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When we think of immigrants in Knoxville history, maybe you can’t fault us for thinking immediately of the English-speaking ones, especially the Scots-Irish, who have been the subject of multiple books and presentations. And it’s indeed interesting that people with Irish accents were among those who framed Tennessee’s first constitution, and packed Knoxville’s first City Council. However, they were not the only immigrants who made a major contribution to making Knoxville what it is. By the mid-19th century, French, German, and Italian-speaking immigrants were at home here, in the hundreds, soon to be followed by Greek and Yiddish-speaking newcomers. They introduced many joys we might not have gotten so soon without them, including beer, chocolate, classical music, Halloween, cigars, ice cream, pasta, sculpture, and football. As well as lots of odd non-Anglo names on streets and buildings and tombstones. Join us for a conversation about how Knoxville incorporated several waves of immigrants from very foreign countries—before we started bragging about how purely American we were.
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When it comes to Knoxville photographers, James E. (Jim) Thompson was one of the most famous and most prolific – the quantity a quality of photographs that he captured on film of places and events around the city is distinctly remarkable.
Thompson’s artistic talents and keen business sense worked together right from the outset of the 20th century. His photographs of the Smoky Mountains featured in national newspapers and publications and helped booster a movement to create a national park just beyond his hometown. More than a few of his photographs are considered iconic. Outside of photography, he worked to build trails and determine lasting place names that still inform visitors’ experiences in the Smokies today.
Join Paul James of the Knoxville History Project for a look into the life and work of one of its talented Knoxvillians, whose work local historians come into contact with almost daily.
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The State of Tennessee celebrates its 225th anniversary this year. Celebrations of the state’s birth are often focused on Nashville–but no town played as big a role in the state’s actual founding, in early 1796, as did Knoxville, the state’s first capital. And 225 years ago this month, Gay Street was the site of a dramatic wintertime convention of 55 delegates from across the Southwestern Territory, here to create a state constitution. Of the attendees, several were fated to be famous—one of them a future U.S. president. Just in time for the state’s bicenquasquigenary (it’s a real word, we think) celebrations, come hear the story and join the discussion.
Thank you to our sponsor Sara Phillips!
Storyteller Laura Still helps you live the stories of pioneers, soldiers, outlaws, and even fictional characters who walked these streets before you. Learn more about Laura and her story on our Knoxville Walking Tours Page.
Knoxville has a rich history full of colorful characters and famous, and infamous, figures whose lives have been the inspiration for books, movies, and works of art. Take a stroll through history in beautiful downtown Knoxville while listening to true tales of the heroes, heels, and hardened criminals that are part of the hidden lore of this unique East Tennessee town. A portion of ticket proceeds are donated to KHP.
Rather than the usual schedule of tours, we’re keeping things safe by doing private tours with one group at a time. You pick the tour and time — subject to availability. Ghost tour in broad daylight? Yes! (though it won’t be as spooky)
Masks are required. Bring your own or we can set you up. Your guide carries extras along with ear savers for your comfort.
We’ve reduced our minimum group size to 3 adult tickets / $60 so you don’t need a big group. For couples, that means paying $10 extra per ticket, but you get Laura’s undivided attention and you can ask her anything about Knoxville and its history. She never runs out of fascinating stories!
To book, just give us a call at (865)309-4522
New! – Side Street Shadows Ghost Tour
Hear more tales of ghostly history as you follow storyteller Laura Still on the Side Street Shadows tour. Find out who haunts the Farragut, how a gunfight on Cumberland nearly started a war, and where you might meet the courteous spirit of a scholar or the grumpy ghost of a violent rebel. Details & Tickets
Shadow Side Ghost Tour
Brave souls who enjoy a chill can join us for a trip into Knoxville’s shadow side. The city’s history of blood-stained streets echoing with gunfire is full of restless spirits. Visit their haunts and hear local legends of ghostly apparitions. Details & Tickets
Shadow Side 2: Ghosts of the Old City
Red Summer, drunken brawls, hot lead, and blood on the tracks. Knoxville’s Old City used to be known as the bowery, where victims of murderous brawls, dealdly shoot-outs, and horrific train crashes haunt the old buildings and back alleys along with the ghost of a musician who hasn’t quite faded away. Details & Ticket
Walk the streets of a city torn in two by divided loyalties and then get an overview of the fighting from the observation deck of the Sunsphere. Spies, bridge burners, miracle shots, betrayal, and battle. Details & Tickets
Family feuds and wanted outlaws. You’ll relive the days when Knoxville was the wild west and Gay Street was the OK Corral. Details & Tickets
Step back over two centuries and visit Knoxville’s founders as you listen to the stories of the settlement of White’s Fort and establishment of the capital of the Southwest Territory at the headwaters of the Tennessee. Details & Tickets
The Knoxville story has always been set to music, from the time when the poetic rhythms of the native Cherokee tribes still echoed in the hills and the ballads of the Scots-Irish settlers were sung around campfires on the riverbanks. Immigrants from all over the world brought new instruments and tunes to enliven the song and make Knoxville home to musicians of every genre. Details & Tickets
Home of Cormac McCarthy, Nikki Giovanni, James Agee, and more. You’ll visit the scenes that inspired them and walk in the footsteps of their characters. Details & Tickets
The Civil War in Knoxville
It’s been over 150 years since the battle of Knoxville, one of the most sharply divided cities during the civil war. Occupied by both sides with recruiting offices set up on Gay Street on the same day, Knoxville was home to spies, street fights, and family feuds that outlasted the war. Visit the downtown sites and then get an overview of the battles and fortifications from the observation deck of the Sunsphere. Details & Tickets
Knoxville Botanical Gardens
Ten years before Tennessee became a state, David Wessels Howell planted an orchard and garden on land where the Cherokee still roamed. This was the beginning of a family business that would span two centuries, from the frontier days through the Civil War and the industrial age to modern times. Now the Howell family’s legacy has been preserved as a public garden spanning 47 acres, with walking trails and hand-laid stone walls that cross through sunny meadows and leafy glades among an astonishing variety of trees and plants. Come walk with us and hear its stories and secrets. Details & Tickets
Old Gray Cemetery
Just north of downtown Knoxville, Old Gray Cemetery is a little-known historic jewel. Founded in 1850 as part of the rural park cemetery movement, it became a popular destination for carriage rides and picnics in its early days. Join us for a guided tour of notable interments and hear stories of statesmen, soldiers, scholars, and spirits. Details & Tickets