The History of Knoxville, Tennessee, began with the establishment of James White’s Fort on the Trans-Appalachian frontier in 1786. Knoxville became the first capital of the State of Tennessee in 1796, and grew steadily during the early 19th century as a way station for westward-bound migrants and as a commercial center for nearby mountain communities. The arrival of the railroad in the 1850s led to a boom in the city’s population and commercial activity.
While a Southern city, Knoxville was home to a strong pro-Union element during the secession crisis of the early 1860s, and remained bitterly divided throughout the Civil War. The city was occupied by Confederate forces until September 1863, when Union forces entered the city unopposed. Confederate forces laid siege to the city later that year, but retreated after failing to breach the city’s fortifications during the Battle of Fort Sanders.
Following the war, business leaders, many from the North, established major iron and textile industries in Knoxville. As a nexus between rural towns in Southern Appalachia and the nation’s great manufacturing centers, Knoxville grew to become the third-largest wholesaling center in the South. Tennessee marble, extracted from quarries on the city’s periphery, was used in the construction of numerous monumental buildings across the country, earning Knoxville the nickname, “The Marble City.”
Knoxville’s economy slowed in the early 1900s. Political factioning hampered revitalization efforts throughout much of the 20th century, though the creation of federal entities such as the Tennessee Valley Authority in the 1930s and the ten-fold expansion of the University of Tennessee helped keep the economy stable. Beginning in the late 1960s, a city council more open to change, along with economic diversification, urban renewal, and the hosting of the 1982 World’s Fair, helped the city revitalize to some extent.
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