The original settlement located approximately five miles west of Knoxville came into being during the late 1700s. Originally named Erin by the early Scots-Irish settlers, the fledgling community centered around a fort on a small mound on the west side of Fourth Creek around what would now be the intersection of Kingston Pike and Northshore Drive. The name of the fort has been lost to memory yet we know that the area surrounding it served as a “muster” ground where the early settlers came to train to defend themselves from intruder attacks.
What we know of these early times was documented by John B. Creswell in his illuminating A Brief History Sketch of the Village of Bearden published in 1899. This account documents the early settlers including James Miller, John Reynolds (whose house still stands as ‘Knollwood” on Bearden Hill), Jacob Lones, Captain William Lyon, and others. See “Behind the Names” below.
The community name was changed to Bearden (after Capt. Marcus De LaFayette Bearden) in the late 1800s when the community set up a post office, and it was discovered that another “Erin Post Office” already existed in West Tennessee.
Bearden’s growth was significantly defined by its position along the Southern Railway (a five-mile train journey to Knoxville) and Kingston Pike as commerce thrived along that route and much later became a popular rest stop for travelers on the Dixie-Lee Highway during the 1930s.
The land along Lyons View, originally a 500-acre tract owned by Captain William Lyon ultimately gave way to the expansive Eastern State Insane Asylum, which is now the location of the popular Lakeshore Park.
Originally, Kingston Pike didn’t run as linear as it does now. Substantial twists and turns along what is now Old Kingston Pike, and along the section of Deane Hill Drive and Lockette by Erin Presbyterian Church was once known as “Murderers Hollow” providing highwayman the advantage of limited sight, and considerable cover after dark, over unwary travelers.
Industry and entertainment have left indelible marks on the community ranging from an Old Papermill, a former hat factory, a brickyard, and the popular Capri Movie Theater which hosted a series of movie premieres where celebrities left their signatures in concrete during the 1960s and ‘70s.
RELATED STORIES & HISTORICAL ACCOUNTS
Bearden is a community with a rich history and distinct culture. For a more in-depth look, read historian, Jack Neely’s Knoxville Mercury article from July 2015, An Afternoon in Bearden
“At 45 mph, the suggested speed on Kingston Pike, Bearden can look almost ordinary, a modern commercial corridor of strip centers with lots of billboards. It’s not designed to be looked at. But slow down a little, and you might notice evidence of a community of some depth and distinction.” Read on…
For a much older look, try a Brief Historical Sketch of the Village of Bearden, by John B. Creswell (Courtesy of McClung Historical Collection). This “historical sketch of the village and community of Bearden was delivered Sabbath morning, June 11, 1899, in Erin Presbyterian church. Much of the information obtained concerning the community was from W. L. Kennedy.”
When in Bearden: Check out the gallery of historical photographs and images in the café area in the Bearden Food City supermarket on Kingston Pike near Northshore Drive.
or learn about Bearden’s Historic Points of Interest.
BEARDEN: Although a Marcus DeLafayette Bearden built a paper mill on Third Creek in the late 1830s or early ‘40s just north of Erin, the community was later renamed Bearden after the former mill owner’s younger cousin, Capt. Marcus DeLafayette Bearden. A former Union officer, wounded in the foot at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, the younger Bearden was elected sheriff of Knox County and, at about the same time, mayor of Knoxville. (Note: The local street known as Bearden Place is located in Old North Knoxville.) Bearden lived downtown during his early career, but by the 1870s, he moved his family to the west side, where he did some farming.
In 1877, Capt. Bearden was elected to the Tennessee legislature where he helped fund the establishment of a major state institution for the mentally ill along the river near Erin. It was a great progressive achievement and also became a major employer for the immediate area. Capt. Bearden, who owned a farm in the Weisgarber Road area, died in August 1885. In appreciation, the community renamed the Erin community Bearden after him.
BAUM – Baum Drive which cuts through from Northshore Drive to Deane Hill Drive is named after “Baum’s House of Flowers” which occupied a sizeable footprint with numerous commercial greenhouses.
DEANE HILL – named after Thomas Jellis Deane, the owner pf the Appalachian Marble Company who owned a West Knoxville farm that became known as Deane Hill. The Deane Hill Country Club that followed perpetuated the name after his death in 1944.
ERIN – In 1817, Irish immigrant John Reynolds bought 300 acres in the area. Born in County Louth, the often-embattled border region of eastern Ireland, Reynolds named the new western community Erin, the ancient name of his native country.
HOMBURG: In 1933, the Bowman Hat Company pulled up stakes on Jackson Avenue and relocated to a new factory in Bearden. It rendered a name based on one of its popular hat styles the Homburg, hence Homberg Place.
LONAS – Erin’s first settlers were from all over. Jacob Lones came from a Dutch family in Pennsylvania during the 1790s and settled on the northern stretch of Fourth Creek about a mile from where Bearden is now. The family lived in a login cabin until the 1850s when they built a new brick home, fashioned from bricks made on the property, now known as the Lones-Dowell House, which still stands, along with the family cemetery, off Middlebrook Pike near the Dowell Springs development. The family later changed the name from Lones to Lonas.
LYONS VIEW – Perhaps one of the most arresting views of the Tennessee River looking towards the Great Smoky Mountains can be found on Lyons View Pike. Capt. William Lyon purchased the 500-acre tract around 1814, formerly a North Carolina land grant dating from 1792. Lyon (in reality a first lieutenant) came from a Scottish family who were among the earliest settlers in Baltimore, Maryland. The view was immortalized by 19 century painter James Cameron in his painting, “Belle Isle, From Lyons View.”
PAPERMILL – The first Marcus DeLafayette Bearden built a paper mill on Third Creek in the 1830s. After it closed down in the 1880s, the ruin became known as the Old Papermill. The road that ran by it to the west was called, naturally, the Old Papermill Road. After World War II, the ruin was gone and forgotten, and the Old simply dropped.
WEISGARBER – In the 1800s, E.H. Weisgarber operated two mills on Fourth Creek as well as a carding company.
KHP hosts periodic programs including discussions within the Bearden Community to share local history as well as provide opportunities for members of the public to contribute memories and stories.
The following are edited oral history summaries for group discussions and individual interviews:
November 30, 2017 Discussion at Erin Presbyterian Church
September 14, 2018 A Conservation with Howard Claibourne, Lifelong Bearden Resident
Although he had vowed never to return, Dr. William Lynn Weaver (1949-2019), a surgeon who went on to become chief of surgery at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, was invited to come back to West High School in 2018 to share his experiences as one of 14 Black students at the school in the early 1960s when the school was desegregated.
Marcus Carmon’s 20-minute documentary, How the West Was One, captures Dr. Weaver’s visit back to the school where he met teachers and students. He talked candidly about those hard times and, on reflection, also the good things that helped propel him on his journey and successful career as a surgeon.
Previously, in 2007, NPR’s Story Corps featured Dr. Weaver, who remembered his father who lived in Knoxville as a janitor and chauffeur, and of his experiences at West High School. Link to Weaver’s NPR Story Corps segments.
Dr. Weaver died in 2019 at age 69.
Find other African American stories on the Black History page.
KHP is seeking community involvement to expand the history of Bearden both online, in programming, and for future publications. Do you have stories, photographs, and ephemera that you would be willing to share that would enhance what we collectively know about Bearden or Knoxville history? If so, please email us or call 865-337-7723.
Learn more about KHP’s community history sharing initiative, Knoxville Shoebox here.