Fountain City, at the end of Broadway near Knoxville’s northern city limits, is defined by the valley between Sharp’s Ridge and Black Oak Ridge. Though never a “city” with its own government, it always seemed a place apart from the rest of Knoxville. In fact, it wasn’t even annexed into the city until 1962.
Once called the Fountainhead, it was named for the fact that water forming the source of First Creek, springs from the bluff of Black Oak Ridge in what’s now Fountain City Park. By the time of the Civil War, the Fountainhead had a reputation as an idyllic spot for religious revivals, or “camp meetings,” beginning a reputation it long nurtured for both moral and natural cleanliness.
Its beauty attracted developers who by the 1880s were building the Fountainhead Hotel here, as a “springs resort.” The hotel closed in the early 1900s, and later burned down. Only the name Hotel Avenue and the hotel’s water feature, a heart-shaped pond, remain today.
Fountain City, as Fountainhead was renamed to avoid postal confusion with another Tennessee town, became a popular destination, both for northern tourists and for Knoxvillians, who could ride the small steam train that left hourly from downtown for the five-mile trek. The parkland along the creek was especially popular for Fourth of July and Labor Day events, including picnics, races, and baseball games. .
After the hotel closed, Fountain City emerged as a residential suburb, with little industry, and retained its reputation as a clean-living paradise noted for its lack of both smoke and alcoholic beverages–each in stark contrast to downtown Knoxville–for most of the 20th century.
Fountain City: People Who Made a Difference by Jim Tumblin
If you have a dad who likes to brag about Fountain City and finds that the people who tolerate his stories think he’s lying, go to the bookstore and get him some backup. Fountain City: People Who Made a Difference makes Fountain City seem much more lively and creative and influential than any neighborhood has a right to be. Without Fountain Citians, UT would have neither its tallest building, McClung Tower, nor its McClung Museum (they’re named for different McClungs; it’s a long story). College football wouldn’t have its greatest lineman of 1940, Bob Suffridge; Nashville wouldn’t have its Roy Acuff; the Great Smoky Mountains National Park wouldn’t have its chronicler, Carlos Campbell; the national Wilderness Society wouldn’t have its co-founder Harvey Broome; the world, if it had its Dumpster at all, would have been obliged to call it something else.
Dr. Jim Tumblin has been collecting Fountain City stories for 80 years or more, and he tells them well. In recent years, he’s been publishing them in the Shopper News, and he’s selected his favorite 56 of them for this book by local publisher Celtic Cat Publishing. (Jack Neely)
Fountain City: People Who Made a Difference by Jim Tumblin is available through the KHP online store.
A film tribute with Jack Neely and Dr. Jim Tumblin, who passed away in June 2022, can be viewed here.