Dramatic Revival: A Perfect Weekend in Knoxville

Five Little Known Must-See Historical Spots in Knoxville

West Knoxville Lifestyle |  Article Jennie Treadway-Miller | Photography Chad Hernandez
July 2019

When Jack Neely graduated from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville with a degree in American history, he didn’t foresee becoming the city’s go-to person for local and regional history. He wanted to be a journalist, and his first bylines appeared in The Daily Beacon. Post-graduation, he became a history columnist at Citytimes, and he worked for the 1982 World’s Fair. By the mid-’80s, Jack was writing history features for the News-Sentinel, and by 1990 he’d proposed a downtown walking tour featuring Civil War, country music and literary history.

It was when he started the “Secret History” column at the Metro Pulse in 1992 that the spotlight started to shine on Jack as Knoxville’s personal history buff. His columns morphed into a book and Jack enjoyed a long run with the Metro Pulse until it folded in 2014. That’s when the Knoxville History Project, an educational nonprofit, started to take shape. Today, Jack serves as the executive director of KHP, where his research and writing continues.

“I’d always wondered why Knoxville never emphasized its own history, with a society or a museum or full-time city historian or something, considering we do have a pretty extraordinary history that should be a major asset,” he says. “We’re headquarters of the wonderful East Tennessee Historical Society, but that’s a 35-county organization, representing about 2.5 million people from Bristol to Chattanooga. And a lot of cities within that zone, like Bristol and Chattanooga, and even Farragut, have their own strong historical advocates. Why not Knoxville?”

How did you select these five must-see historical sites?

It was tough. There are lots of established tourist sites that are fascinating and not as well-known as they should be, but they do have organizations and websites. I picked things that dependably surprise lifelong Knoxvillians when I bring them up. Some are becoming better known, but I’m convinced that three-quarters of Knoxvillians have never visited these, and tourists rarely do.

Who is Adelia Lutz, and what are her roots to East Tennessee?

Adelia Lutz has been called Tennessee’s first professional female painter. Though I’m not sure she ever made a living purely from her work, she exhibited her work far and wide and got some attention away from home, especially at some of the expositions of the late 19th century. Except for study at the Corcoran and a year in Paris, Adelia lived her whole life in Knoxville. She grew up at Bleak House, across the street.