Knoxville History Facts and Timeline

(Knoxville, Tennessee - TN, USA)

The original capital of Tennessee (until 1817), Knoxville was first officially formed in 1786. The city struggled during the 19th century due to its isolated geographical location, although the development of a railroad in the 1850s brought about an economic boom.

The city was divided during the time of the Civil War and occupied by the opposing armies at different times. Once the Civil War ended in 1865, Knoxville experienced rapid growth thanks to its manufacturing industry.

The 20th century saw some ups and downs for the city, although ultimately it entered the 21st century with pride. Home to the sizeable University of Tennessee, the city is also a major gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Early Relations with the Cherokee

Prehistoric sites, such as both the burial mound standing within the grounds of the University of Tennessee and the riverside Dallas-phase Mississippian villages, provide insight into early settlement in Knoxville.

According to Knoxville history, during the 1780s there was a massive influx of Euro-American settlers, which created tension among the local Cherokee people. Governor William Blount solved the disputes through the Treaty of Holston in 1791, in which peaceful relations were established between the Cherokee and the US. A statue to represent this important amicable treaty still stands in Knoxville today.

The Civil War Era

During the American Civil War (1861 to 1865), the city was reinforced with more than a dozen Union forts, including Fort Stanley. An extensive network of trenches was also in place around its boundaries. Initially a Confederate city, Knoxville succumbed to Union forces in 1863, but saw a number of unsuccessful attempts by the Confederates to retake the city in the two years following.

The Mabry Hazen House played an important role in the Civil War, serving as the headquarters of the Union and Confederate forces. The museum housed within showcases many original artifacts, such as china, silver and antique furnishings. Visitors can also take a Civil War sites tour to learn more about this turbulent era of Knoxville history.


Knoxville recovered from the Civil War rapidly and entered an industrial age, thanks to considerable investment. Mills and furniture companies sprang up during the 1880s and close to 100 factories opened, the majority of which chose to specialize in wood, iron and food-related goods.

The post-Civil War boom attracted hordes of migrants to the city, increasing its population considerably. In 1879, the local school received funding for expansion and was subsequently renamed as the University of Tennessee. This prestigious university now has a body of close to 30,000 students and its medical teaching hospital is well-known for its extensive medical research programmes.

Progression then Depression

While the thriving city of Knoxville gained acclaim for hosting the Appalachian Exposition no less than twice, held in 1910 and 1911 at Chilhowee Park, it was hit hard during the Great Depression, due to its heavy reliance on manufacturing.

Flooding in the Tennessee Valley led to a substantial loss of crops and income, although in 1933, the Tennessee Valley Authority built the Norris Dam in order to control the problem. The surrounding Norris Dam State Park is now a popular recreational park with more than 4,000 acres / 1,620 hectares of trails and hikes through forested valleys.

1982 World's Fair

During the 1970s, the influx of modern out-of-town shopping centers caused a noticeable decline in downtown Knoxville's retail scene, while the textile and manufacturing industries struggled to make a living. Just as the city was at an all time low, it secured a deal to host the 1982 World's Fair, which brought in excess of ten million visitors to the city.

This was a pivotal point in Knoxville history. The Sunsphere monument, a steel structure topped with a glass sphere, was constructed for the fair and remains an important part of the history of Knoxville.

Today, the city continues to flourish, especially in terms of art and culture, with many galleries, concert arenas and studios having recently emerged and revitalized the downtown area.