There are few better known icons from Knoxville’s past than the Market House on Market Square. Some folks can still remember the imposing structure, as well as the pungent smells from the fish stalls and other vendors. It was a lively place over many decades. It was a place to shop, work, play, eat, drink, and live. Thanks to downtown’s revitalization, nothing much has changed, except that it smells better. It is a place was almost everything can happen and does. No wonder that Jack Neely titled one of his definitive history books, Market Square: A History of the Most Democratic Place on Earth!
KHP teamed up with Knoxville Weekend to bring you a short conservation about this classic location with two of the city’s charming cultural observers, Jack Neely, and Alan Sims with InsideofKnoxville.com.
The origins of Market Square began in 1854, when ambitious young developers William Swan and Joseph Mabry donated land to the city for a public market. The city built a small market house on the site. A one-story brick building with arched openings, similar in style to market houses in other cities, but small. It covered roughly what’s now the grassy area on the south end of Market Square.
According to the original plan, it would be a small market with plenty of open space forming a modest-sized square. As Mabry and Swan suspected, the public market space increased the value of the land around it. It was slow to start, but by 1859, several buildings had risen on either side of the space, framing a Market Square. By 1870, two rows of buildings framed the space, and it had the appearance of the square as we know it today.
Selling local produce was the only original purpose of Market Square. It was hardly five years old, however, before it was attracting other kinds of businesses, like “Peter R. Knott’s Bowling Saloon,” probably Knoxville’s first bowling alley, which appears in the 1859 city directory, on the east side of the square.
Over the years, Market Square has hosted groceries, clothing stores, saloons, newspaper offices, boarding houses, restaurants, a large bakery, a hotel, apartments, a sculptor’s studio, saddleries, a candy factory, barbers, sausage-makers, art teachers, shoe stores, jewelers, a gunsmith, detectives’ offices, and small movie theaters. Business owners were widely diverse, including a few Black people, and many German, Swiss, Jewish and Greek immigrants.
In 1868, Knoxville built its first City Hall on the north end of Market Square. It contained a police station, a small jail, and garages for firetrucks. A bell hung in its tower could be heard throughout the city and alerted the citizens to public emergencies. Some of the first Black elected representatives in the South were aldermen who attended meetings there.
Over the years, the Market House lengthened, eventually abutting City Hall. In 1897, the city built an enormous new Market House, a tall, brick Victorian building with rental space for about 60 vendors on the ground floor, and public facilities, offices, and an auditorium upstairs. It was a versatile building, but it limited the square’s open space to two wide alleys on either side.
The Market House was torn down in 1960, ending a decade of debate about saving it, and the square transformed into a modernist pedestrian mall. It provided shelter and a public bathroom for agricultural merchants who wanted to keep selling in the traditional space.
Farmers kept coming to the Square, but dwindled over the years. By the 1990s, only one farmer, Sherrill Perkins (1937-2013), who had a farm in the Seven Islands area of East Knox County, was appearing on the Square regularly, to sell produce.
Around 2000, in response to development pressures, the city reimagined old Market Square, in large part by simplifying it and bringing back some of its original Victorian look. After some question about whether there was still a place for farm produce on a new square with restaurants, bars, and shopping, a small group of young people organized the Market Square Farmers Market. At the front of a national local-foods movement, the MSFM strictly emphasized produce grown within the Knoxville area. It was a new idea that revived an old ideal.
It has grown, and in recent years is a two-block phenomenon with about 110 vendors every Saturday, selling corn, squash, kale, 30 or 40 kinds of hot and mild peppers, and other vegetables, including, this time of year, more than a dozen varieties of tomatoes. Plus local milk, beef, chicken, pork, coffee, and baked goods–as well as food trucks and carts, and other locally produced goods like pottery and fashion accessories.
July is the best time of year to try the Market Square Farmers’ Market, to get the freshest possible produce from the farmers themselves, and participate in a tradition that’s been going on in the same spot since before the Civil War. For more information, visit Nourish Knoxville.
Click here a Photo Gallery of Market Square through the years.
Tennessee Woman Suffrage Memorial
The remarkable statue of three suffragists, weighed down by a base with marble panels bears voluminous text about the national feminist movement. The statue reflects a broader history than specifically of Market Square, though a lot happened right here, both demonstrations in the street and lectures in the Market Hall’s auditorium. The three women depicted are Lizzie Crozier French (1851-1926), Anne Dallas Dudley (1876-1955), and Elizabeth Avery Meriweather (1824-1916). Crozier French has the strongest connection with Knoxville. In the 1880s, she became a leading voice here in the effective suffrage movement.
The bronze Market House Bell, with the date of 1883 and the brand of the McShane Co. bell foundry in Baltimore, first hung in the tower of City Hall, on the north end of Market Square, beginning in the 1880s. Rung by the police chief, the bell signaled fire and major riot emergencies using a number-based code, reportedly heard in all parts of the city. You can learn more about the history of the bell on the interpretive plaque on Market Square.
We don’t know if Elvis Presley ever visited Market Square but he is perhaps the most famous performer to be associated with the space. As far as we know, Elvis never performed in Knoxville during his early years (in fact he rarely played in East Tennessee yet he showed up here three times near the end of his career during the 1970s), he received a major boost to his career in 1954 when Sam Morrison, owner of the Bell Sales Company, played his first Sun Records 78 single, That’s Alright, to the public on speakers on the outside of store. Morrison sold hundreds, perhaps thousands, of copies of the single in the process. Knoxvillians
couldn’t get enough of the ground-breaking song.
A scout from RCA Records, Brad McKuen, who regularly dropped in to Bell Sales, regarded Morrison’s store, and Market Square as a whole, as bellwether of regional emerging talent, picked up a couple of Elvis’ disks whom he had never heard of before. McKuen passed one of the disks to a RCA studio boss in New York and a year later, RCA signed Presley on a major label contract. The rest is history.
#36 Market Square
Jack Neely and Alan Sims take a closer look at one of the taller buildings on the square, on the northeast corner. Formerly, the Woods & Taylor department store occupied this spot for many years. Special thanks to Knoxville Weekend!
#9 Market Square – The Ziegler Building
The building at number 9 Market Square is unique on the square as it still features the name of one of the original owners. As Jack Neely writes in Market Square: A History of the Most Democratic Place on Earth, “The most legible evidence of history on the Square may be one word, high on the west-side façade above No. 9. In a block of marble in the mostly brick ca. 1880 two-story building is the word “ZIEGLER.” As was the fashion in the 1880s, the single word ends with a period.”
The name Ziegler represents Adolph Ziegler (later spelled Zeigler) one of the partners of Metler and Ziegler who first began business at this spot in 1880 with a sausage factory. The following year, the Knoxville Journal described the meat business. “If you want choice meat of any kind, don’t fail to call at Metler & Ziegler’s store, West Side Market House; or if after-market hours, call at their store, West Side Market Square. They always keep the very best Fresh Meats, Hams, Breakfast Bacon, Sausage and everything in their line. They guarantee satisfaction.”
The three-story building, described as “Neo-classical commercial…brick building with pressed metal bracketed cornice with egg and dart and Greek key elements, decorative pilasters, raised parapet wall” has a varied history. The establishment changed to Metler, Ziegler & Fanz in 1888, but by 1895 Fanz was operating the store on his own, offering fish as well as dried meats. Apparently, that business didn’t stay there long as a year later it became vacant.
The building later housed the Farmer and Tradesman Restaurant, with a boarding house operated by Mrs. J. C. Irwin on the second story, and for a time, according to Jack Neely, “even the dress shop of a Mrs. S. L. Fitzgerald.”
At the turn of the twentieth century, the Ziegler Building became the Knoxville Abattoir Company and subsequently the East Tennessee Packing Company. By 1930 the Covington Supply Co. occupied the building. Lowe & Armstrong Hardware Store, and Woody’s Market spent time there before Watson’s Department Store rounded out the century during the 1980s and ‘90s.
We don’t know exactly why Adolph Ziegler’s name alone adorns the building; perhaps he financed the construction. His business partners tend to be better known. However, we do know that Adolph Ziegler (1844-1923) was born in Germany, arriving in the United States in 1867. Along with partner, Anton Metler (his father-in-law), he owned the Metler & Ziegler meat business, and later involved with the East Tennessee Packing Company. He also owned a large attractive house and estate on Central Avenue Pike in North Knoxville and was known to have first started making sausage across the street from his home at his abattoir. He is buried in Calvary Catholic Cemetery in East Knoxville.
Anton Metler (1827-1893) was a Swiss immigrant, arriving in the United States in 1854. He brought with him expertise in the dairy business which he had learned in Switzerland, and is believed to have started Knoxville’s first commercial diary. Metler owned a large farm in the Oakwood section of North Knoxville and also operated a butchering operation nearby on North Central Avenue. He joined Ziegler in business with Metler, Ziegler & Fanz on Market Square. After his death, the business became Ziegler & Fanz.
Ignaz Fanz (1842-1927), a Union veteran of the Civil War perhaps is the most recognizable of the partners, establishing successful sausage factories (one later on Jackson Avenue) and a “porkery” in North Knoxville. He was a pioneering tenant on Market Square, operating businesses on both sides of the square. He served as a city alderman in 1890. His daughter, Emma, famously would pose as a baby in Joseph Knaffl’s Madonna and Child in 1899 – a striking image that was extensively used without permission by Hallmark Christmas Cards.
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