many late 19th century neighborhood residents worked for the Southern Railway. There are particularly good examples of Victorian-era shotguns and cottages located on Harvey.

Architects probably designed many of Old North Knoxville’s houses, but most of the information that credits their designs has not been discovered. However, it is known that homes by George Barber, his son Charles Barber and David Getaz are located in the neighborhood. Most of the buildings are distinctive architecturally, with a high degree of ornamentation. The styles found in the neighborhood are described in the Architectural Styles section found in these guidelines.

The buildings of Old North Knoxville make a unified statement about Knoxville’s history and architectural development. Although changes have occurred to the neighborhood since its establishment, the houses and public improvements remain very intact. Efforts of Old North Knoxville, Inc., the neighborhood association, have been instrumental in creating a climate for restoration and rehabilitation activities, and in publicizing the neighborhood and its attributes. Designation of Old North Knoxville as a local historic district has reinforced past activities in the neighborhood, helping to create a strong, viable residential section that contributes to Knoxville’s progress while symbolizing its history.