Photo: Tim Mowrer | flickr

Where is – or isn’t – Knoxville? Part 3

Ben Taylor Local Living, Popular 10 Comments

Map via Ben Taylor

Two posts ago I posed a question: if we were to start at a central point downtown, and taking all possible roads out of Knoxville, where could we confidently claim we were no longer in Knoxville? Certainly by the time we reached Nashville, Chattanooga, the Tri-Cities or Asheville, NC, we would be beyond doubt in making that claim. Yet we would be equally certain that we’d crossed that invisible line long before we reached these places.

In the last post I pulled that line much closer to our official city limits by offering my own tentative list of nearby places I consider to be distinct from Knoxville.

In this post I’ve visualized this line by drawing it out on a map. However, before turning to the map, consider carefully the following information:

A Clarification of the Not Knoxville List:

If you look at the last post you’ll notice Midway about, well, midway down the list. By Midway, I meant the Midway Road Exit on I-40 east just before crossing over into Sevier County. I did not mean Midway, TN in Washington County, near Kingsport. Concerning Knoxville’s reach, that would be quite a stretch.

Additions, and Subtractions to the Not Knoxville List:

Since my last post, I’ve added Plainview, Luttrell, and Eagleton Village to the Not Knoxville list, and I’ve marked them accordingly on the map.

I’ve since taken the Midway Road Exit off the Not Knoxville list. Interestingly, Google Maps and KGIS both locate the Midway Road exit within Knoxville’s city limits.

Nota Bene: If you take a look at the list, you’ll notice the conspicuous absence of Farragut and Louisville, TN. That was deliberate. You’ll notice that I’ve very visibly associated them with Knoxville on my map.


What about the Midway Road exit? Within my own subjective bubble-world of a car driving out of town, the Midway Exit has always felt like it was not Knoxville. Yet Google and KGIS still call it Knoxville. After all, it’s still within city limits.

And what about Farragut and Louisville? They’re not within city limits, and they feel more like Knoxville to me than the Midway Road exit. To complicate matters. The Midway exit is still within Knox County, Louisville is in Blount County, and that’s an entirely school system!

Is there something in, and about, these places you happen to understand that could help me settle these questions I have? It may be that my bubble-world is in need of serious re-alignment. Any information you could offer along these lines would be a big help to me.

Comments 10

    1. You may be right, Will. I’m not always sure that I know what I’m doing or even if it will lead anywhere. I’m glad you spoke up here. Could you explain a little more why you think this is pointless?

  1. I think what he’s saying is that community identity can, and often does, defy political boundaries for the actual city or county. A community is what it is, and while houses and apartments are built according to zoning rules, existing roads, etc the farther out from a political community center (i.e. downtown Knoxville) the more vague that community becomes – regardless of where the city limit lines are drawn.

    However, that said, I think city limits do add a measure of “officialness” to where you live – Fountain City vs Halls, for instance. While I might tell someone here in town I grew up in Ftn City (because that area has a recognizable culture of its own, or at least it used to) I tell other people outside of the area I grew up in Knoxville. Because Ftn City’s in the city limits. But Halls is not in the city limits so someone from there is more likely to solely say they’re from Halls.

    That’s different in Farragut – outside Knoxville city limits, its own incorporate city – still many consider to be “Knoxvillians”.

    I think it also comes down to the age of the community. Ftn City’s been around as a named community for >100 years (for a while it was the largest unincorporated city in the US!). Farragut and the Farragut/West Knoxville community? I don’t think they’ve been around that long – 100 years ago that majority of that part of town was farmland 🙂

    So it’s an interesting exercise to explore in all directions how far out you go to where the people start identifying themselves more with their immediate community than the larger one next door.

    I wonder, if someone from Brooklyn suddenly picked up and moved to Knoxville, would they identify themselves as being from Brooklyn first and NYC second? Probably (my own supposition). But someone who lived in Manhattan would probably call themselves a New Yorker first and Manhattanite (sp?) second (again, by own supposition). Just depends on community identity, history, proximity, politics, etc.

    1. Many thanks, Barry! You’re actually helping me to articulate even better what it is I’m trying to understand through this line of inquiry:
      1. Administrative districts and human communities are distinct, though intimately related. Knoxville cannot be strictly identified with and located within its municipal limits. And yet, through these limits a definite form emerges.
      2. There is dynamic ambiguity at their external boundaries. Communities grow and shrink and change over time. Where Knoxville is now, is not where it was x years ago, nor where it will be y years in the future.
      3. Identity is complex, layered, and context-dependent. At various times in my life, I’ve been from the following places: Farragut, West Knoxville, North Knoxville, Knoxville, East Tennessee, Tennessee, the South, the United States, America, ‘the Americas,’ and ‘the West.’ I’ve never not been from any of these places, but depending on my circumstances and those whom I was relating, I was more from some than from others on the list.
      Great points, and much food for thought.

      1. One thing I still find myself hesident to do, when I’m outside of the state of Tennessee, is simply say I’m from Knoxville. 9 times out of 10, I’ll add the “Tennessee” in there, just for clarification. I had hoped by now as a result of the 1982 World’s Fair, UT’s popularity, and other reasons that Knoxville would be as recognizable as other no-state-name-needed-cities like, say, Albuquerque, or Spokane. Jacksonville, Hartford, Lansing – these are cities that you know what they are without clarifying what state they’re in. Knoxville you can’t always hope to do that.

        Everybody knows where Memphis and Nashville are, but Knoxville hasn’t quite reached that national identity yet. Maybe someday.

      2. That’s great, Barry. That’s an aspect to the ‘Soul of Knoxville’ I’m planning on broaching at some point. For me, it’s the relationships between people, places, things, etc., which make them what they are. So I find quite enticing and fruitful the prospect of Knoxville in its non-immediate relations with other places in Tennessee and beyond. Once again, thanks for your comments.

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  3. I wouldn’t include Louisville. To me, Louisville goes with Alcoa/Maryville, and not Knoxville. If Pellisippi did not exist, would Louisville still be in your “Knoxville” list?

    1. That’s a very good observation, Meg. Were Pellisippi not there, I wouldn’t include Louisville. Fifty years ago the community of Concord was much further from Knoxville than it is today. I now consider Concord to be part of Knoxville. Communities expand and shrink, they break apart and merge with others. But you may also be right. Louisville could still very easily be with Maryville/Alcoa (another very interesting place[s?]). But how? Why? I know next to nothing about Louisville, Maryville, or Alcoa. What I’m asking is whether or not my “feeling” has any grounds of validity. What is it in or about these places in their relations to one another that makes them either Knoxville, or another place entirely? Thanks for responding.

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