Knoxville’s Historical Buildings, Knoxville

Knoxville’s Historical Buildings (Self Guided), Knoxville

The city of Knoxville is home to dozens of listed historic properties, vividly illustrating the community’s rich and sometimes turbulent past. These include James White's Fort, L&N Depot, Tennessee Theatre and many others. Take this self-guided tour of downtown Knoxville to check out some of the most prominent historic and architectural gems the city has to offer and hear the stories behind these locations!
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Knoxville’s Historical Buildings Map

Guide Name: Knoxville’s Historical Buildings
Guide Location: USA » Knoxville (See other walking tours in Knoxville)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 14
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.2 Km or 1.4 Miles
Author: Sandra
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Louisville and Nashville Depot
  • Old Knoxville City Hall
  • Fidelity Building
  • Holston National Bank
  • Tennessee Theater, Burwell Building
  • First Bank Building
  • St. John's Cathedral
  • James Park House
  • Howard Baker Federal Courthouse
  • Knox County Courthouse
  • Andrew Johnson Hotel
  • William Blount Mansion
  • Craighead-Jackson House
  • James White’s Fort
Louisville and Nashville Depot

1) Louisville and Nashville Depot

The Louisville and Nashville Depot is a former train station located at the northern end of the World's Fair Park in Knoxville. Constructed in 1905, this Victorian structure was designed by the L&N railroad’s chief engineer, Richard Montfort, and served as a major passenger terminal until the L&N ceased passenger train service to Knoxville in 1968. Following that, the building continued to house L&N offices until 1975.

Once the largest and, in many's opinion, the "finest" station along the L&N's entire Cincinnati–Atlanta line, this L-shaped building is recognizable by its northeast corner tower, which rises three stories and is topped by a pitched, clay-tiled roof with decorated dormers. A smaller tower rises at the end of the west wing, giving the building its chateau-like appearance. A wrap-around veranda allows access to the main floor on the south side of the building. The north side of the west wing originally included frosted glass doors and glazed transoms, which have been restored.

In 1982, the station was renovated for use in the 1982 World's Fair, as it was adjacent to the World's Fair Park, which was then under development. Two restaurants, a Ruby Tuesday restaurant and the first L&N Seafood Grill, were housed in the lower floors of the building, while the second floor offices were converted into meeting rooms for the fair's VIPs. Currently, the building is home to the L&N STEM Academy, a magnet high school which focuses on science, technology, engineering, and math.

The L&N Station is mentioned in several scenes in author James Agee's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “A Death in the Family.” In 1999, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places for its architecture and role in Knoxville's transportation history.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Old Knoxville City Hall

2) Old Knoxville City Hall

Old City Hall is a complex of historic buildings, originally constructed in the late 1840s as the Tennessee School for the Deaf and Dumb (now the Tennessee School for the Deaf). The complex consists of five interconnected buildings - the three-story main building, completed in 1851, and four additions behind the main building, built between 1874 and 1899.

The entire complex sits atop a wooded knoll. The facade of the central section contains a portico with four Ionic columns supporting a large pediment, and accessed by a marble staircase. One of the rear additions was designed in the Italian Renaissance style, and another contains Neoclassical elements. The buildings' interiors have been modified extensively over the years as the roll of the complex changed.

The complex served as Knoxville's city hall from 1925 until 1980. It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places and documented by the Historic American Buildings Survey. Currently, the complex houses Lincoln Memorial University's Duncan School of Law.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Fidelity Building

3) Fidelity Building

The Fidelity Building is a four-story, three-bay brick office complex in Knoxville, initially constructed in 1871 for the wholesale firm Cowan, McClung and Company. Originally designed in an Italianate style, it featured a central pediment and balustrade, and storefronts flanked by Corinthian columns, all of which were removed in the course of an extensive remodeling in 1929. During the mid-20th century, the building served as a home to Fidelity-Bankers Trust Company and has since been renovated for use as an office space.

Today, the Fidelity's first-story Gay Street facade, reflecting the 1929 remodeling, consists of an ashlar veneer with a recessed entrance topped by an eagle-and-garland frieze. The rear of the building remains largely unaltered from the 1871 design, with the exception of a one-story addition made in the early 1980s. The building's interior, which also reflects the 1929 remodeling, includes a central hall with gray marble walls and floors, and square Corinthian columns.

In 1984, the Fidelity Building was added to the National Register of Historic Places for its architecture and role in Knoxville's late-19th century wholesaling industry.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Holston National Bank

4) Holston National Bank

The Holston is a high-rise condominium designed as the headquarters for the Holston National Bank. Completed in 1913, the fourteen-story building was the tallest in Knoxville until the construction in the late 1920s of the Andrew Johnson Hotel, located a few blocks away. The Holston was designed by architect John Kevan Peebles, and today represents the city's only Neoclassical Revival-style high-rise.

Most of the edifice is built with buff yellow brick, with the exception of the first three stories of the Gay Street and Clinch Avenue facades, which are sheathed in Tennessee marble. The interior of the Holston, although heavily renovated in 1977, still contains several original elements. The entrance foyer has a vaulted ceiling with plaster rosettes, and a frieze decorated with triglyphs and metopes. The lobby originally contained Greek and Art Deco motifs, but these were removed during the 1977 renovation.

In 1979, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places for its architecture and prominent position in the Knoxville skyline.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Tennessee Theater, Burwell Building

5) Tennessee Theater, Burwell Building (must see)

The Tennessee Theatre is a 1920s-era movie palace, located within the Burwell Building in downtown Knoxville. The Burwell Building was built in 1907. At a height of 166 feet (51 m), it was Knoxville's tallest structure until 1912. The Tennessee Theater occupies an annex to the building that was added in 1928.

The theater first opened on October 1, 1928, and with nearly 2,000 seats in the auditorium, was billed as "Knoxville's Grand Entertainment Palace". Its interior was designed by Chicago architects Graven & Mayger in the Spanish-Moorish style, although the design incorporates elements from all parts of the world: Czechoslovakian crystals in the French-style chandeliers, Italian terrazzo flooring in the Grand Lobby, and Oriental influences in the carpet and drapery patterns. The theater was one of the first public buildings in Knoxville to have air conditioning. It also featured a beautiful Wurlitzer Organ. On April 1, 1982, the theater was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

***Country Music Walk***
Originally built as a “motion picture palace,” the Tennessee Theatre also served as a regular host of live music and weekend talent shows that gave country stars a chance to perform on its historic stage. Roy Acuff, dubbed the "King of Country Music", had his first public appearance here during a talent show, but admitted to have never won the first place since the competition was too stiff in Knoxville. Famous musicians across genres still grace the theater's stage today, making it one of the most significant standing country music landmarks in East Tennessee.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
First Bank Building

6) First Bank Building

The First Bank Building was constructed in the mid-1920s and, over the years, has housed offices of dozens of banks, physicians, and various financial and architectural firms.

The main facade of the building, overlooking Market Street, consists of three arched openings, with the north opening leading to the general lobby, the south leading to the bank lobby, and the middle opening containing a window. The bank lobby is the most elaborate interior room, consisting of arched ceilings and a second-story mezzanine with a balustrade. The general lobby contains marble floors and bronze-plated elevator doors. Much of the building's interior was extensively remodeled in the early 1970s.

In 1988, the First Bank Building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its architecture and role in Knoxville's commercial history.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
St. John's Cathedral

7) St. John's Cathedral

Established in 1826 (35 years after the founding of Knoxville), St. John’s Church was one of the congregations represented at the Primary Convention when the Diocese of Tennessee was organized in Nashville in 1829. In May 1844, with 25 communicants, St. John’s became the first mission from Eastern Tennessee to be admitted to the Diocese of Tennessee.

In 1891, the original building was razed to make room for a larger facility, which was completed in 1892. The architect for the current building was J.W. Yost of Columbus, Ohio. The stone church is built in a Latin cross form, but the nave, transepts, and apse are minimal in size compared to the crossing, resulting in a large central space. The architectural style is Richardsonian Romanesque. Features include a slate roof, turrets, buttresses, and rose windows.

A devastating fire in the church in 1919 destroyed many of the original stained glass windows, but the building was promptly restored. In 1963, extensive renovation created the undercroft under the nave floor. In 1986, St. John’s was designated as the seat of the bishop for the newly created Diocese of East Tennessee.

Adjacent to St. John's Episcopal Cathedral is the church office. This two-story, brick, classical building was erected in 1857 by O. F. Hill to serve as both, home and office. The original porch had Tuscan columns and extended the full width of the house; it was eventually removed. The present porch is comparatively modest. The house faces the James Park House across Cumberland Avenue to the south.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
James Park House

8) James Park House

The James Park House is a historic, two-and-a-half story, L-shaped edifice in Knoxville, with a modern service wing located at the rear. Its foundation was built by Governor John Sevier in the 1790s, while the house itself was built by Knoxville merchant and mayor, James Park (1770–1853), in 1812, making it the second-oldest building in Downtown Knoxville after Blount Mansion.

Claussen's restorations, guided in part by old photographs and architectural research, included the re-addition of a picket fence surrounding the property, reconstruction of the house's Victorian-style front porch, rebuilding of the front stairs, and the reshaping of the chimneys. An arched fireplace in the basement, the design of which is nearly identical to a fireplace in the nearby Craighead-Jackson House, was also restored.

The floors of the modern addition to the house have been painted with various historical maps of Knoxville. One of the restrooms contains a ceiling-to-floor safe; another is modeled after the restroom of the Red Sage restaurant in Washington, D.C.

The James Park House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and currently serves as the headquarters for the Gulf and Ohio Railways.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Howard Baker Federal Courthouse

9) Howard Baker Federal Courthouse

Occupying two city blocks in downtown Knoxville, the Howard Baker Federal Courthouse is a prominent landmark on the city's skyline. The extended four-story building complex is crowned with a beautiful tall, slender copper dome. It has an arched entrance on Cumberland Avenue, an impressive courtyard, and another entrance on Main Street.

Inspired by the work of McKim, Mead and White, this monumental red brick building with towers is a postmodern rendition of neo-Georgian architecture, featuring elaborate interior finishes and authentic construction materials.

Built in 1991, at a cost of $56 million, the initially three-story complex (250,000 sq. ft.) served as the corporate headquarters for Whittle Communications, the telecommunications company best known for 40 magazines and Channel One for schools. By 1995, the company had become defunct and sold the building to the federal government for just $22 million.

Acquiring the building served the government's needs all too well as it was conveniently located near the historic Knox County Courthouse across the street and the newer city-county building. All they had to do was add some courtrooms and governmental offices to the design. By 1998, the new federal Courthouse was ready, complete with a new four-story wing, upon which it was renamed after State Senator Howard H. Baker Jr.
Knox County Courthouse

10) Knox County Courthouse

The historic Knox County Courthouse is, in fact, the fourth Knox County Courthouse ever built; its construction began in 1884 and was finished in 1886. The imposing 2.5-story brick edifice shows a mixture of architectural styles, including Colonial elements in its clock tower and Gothic elements (including qua-trefoil patterns) in the balcony and porch. Much of the interior has been altered.

The building served as a courthouse until the completion of the City-County Building on Hill Avenue in 1980. After the County's court and government moved out, there were plans to tear down the building, however, a movement led by Knox County executive Dwight Kessel convinced the county to preserve it. Today, the building continues to accommodate several county offices, including the office of the county clerk. John Sevier, Tennessee's first governor, is buried on the courthouse lawn.

Eventually, the courthouse has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places For its architecture and role in the county's political history.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Andrew Johnson Hotel

11) Andrew Johnson Hotel

The Andrew Johnson Building is a high-rise office complex in downtown Knoxville completed in 1930. At 203 feet (62 m) it was Knoxville's tallest building and the cornerstone of the downtown skyline for half a century, from 1928 to 1978. Originally home to the Andrew Johnson Hotel, it is now used for office space by Knox County.

The total of its 18-story height is made up of 15 floors, a mezzanine, and a two-story penthouse. The building is rectangular in shape, with a recess running up the middle of the west facade. The ground floor extends out beyond the rest of the building to provide a base for the unique second story, which includes an open-air pavilion. Sitting at the very top is the penthouse, which is seven bays wide and adorned with brick Ionic pilasters. In 1980, the Andrew Johnson Building was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

***Country Music Walk***

Over the years, many esteemed guests have graced the hotel, including Amelia Earhart (American aviation pioneer who stayed at the Andrew Johnson in 1936 – the year before her disappearance), jazz legend Duke Ellington, and Great Russian composer and pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff who stayed here after his performance at the University of Tennessee Alumni Hall in 1943.

Among other noteworthy personalities logging at the Andrew Johnson was the country music legend, Hank Williams, who spent here the last few hours of his life. On New Year’s Eve, 1952, he checked into the hotel for what would be his final day. Though Williams was pronounced dead in West Virginia some time later, many believe that he had already been dead when leaving the hotel. Witnesses said, Williams was carried out semiconscious, apparently injected with some painkillers, to his automobile by a chauffeur and a hotel employee, who wondered about Williams's condition, and later suggested that he might have been dead at that point. He was 29.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
William Blount Mansion

12) William Blount Mansion

The Blount Mansion, also known as William Blount Mansion, is the former home of William Blount (1749–1800), the only territorial governor of the Southwest Territory (the Territory South of the Ohio River, created in 1790). Originally a North Carolina businessman and land speculator, Blount was appointed governor by President George Washington. A signer of the United States Constitution, he was also instrumental in the inauguration of Tennessee as the 16th state and later served as a U.S. Senator from Tennessee.

Blount lived on this property together with his family and 10 African-American slaves. Much of the Tennessee Constitution was drafted in Governor Blount's office at the mansion, from 1792 to 1796. Tennessee state historian John Trotwood Moore once called Blount Mansion "the most important historical spot in Tennessee."

Blount's reasons for building an elaborate frame house on the frontier were twofold. First, it would act as a de facto capitol of the Southwest Territory, and thus would need to command the respect of visiting delegations. Second, Blount wanted to fulfill a promise he made to his wife, Mary Grainger Blount, to build a home comparable to their lavish North Carolina home.

Constructed between 1792 and 1830, the graceful two-story house with a single bedroom upstairs is a wood-frame, hall-parlor home sheathed in wood siding, built with materials brought from North Carolina in an era when most homes in Tennessee were log cabins.

By 1925, the house had deteriorated and was on a brink of demolition. Fortunately, the purpose-established Blount Mansion Association, following a massive publicity campaign, managed to raise enough money to purchase the house in 1930. Committed to its preservation and a positive comprehension of national, regional and local history, the Association has since maintained the property as a museum and made numerous renovations to restore it to its late 18th-century appearance. In the 1960s, the mansion was designated a National Historic Landmark and in 1966 included in the National Register of Historic Places.

Operation Hours:
Tuesday through Friday from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm, and Saturday from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Craighead-Jackson House

13) Craighead-Jackson House

The Craighead-Jackson House is a historic, two-story white brick building with a basement. The first story consists of a hallway that spans the center of the house from east to west and contains two main entrances and staircase, with a sitting room on the north side and a parlor on the south side. The second story has two bedrooms, with the south side bedroom being slightly larger than its north side counterpart. The basement has a dining room and a large "unfinished" room. Chimneys are located at both the north and south ends of the house. A small porch graces the door along the front (west) facade of the house, and a larger covered porch is located at the rear of the house.

The building stands on the plot of land purchased in 1818 by John Craighead (1783–1826), a Knoxville city alderman, who served as an elder of the First Presbyterian Church. Craighead built the house that same year and had his family live here until 1855. In the late 1850s, the house was obtained by George Jackson, a Knoxville physician. According to a local legend, the building is haunted by the ghost of one of Jackson's servants, who burned to death here after her skirt caught fire while working in the kitchen.

The house is currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
James White’s Fort

14) James White’s Fort (must see)

James White's Fort, or White's Fort for short, is an 18th-century pioneer settlement that gave start to Knoxville. The fort was built in 1786 by the city's founder James White who was born in 1747 in North Carolina and was a militia officer fighting in the American Revolutionary War. In 1783, he led an expedition into the upper Tennessee Valley, where he discovered the site of future Knoxville.

The fort itself began when James White was granted for his service 1,000 acres of land and built a two-story log cabin near what is now the corner of State Street and Clinch Avenue. The surrounding trees have been cut and replaced with gardens and farms. The cabin soon became the center of a cluster of fortified log structures known as White's Fort.

When William Blount, the governor of the Southwest Territory, moved the territorial capital to White's Fort in 1791, he renamed it Knoxville in honor of Henry Knox, the American Revolutionary War general and Washington's Secretary of War. That same year, James White sold the land and donated lots for a permanent city, Knoxville. He lived in the fort until 1793. White died on August 14, 1821, and was buried next to his wife in the First Presbyterian Church Cemetery at 620 State Street in Knoxville.

The original cabin later became the kitchen of the Kennedy House, which was built in the 1830s. In 1906, when the Kennedy house was demolished for development, Isaiah Ford bought the log structure and moved it to Woodlawn Pike. It was purchased again in 1960 by the City Association of Women's Clubs; in 1968, the timbers were reconstructed as part of the fort. The fort still stands on a bluff near its original location. Seven log cabins and the stockade fence remain. The cabins display original pioneer artifacts and furnishings depicting the frontier lifestyle, making it one of the most visited historical sites in Knoxville.

The fort was opened to the public as a museum in 1970.

Operation Hours:
Monday through Saturday, from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm, from April to November; and Monday through Friday, from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, from December to March.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.

Walking Tours in Knoxville, Tennessee

Create Your Own Walk in Knoxville

Create Your Own Walk in Knoxville

Creating your own self-guided walk in Knoxville is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Top Religious Sites in Knoxville

Top Religious Sites in Knoxville

Knoxville is home to over 450 churches of many religious denominations. Situated at the core of the Bible Belt, many of them are Protestant. The following tour highlights the city’s most impressive religious sites, including Knoxville’s oldest church and other historically significant ones.

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.0 Km or 1.9 Miles
Country Music Tour

Country Music Tour

The cultural hub of Tennessee’s, Knoxville is one of America’s most dynamic musical cities, renowned for its critical role in the development of what is now called country music. While the complete history of “country” is still unwritten, you may want to hear some of the stories of Hank Williams, Elvis Presley and other big names associated with Knoxville. Take this self-guided walking...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 0.8 Km or 0.5 Miles
University of Tennessee Walk

University of Tennessee Walk

The University of Tennessee in Knoxville, located in downtown’s west end, draws many visitors to the city. Founded in 1794 as William Blount College, nowadays it covers 550 acres, including over 200 buildings and a faculty of more than 1,400. Take the following tour to discover UTK’s best attractions.

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.1 Km or 1.9 Miles
Downtown Knoxville Walk

Downtown Knoxville Walk

Home to a number of historic and cultural attractions, Downtown Knoxville is perpetually busy with tourists. The latter flock here, among other reasons, to explore the World’s Fair Park, Market Square, Gay Street, the Convention Center and other places of interest. Take this self-guided walk to acquaint yourself in detail with the best sites that Downtown Knoxville has to offer!

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.3 Km or 1.4 Miles