This Tennessee town is more than just football!
One thing that’s hard to miss on the University of Tennessee’s campus is the football stadium. With a seating capacity of 102,455, it’s the fifth largest college football arena in the country, and its presence dominates the Knoxville campus and the town on game days.
Whether the home team is playing or not, Knoxville has more to offer than football. The town’s history is closely tied to the university that was founded in 1794, two years before Tennessee was admitted to the Union, and is now the repository for presidential collections from the state’s three presidents: Andrew Jackson, James Polk and Andrew Johnson.
Historically, the school has drawn people to the area to work in the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and its research units devoted to nuclear science, engineering and more, or to its famous forensic anthropology center, irreverently referred to as “The Body Farm.”
The area’s natural beauty on the edge of the Tennessee River has long been a magnet for artists whose work is highlighted in Higher Ground, the first permanent exhibit of East Tennessee creators at the free Knoxville Museum of Art. Among the collection are selections by James Cameron, one of the area’s first professional painters; portrait artist Lloyd Branson; and Branson’s protegee, Adelia Lutz. A short drive from the museum is Westwood, Lutz’s 1890 home, now a living museum where visitors are invited to sit on the sofas and check out the bathrooms. The main attraction of the Queen Annestyle, brick house is Lutz’s studio, a two-story space of wood beams and natural light the artist personally designed as her work area and where her paints, partially finished works and favorite portraits still hang.
Ninety-eight years before the Lutz mansion was built, the first territorial governor and a signer of the U.S. Constitution, William Blount, erected a wood-frame house on a river bluff in the downtown district. A few blocks away is the East Tennessee Historical Society and Museum, packed with artifacts, exhibits and videos about Tennessee’s early days and the presidents it produced. All of the attractions, including the university, are linked by a free, hop-on, hop-off trolley system.
Outdoor enthusiasts will find hiking and biking trails, a lake for swimming and paddling and nature programs at the free Ijams Nature Center on the east side of town. A 10-minute drive away is Volunteer Landing, where powerboat races are staged each June and the Star of Knoxville Riverboat and luxury yacht Volunteer Princess launch lunch, dinner, entertainment and holiday-themed cruises.
One of the city’s newest holiday traditions is high tea at The Tennessean Hotel. This luxury destination has begun hosting themed teas served with several varieties of brews and a decadent array of sandwiches, scones and sweets presented on a china collection designed just for the hotel. Guests can also enjoy meals in the new dining room, make use of the free car service to check out nearby sites or stroll across the street to World’s Fair Park with its splash fountains, amphitheater, concert lawn and iconic Sunsphere observation tower, a remnant of the 1982 World’s Fair. Knoxville also has a vibrant culinary scene with a number of independent eateries tucked into the Old City district also known as the “creative corridor” for its art galleries, coffee houses and breweries. Downtown’s newest gem is the side-by-side Brother Wolf and Osteria Stella, carved out of old storefronts and transformed into unique but connected dining destinations for authentic Italian cuisine. The creamy, melt-in-your-mouth gnocchi alone is filling up seats in the romantically lit Osteria and the casual, pubstyle Brother Wolf.
Whether it’s a holiday tea excursion, an art adventure or a trek into a neighboring state’s history, Knoxville makes an appealing getaway just three hours from Buckhead. Just be sure to check the calendar: If football’s in season, reservations for eating and sleeping just about anywhere are a must!
The Tennessean Hotel
Atlanta-based writer and editor contributing to a number of local and state-wide publications. Instructor in Georgia State’s Communication department and Emory’s Continuing Education division.