You’re a collegiate sports fan, he wants to see the hottest in fine arts and crafts, the kids have a history project due on Monday – and everyone wants a holiday.
Is there really a place in the USA that combines all of this – and is also a perfect weekend destination with quality hotels, excellent dining, and superb shopping that ranks high on the happiness meter for everyone?
Start with the Past
Knoxville, the third largest city in Tennessee, has a violent history. In 1792, William Blount, the territorial governor of the Southwest Territory intended to purchase the land from the Cherokee Indians through peaceful negotiations; however, the Cherokees did not see it his was, and violence erupted, ending with the death of the Cherokee Chief’s wife. It took two years to arrange a peace treaty and another two years for a constitutional convention to form the state of Tennessee. Unfortunately, the Indians were still not safe, for in 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act and forced all Native Americans to leave their homes and relocate west of the Mississippi River.
Today we can still get a feeling for what life was like for the settlers by visiting the James White’s Fort. White claimed he had a right to the land as compensation for fighting in the Revolutionary War.
Civil War battles were fought in the Knoxville area, but the Confederacy never had a toe-hold in East Tennessee as slavery was unpopular on moral grounds; however, the fact that the land was unsuitable for plantation agriculture may have been the overarching reason.
William Blount Mansion: High Profile + High Crimes
Blount signed the US Constitution, was friend of President George Washington, and built an elegant home to provide a “civilized” space in the wilderness for his wife and children. Although he had a far reaching impact on the nation as a member of the US Senate, in 1796 he was found guilty “of a high misdemeanor” because he planned to incite the Creek and Cherokee Indians to aid the British in conquering the Spanish territory of West Florida; he was expelled from the Senate in 1797.
More recently (1901), Kid Curry, a member of Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch was captured after shooting two deputies on Knoxville’s Central Avenue. On an even more practical note, Knoxville is the home of Mountain Dew (1948), and the city hosted the 1982 World’s Fair, attracting 11 million visitors.
Who’s Who in Knoxville
This town is the location for Dr. William M. Bass’s University of Tennessee Body Farm, and author of Death’s Acre. It is also the birthplace of actress Polly Bergen, country music artist Kenny Chesney; Mary Costa, the Disney voice for Sleeping Beauty; Lowell Cunning, creator of Men in Black; actress Patricia Neal; Chad Pennington, American football player (quarterback for NY Jets), and Dave Thomas the founder of Wendy’s.
Sports Obsession Satisfied
Very much a college town, the main campus of the University of Tennessee is in Knoxville and there is no better place to enjoy a college football weekend and to watch women’s basketball as the Lady Volunteers (Vols) are the strongest women’s team at the college level. An extraordinary afternoon spent at the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame is a must for the entire family. Currently the museum is running a fund raising event in cooperation with World Vision; they are asking visitors to donate basketballs that are being sent to children around the world who do not have access to sports equipment.
Yes, it’s Knoxville, but don’t think that just because it is not New York or LA, important museums are a rarity. The Knoxville Museum of Art is a small but important locale for important contemporary works as well as the Thorne Rooms which are among America’s most well-known miniature diorama groups. From an early American kitchen to a Spanish bedroom, the Rooms are a vivid record of period settings and listed on the National Miniatures Trust.
On the Streets
Downtown Knoxville is a center for Class A shopping and dining. A first stop must be the cooperative Art Market Gallery where the works of over 60 area painters, glass and fabric artists, printmakers, woodworkers, potters, jewelers, weavers, sculptors and photographers are tastefully displayed. It is almost impossible to walk around the display cases and not covet the pottery of Lisa Kurtz, and the jewelry of Kristine Taylor.
For a step-back in shopping history the Mast General Store brings us to 1883. Here we can still buy stone ground meal, wildflower honey, local bar-b-q sauces, traditional house wares, Amish rockers, and John Deere and Coke collectibles. For hikers there is a wide variety of sleeping bags and tents, plus custom fit walking, casual, hiking boots.
There are strong reasons to diet before visiting Knoxville: The restaurants are fabulous. Discover Calhoun’s: Think slowly smoked Tennessee hickory ribs that are lightly basted on the grill and served with special slaw, buttermilk biscuits, cornbread and garlic rolls.
Selected by Restaurants and Institutions Magazine as one of America’s leading dining spots, since 1919 Regas has presented prime ribs of beef, filet mignon, an endless selection of California and European wines, and unforgettable cheesecake to guests who prefer gourmet to gourmand.
Quick and healthy lunches are the specialty of Trio in Market Square where hand-tossed salads at budget prices make dieting a delightful decision, not an onerous necessity.
Nearby you’ll find The Tomato Head – another “go to” dining spot where pizzas, burritos, quesadillas, and sandwiches are so good that you’ll wish a branch would open in your neighborhood.
For take-home goodies that friends and family will cherish, do not leave Knoxville without a stop at MagPies on Central Street. From personalized cupcakes to original designs for wedding cakes – flavor options run from Mocha Mambo with splashes of chocolate and Kahula liqueur and mocha cream to Decadent with Gran Marnier liquors, apricot jam, and dark chocolate ganache.
There are many options for overnights in Knoxville with personal decisions based on budgets. Think about Marriott, Holiday Inn, Hilton (on-premise Starbucks), plus Hampton Inn and Suites. Book early for football and basketball weekends – families and friends fill up the rooms faster than you can throw a pass.
Explore an American Treasure
Getting to know Knoxville requires a little bit of preparation. It is chockfull of history, college sports, terrific museums, and a warm community that makes travel in the USA so very special.
Blount Mansion Association
Hampton Inn & Suites
James Whiles Fort
Knoxville Museum of Art
Mast General Store
The Art Market Gallery
The East Tennessee Historical Society
The Tomato Head
Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame