Recognized by the American Planning Association as one of the nation’s “Great Streets,” Gay Street was recognized before the Civil War as Knoxville’s main commercial street. Gay Street has hosted hundreds of parades, circuses, holidays, and veterans’ organizations, as well as festivals and civil-rights demonstrations. It’s been home to iconic theaters, hotels, department stores, restaurants and bars, as well as a curious legend about a vengeful white mule.
Thousands lined Gay Street in 1940 to cheer President Franklin Roosevelt, on his way to Newfound Gap to dedicate a new national park. Since the early 1920s, Knoxville conservationists met on Gay Street before heading to the mountains to blaze trails in what would become the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Knoxvillians of all ages donated to make that park a reality.
Almost everything that has ever happened in downtown Knoxville has a link in some way to Gay Street.
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