Why Knoxville as a Case Study?–Knoxville was selected for the following reasons: (1) its dominant Scots-Irish political culture would offer insight as to how that culture managed its economic development, in the Early Republic, Reconstruction, and Gilded Age; (2) in the absence of a strong planter class, it was an early example of New South approach to industrial development; (3) with Tennessean Andrew Johnson as President and its history as a Unionist area of the South, Tennessee was readmitted to the Union in 1866 (the first Confederate state)–with little more than a year of Reconstruction; and (4) as a border state/city, and one of the few southern cities left intact from wartime devastation, Knoxville was more favorably located to take advantage of hegemonic industrialization, and railroad-led MED in the post-Civil War period.

What emerged from the research was a story both subtle and complicated in the telling. The task was to explain why ED did not occur–and then late in the game, why it did–and then at the end of the 19th century why it was already showing serious signs of decline? Knoxville by the very early 20th century was already showing signs of deindustrialization. While Knoxville shared much with the larger South, it was also quite distinctive, with its own story to tell. It was an outlier, and with outliers there was much to be appreciated. Today Knoxville has been described as an “Appalachian” urban area–it was home base for the Tennessee Valley Authority, the University of Tennessee, and less than twenty-five miles from Oak Ridge, with its atomic heritage.

What proved most intriguing was why Knoxville did not grow until the eve of the Civil War. Its mountain location and anti-urban, anti-industrial Scots-Irish elite culture proved critical in answering that question. To industrialize, Knoxville, had to import industrial entrepreneurs and develop a bifurcated business elite. But even that was not enough to overcome the disadvantages of competing with the northern Big City industrial hegemony. By 1900, the explosive Gilded Age Knoxville industrialization was in serious decline, and by the Depression it left Knoxville’s hinterland in the most desperate economic condition as found anywhere in the South.

The common denominator behind these ED swings was its political system–not its form of government, but its leadership and business community. MED is a relatively closed policy process, and a Scots-Irish political culture, I suggest, did little to support innovation, change, and entrepreneurship–and much to waste away any that managed to happen. The starting point in successful economic development is the policy system that approves and sustains strategies and programs. The story, however, does get much better in the post-1975 Transition/ Contemporary Era, but that is another module.

Original Settlement, Statehood and Locational Context–Knoxville’s pioneer city-builders led by Scots-Irish James White filed a land claim with the North Carolina (James Blount) Transylvania [land development] Corporation in 1783. Three years later, he and fellow Scots-Irish James Connor settled at White’s Fort, erecting a palisade and a grist mill. As North Carolina, the federal government and others sorted out who owned what land, Tennessee settlers led by Blount founded the “Free State of Franklin” which included White’s settlement, with White himself was Speaker of its House of Representatives.

Washington, sensitive to land issues, appointed Blount Territorial Governor of a new “Southwest Territory”, and Blount went to White’s Fort to work out matters with Indians, Cherokee especially. In the process of these Indian negotiations (which resulted in 1791 Treaty of Holston), Blount , backed into a corner by the negotiations, had to locate the proposed state capital at White’s Fort.–and White platted what today is part of Knoxville’s downtown, as the original city. White’s son-in-law, Charles McClung (remember the name) surveyed the land.

On Oct 3, 1791, a lottery was held to sell these lots–and the name of Knoxville (after Secretary of War Henry Knox) was chosen as the city’s namesake. Other purchasers included Samuel Cowan, Hugh Dunlop, Thomas Humes, newspaper publisher George Roulstone (Knoxville Gazette). Samuel Carrick built the First Presbyterian Church from a lot he bought. Cowan built the general store. It wasn’t until 1816 that Thomas Humes built its first hotel, the Lamar House.

Indians still contested land claims and white settlement, but the drive to statehood did not abate. In 1796, after Andrew Jackson convened a constitutional convention in Knoxville, an application was made and Congress ratified it (1797). Tennessee was the sixteenth state, with Knoxville as its official capital (until 1812 when transferred to Nashville). In 1815 Knoxville officially incorporated as a city, with a legislative-dominated (alderman) form of government (amended in 1838 to allow an independently elected mayor). Thomas Emmerson in 1816 was elected by the aldermen as the city’s first mayor.

As for a functioning urban democracy, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Wheeler says as late as 1860, with all the controversies associated with the prospective Civil War, turnout was less than one-third in the mayoral race. Even in this small scale, he calls its political culture a “deferral culture”, but one in which laws were few and loosely applied. Most of the elite owned personal slaves, but exhibited a marked curmudgeon tendency with Memphis/Nashville state politics. The below description reminds me, at least, of the Scots-Irish culture described in Module 1.

Like the mountain areas of Virginia and North Carolina, East Tennessee fought running political battles with other regions of the state …. Such conflicts helped create the stereotype of East Tennesseans as a provincial and suspicious lot, wary of government (which many were convinced was corrupt and conducted solely for the benefit of somebody else), lawless, fiercely loyal to kin and clan, and wary of all outsiders, a stereotype that was less false than overdrawn. [1]

Their economic interests, however, after the opening of the railroad, tied them to the south through real estate holdings and commercial trade. The local elite, however opposed to succession, was firmly pro-slavery, and when the time came most citizens and Knoxville’s elite were loyal to the Confederacy, some left, and some kept their heads down. In the succession vote, Knoxville rejected secession and formation of a Confederacy. Tennessee succeeded from the Union based on Memphis and Nashville votes.This was a small rural town elite–with a bit of an attitude, nothing akin to our northern Big Cities.

Knoxville’s political culture and the native policy elite during its first sixty years was thoroughly Scots-Irish, non-Ascendancy, First Presbyterian Church traditional commercial business leaders. Mountains precluded the introduction of mass slave-production plantations; agriculture was hardscrabble, homespun, and reflected mountain climates, topography and soils that produced for local consumption. For better or ill, eastern mountain Tennessee never joined the “Empire of Cotton”, or rice, indigo, or tobacco, leaving its Scots-Irish hinterland to its own hardscrabble subsistence farming/hunting. The Knoxville economic base lived off of travelers, the state capital while it lasted, and whatever its educational institutions dragged in–an Early Republic version of the service economy.

Do after a reasonably good start, state capital or not, Knoxville didn’t go anywhere for the next half-century. In 1801, the Tennessee Encyclopedia  claims its population hovered around 700 and was “alternately a quiet and rowdy river town …[serving] primarily as a way station for travelers to the West[2]. As late as 1850, the first time Census reported it, Knoxville was home to little more than 2,000 residents. Memphis by that year had nearly 9,000, Nashville more than five times as Knoxville–Philadelphia over 120,000 by way of context.

Knoxville, I suggest, was simply “off the beaten trail”–way up in the Appalachians, with too little “here” to make anyone go “there”. The major institutional developments afterwards was founding Blount College, which later (20th century) evolved into the University of Tennessee, the Knoxville Female Academy, and in 1848 the Knoxville School for the Deaf. In 1854, with a base of about 15-20 stores, and donated land, a Market Square, a downtown farmer’s market created some semblance of a CBD.

The Great Wagon Road, originating in Philadelphia was Knoxville’s principal source of imported goods (other than miserable trails, called roads, from North Carolina). The trip took in bad weather several months, and was uphill and hard for wagons. The Tennessee River falls (today’s Muscle Shoals) rendered New Orleans inaccessible by the Mississippi (through Chattanooga) as it was time-consuming and required portage. It was not until 1828 that the first steamboat reached Knoxville semi-annually, so risky flatboats were the only way to New Orleans.

In large part this lack of infrastructure resulted from Knoxville’s unsuccessful attempt (1812-1830’s) to compete with Memphis and Nashville for scarce state funding. It missed canal-building, and its road access remained inadequate, making Knoxville and east Tennessee  geographically isolated into the 1850’s. So as early as the 1820’s Knoxville’s founding families/business community attempted to attract a railroad to open the city up.

A Cincinnati to Charleston line was contemplated–and in 1836 (notice the date) the city/state chartered the Cincinnati and Charleston RR (LC&C). Approval of a state appropriation for the construction triggered a 56 gun salute in downtown Knoxville. There were public subscriptions, and they city reprogrammed $50,000 from a proposed waterworks to railroad incentive. Still, the financing package was “thin” given the (pardon the pun) uphill construction costs (steep-graded lines required more tunneling/bridging) and construction difficulty, and, as always with development infrastructure, the market prospects were unknown. This was never a sure deal.

But as the observant are aware, the timing, like that in Illinois, was horrible. The Panic of 1837, hit, ending construction, and a reconstituted Hiwassee RR ran afoul of state budget-makers until 1847 when it was rechartered as the East Tennessee and Georgia RR. Construction began the following year and in June 1855, the first train made it to Knoxville. Knoxville by that time had attracted two important elite catalysts into its business community: Perez Dickinson (an Amherst MA born teacher, later principal, at the local Hampden Sidney Academy, and in 1848 Scots-Irish Tennessean who was beaten by incumbent Andrew Johnson in the last congressional election, Oliver Perry Temple.

The latter was a huge railroad advocate and invested heavily from his law firm profits in the new Georgia RR–becoming a director on its board. Dickinson, joined with founder families Cowan and McClung to create a “conglomerate” wholesale firm Cowan, Dickinson and McClung. The wholesale firm reaped the benefits of a new railroad–infusing Knoxville’s small, closed Scots-Irish non-Ascendency business elite with discretionary capital, business opportunity, and confidence.

The railroad was the key to Knoxville’s growth. The city could serve as a commercial hub for the Appalachian region, bringing in goods manufactured from the Northeast and Midwest, and distributing them to the towns and rural general stores of East Tennessee, Southern and Eastern Kentucky, Southwest Virginia,Western North Carolina and northern Georgia. Literally hundreds of (Knoxville-based) traveling salesmen (“drummers”) representing Knoxville’s wholesalers (besides the Cowan conglomerate there were 13 others) scoured the landscape taking orders for their respective company’s commercial goods [3]

Wildly successful by 1867–because of the Civil War and the railroad–Cowan, Dickinson and McClung was the state’s largest taxpayer. By 1860 Knoxville grew from 2,000 to over 5,000 (with slaves comprising 22% of the population), six hotels from 2, first major manufacturers (Knoxville Manufacturing Company that made steam engines, and the Shepard, Leeds and Hoyt Co which built railroad cars. Downtown also sported 26 liquor stores [4]. Knoxville, after languishing for more than a half-century, was on the verge of economic breakout .

Civil War and Tennessee Reconstruction

Tennessee, the last state to join the Confederacy (1861), was the first state readmitted to the Union in 1866 —Andrew Johnson, after all, was President of the United States. Tennessee’s readmitted to the Union in 1866 was remarkably short, but in part that happened because state politics had been taken over by Radical Republicans before the war was even over. The policy system started changing as early as 1862 when Union military governance started. The prerequisites for re admittance were met by the very early arrival of the state’s Radical Republican Reconstruction policy system in early 1965. In toto, Tennessee and its Reconstruction policy system enjoyed three years (1865-8) of Radical Republican rule.

Union forces seized Nashville in 1862. Lincoln quickly appointed Senator Andrew Johnson as military governor. Johnson imposed a series of military dictates that effectively commenced the “reconstruction” of Tennessee’s policy system. For starters Johnson’s loyalty oath (which was required to vote) was stricter than Lincoln’s (included abolishing slavery). The state formally did that in 1865, when Johnson’s successor, elected governor oversaw the passage of a new constitution, initially set in motion by Johnson.

When Johnson resigned to run for Vice-President he was replaced by William Brownlow, an eastern Tennessean. Brownlow became governor under the new constitution, and enforced strict white disenfranchisement for unrepentant Confederates, abolished slavery formally, and universal black suffrage. The new policy system included the traditional cast of characters-coalition, typical of southern reconstruction, and put in place a number of its ED-relevant legislation, including the Reconstruction strategy to industrialize.

Tennessee, more precisely Nashville and to a lesser extent Chattanooga, atypically for a southern state, had embraced industrialism from its early statehood. By the Civil War Nashville had a robust iron mill sector and some agricultural machine-building,, and a major logging/saw mill agglomeration, along with food processing and grain mills. What it lacked was railroad access, and that was a Tennessee reconstruction priority, as was breaking up the planter-plantation system. Tennessee approved the creation of a Bureau of Immigration in 1867.

In response to riots in Memphis, Chattanooga, and Nashville (as much about huge property tax increases to pay for public services and education–and to drive destroyed plantations into tax-default), Brownlow re-imposed military rule (1867). That, and the general atmosphere, prompted the initial rise of the Klu Klux Klan in western Tennessee. With Brownlow reelected with a 75% vote in 1867-8, Klan violence escalated. Brownlow responded in August, 1868 by arming militia and sending them to fight the Klan. Brownlow, in 1869, moved on to the U.S. Senate, replaced by DeWitt Senter, a white former Whig.

Senter ideologically close to Brownlow, in a contested 1868 Republican primary relaxed voter registration to encourage former Confederates and planter class to register and vote. They did. He won, and they elected a goodly number of “conservative” state legislators, who in the next legislative session approved a “post-carpetbagger” state constitution. Tennessee radical republican policy system ended, as did most southern radical republican policy systems, with a split in the Republican Party [6] .

The net summary of Tennessee Reconstruction was that it started before the war was over, officially ended within a year, and replaced the radical republican “carpetbagger” policy system by 1869, and in the process triggered the founding of the KKK.

the New South Knoxville

In the midst of this, Unionist-leaning Knoxville accommodated itself remarkably well to Reconstruction.

The Civil War is its own story, of course, but for the purposes of this Online History, the pertinent takeaways are summarized in this section. First Knoxville, the scene of one moderate-sized battle on its outskirts, was left relatively untouched–and unburnt. The Union took it over in 1863, and never let it go. The City and area citizens, however, were violently polarized; its elites were also, except then when pushed they proved to be capitalists first.

Yet as described by Wheeler “Knoxville, once having sworn allegiance to the Confederacy in 1863 embraced the Union occupation of the town, very likely because under Rebel administration, business had nearly ground to a stop, and food and clothing shortages had been severely felt. … Indeed some may have recognized that two years of Union occupation had been good for Nashville in terms of money flowing into the city as well as the fact that the city was spared the devastation suffered by other cities in the South” [5].

Home to about 5,000 in 1860 at its start, Knoxville had little manufacturing/industrialization, a few flour mills, furniture-makers, useful to the needs of its service economy. The Johnson–Tennessee Radical Republican policy system brought carpetbaggers and former Unionists into Knoxville’s economy and politics very early on.

The Reconstruction northern  “carpetbaggers” that moved into Knoxville were integrated into the larger business community and the manufacturing firms, established with outside capital, proved to be a valuable addition to the city’s economic base. The key, arguably, was the purchase of East Tennessee & Georgia railroad by Knoxville native elite. (Charles McClung McGhee). The line over the following decades dramatically expanded to encompass five states with 2,500 miles of track. The McClung conglomerate by 1896 shared wholesaling with some fifty other Knoxville wholesalers–becoming the city’s core agglomeration (third largest wholesaling southern city).

Charles McClung McGhee, great-grandson of James White, his mother the daughter of founder/surveyor Charles McClung, his father a large/wealthy Nashville-centered plantation owner–all of Scots-Irish descent–proved to be a prime mover in Knoxville’s Gilded Age industrial breakout. Raised on the plantation, McGhee, educated in Knoxville’s then East Tennessee University.

Around 1860 he permanently moved to Knoxville, established a pork packing plant in the adjacent downtown area, and made his own wealth supplying the Confederate army during the Civil War. Known as “Colonel” McGhee, he took Johnson’s loyalty oath in 1864, supplied the Union Army and mended his fences with Knoxville’s Unionists. He and others founded the People’s Bank in 1865, becoming its president. At that point he engineered (1869) the final railroad buyout, merged it with the financing of northern capital with other railroads over the next twenty years.

In partnership with Connecticut-born Edward Sanford (whose son was a Harding-appointed Supreme Court Justice), he financed the Knoxville Steel Rail Company in 1875, and provided key loans to expand the Roane Iron Company. He was a co-founder of the Knoxville Woolen Mills (600 workers) and with Sanford formed the Lenoir City Company, and founded the city of Lenoir. During the 1880’s he acquired much of the coal mines and set up the Coal Creek Mining & Manufacturing Company–breaking a serious mining strike in the process. These quarries, and three finishing mills, produced Tennessee marble, forming yet another agglomeration–one which today is proudly proclaimed (a derrick) on the city’s flag.

McGhee was arguably the nucleus and connecting link between non-native and native Knoxville business communities–interestingly, two distinct communities that, according to Wheeler, did not interact socially.

The best example of Reconstruction “carpetbagger” (and immigrant) entrepreneurship was the Knoxville Iron Company, founded in 1867 by Hiram Chamberlain, Ohio-born was General Burnside’s chief quartermaster in the Union occupation of Knoxville. Upon mustering out at war’s end Chamberlain (in partnership with Welsh-born Richards brothers) remained, founded the company with external capital, and grew it over the next thirty years to 850 workers, mostly Welsh immigrants and African-Americans. They lived in an adjoining block, shared with workers from Knoxville’s new textile industry (Knoxville Woolen Mills) in the mid-1880’s. Today they are Knoxville’s Mechanicsville and Brookside Village neighborhoods.

While this speaks volumes itself, it is not unlikely African-Americans were used to ensure no unionization threat would develop. Still, a firm of this size, in a critical sector, did pursue an enlightened employment policy in regards to former slaves. It also alerts us that as a number of northern investors and entrepreneurs moved into the city after the War, and they injected a sizeable entrepreneurial element into the small Scots-Irish native business community. In addition several immigrant entrepreneurs, typified by German Peter Kern who established a large bread company in downtown Market Square further diversified the region’s business elite–building the city’s Opera House in 1872, and founding what became a city institution, the Market Square (downtown) ice cream saloon and confections factory that hosted numerous downtown festivals.

Knoxville’s External-MED

Knoxville’s rendition of Gilded Age boosterism and southern attraction imperialism began in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War. It came in the form of our previously introduced 1848 newcomer: Scots-Irish maverick Oliver Perry Temple. Temple, to complete his picture was a strong Unionist, friend of Sam Houston a former Tennessee governor, former Henry Clay Whig politician, lawyer for the captured Union raiders (led by Fess Parker in the Walt Disney movie) who kidnapped the locomotive, the General, and took it for a long, but fruitless, ride.

A friend of Radical Republican Governor Brownlow,Temple, seized the opportunity as Knoxville was so obviously “taking off”to commit Knoxville to an aggressive MED path.  Not, according to Wheeler, on close terms with the native business community, he joined with the post-Civil War immigrant and carpetbagger entrepreneurs to found in 1868 the Knoxville Industrial Association, one of the earliest public-private attraction EDOs, typical of southern states, to encourage Knoxville’s industrialization-manufacturing, and promote her fine location and climate to the outside world. The stress on manufacturing, mining, and infrastructure that underlie the plan certainly reflected East Tennessee’s lack of each at the time of its writing. After the war, and for some time after that, East Tennessee was the state’s poorest region, its hinterland counties economically desperate.

Much more than a third-wave businessman’s boosterism, Temple and the KIA published a formal plan, several monographs-books, and a series of rationales why anybody would be wise to come to Knoxville. It is not clear there was any actual external promotion campaign that followed, but locally the agency and the attraction strategy was well-received. Temple and the KIA Board called for three pronged post-Civil War Knoxville growth, through industrialization, agricultural improvements, and mining. They wrote a plan, developed collateral data and rationale for relocation in the best boosterist tradition, and Temple presented it all in a formal address which was made into a “book”-monograph. What may be most interesting is that while all this fit into the “New South” model, this very early New South strategy centered around population, not business, attraction.

Remembering that Tennessee had created a Bureau of Immigration in 1867–which Temple had opposed–the state withdrew funding in 1869, at a time when Temple appears to have been converted to its mission. In any case, the bottom line of his address focused on a serious augmentation of Knoxville’s workforce.  The Knoxville path to industrialization was to increase the workforce, and he clearly meant that the collateral material and location rationale apply to external populations, particularly the foreign immigrant. In each booster description, it always ends on the workforce–for example:

whether  the immigrant comes from Maine or Pennsylvania, from France or Norway, from the first he inhales a pure mountain air, and is exempt from disease as our native mountaineer. He can come with perfect safety any month in the year. Also, in these materials, KIA/Temple elicit northerner, i.e. “carpetbagger” entrepreneurs to come on down–just bring their money and talents. “The people of East Tennessee are at peace. The outrages of which strangers may read are in Middle and West Tennessee. There are no Ku Klux (sic) outrages here. During the late Civil War, a very large majority of people sympathized with the [Union] … {and] those that took the opposite side are today law-abiding … [and] sincerely desire to see immigrants from the North settle with us[7].

As to industry, Knoxville forecast opportunities for business, wholesale, and manufacturing–to the South whose economic preoccupation with cotton export created an economy dependent on importing goods and services for which Knoxville was conveniently accessible. “the Cotton States may manufacture cotton but beyond they cannot go … we can, and will manufacture for them in all multiform products of iron, wool, and wood … And sooner or later New England will be forced to transfer machinery for all the heavier manufactured articles to the Alleghany district on the borders of the cotton fields” [8]. Targeted sectors, and the rationale for their targeting, suggests a degree of sophistication and thought went into the plan–even if the future projection of New England’s textile decentralization did not prove valid. As to mining/iron ore and marble as a targeted agglomeration, Temple and his plan was prescient–largely because Knoxville was able to become a rail hub over the next to decades.

The attraction strategy again made its appearance as the city in the decade after its major turn of the century industrial glory, held three national expositions (1910, 1911, 1913), the “Appalachian Expositions“. By that time, the “New South movement” was in full flower, and the Exposition message was to advance the transition away from agriculture to an industrial economy. There was also a strong “environmental” social agenda that called for responsible usage of the area’s considerable natural resources.

Demographics, Inward-MED, Expansion-Annexation, and Decline

Knoxville’s population had increased by around 3600, to 8662 in 1870. Growth, not spectacular given these low raw numbers, increased to about 9,700 by 1880, but then it “took off”. Growing to 23,000 in 1890 and 32,600+ at the turn of the century. By the 1880’s Wheeler reports Knoxville was expanding greatly, with its periphery area ringed by a series of villages and neighborhoods, which over the course of the Gilded Age were duly annexed into the city.

The city’s first major annexation occurred in 1868 (an incorporated suburb East Knoxville). It was McGhee, along with Sanford and Chamberlain that subdivided/ build worker housing in the Mechanicsville/ Brookside neighborhoods annexed in 1883. In 1870’s and 1880’s Knoxville installed a streetcar system–electrified by Williams Gibbs McAdoo (the future 1890 California senator which BTW drove McAdoo into bankruptcy)–leading to the inevitable streetcar suburbs typical of northern Big Cities. In 1897 another annexation, two large incorporated suburbs that included the University of Tennessee, was approved. Major annexations continued into the 1920’s. These annexations captured the city’s real population 1870-1920 increase. The city more than doubled its population between 1920 and 1930–to 105,800+.

From an outsider’s perspective, Knoxville, although small by northern hegemonic Big Cities standards, was beginning to feel and look like a small-scale northern city in the midst of a Gilded Age breakout. It certainly was not fitting the picture we have drawn thus far of the South in these years. Moreover, one might wonder if the New South Movement  had taken over Knoxville as it had in Atlanta. The answer is basically Yes. Atlanta has captured most of the historian’s attention for being home base to the New South, but “unburnt” Knoxville needed no urban renewal and it got a very early start. Its New South movement, led by non-native entrepreneurs, and native “transition” leadership really “piled it on” right after the guns were spiked in 1865. By the turn of the century, Knoxville was entering into its “golden years”, that would continue well into the 1920’s.

And then its proverbial bottom would fall out. In that this module’s time period of observation is supposed to end around 1890-1900, I exercise authorial prerogative to add the last section below, whose purpose is to briefly outline the fall from grace, and to present Bruce Wheeler’s explanation for why happened. His rationale for Knoxville’s industrial decline is a very fit conclusion to our fascination with Knoxville’s Scots-Irish business community and its compatibility with urbanization, industrialization, and with the sustainability of an Scots-Irish policy system’s industrial ED growth strategy in this period.

Wheeler’s Appalachian City and the Impact of Political Culture on ED

In his second edition, Dr. Bruce Wheeler cogently outlines his reasons for Knoxville’s post-1920’s fall from economic grace. Briefly, Wheeler believes that as time wore on after the turn of the century, Knoxville’s business elites, always composed of diverse groupings, lost their post-Civil War entrepreneurial cutting edge, and succumbed to a local native business culture that was closed, conservative, cautious, and too self-serving and personalistic.

The Great Depression hit the region the economic base, overwhelmed like all other municipal economic bases, imploded and the policy system reflected the “darker angels” of its popular [Scots-Irish] political culture. For the better part of a half-century, before Knoxville’s business elite reconstituted itself to regain and refresh its composition, Knoxville suffered a nadir before it joined with the rest of the Sunbelt to asset economic vitality. Wheeler does not label the political culture as “Scots-Irish”. I do.

As I see it, his description of that culture is congruent with my depiction of the Scots-Irish culture described in the first module of Theme 3. His narrative describing the 19th century attributes Knoxville’s post-Civil War to 1920 golden years of economic growth and relatively successful industrialization–its near mirroring of northern Big City physical expansion and its post-1900 political and physical modernization (not covered in this module)–as the product on an entrepreneurial elite culture driven by “transitional native leadership such as Temple and McGhee, and northern and immigrant entrepreneurs with access to northern capital. It also should be noticed that the early entrance of these “New South” businessmen and their half-century or more persistence, is not typical of the paradigmatic “New South” model described by Dr. Don Doyle in New Men, New Cities, New South (1990).

Native elites, however, remained powerful and also enjoyed the benefits of prosperity and economic growth. Without mentioning it, these native elites were principally Scots-Irish (as were the transitional elites)–not so the carpetbagger and immigrant entrepreneurs. That such carpetbaggers played such an important, and long-lasting, role in Knoxville is not congruent with the conventional Reconstruction narrative, suggesting Knoxville’s post-Civil War ED path is not congruent with most southern experience and that the principal reason for this was its dominant “mountain” or Appalachian political culture.

That culture, saturated its business elite culture until challenged by outsiders whose economic success not only overwhelmed the locals, but offered them an economic return for their tolerance of these outside elites. The problem as Wheeler sees it, is that economic growth required a workforce to be attracted to small town 1865 Knoxville (10,000), and that workforce was largely drawn from the desperately poor adjacent mountain counties, overwhelmingly [Scots-Irish] natives, and former slaves. Immigrants were a distinct minority. Interestingly, one wonders if Temple and the KIA industrial plan consciously or unconsciously, recognized the limitations of the nearby workforce, and instead called from imports from the North and abroad. The sizeable workforce available in adjacent hinterlands is not even mentioned in that plan.

Poorly socialized to adjust to the new urban realities of an economically growing Knoxville, the new former hinterland residents/workforce of Knoxville exhibited dysfunctional politics, anomic and instinctively oppositional politics, and1890’s Jim Crow disenfranchisement of its black population prevented Knoxville from enjoying the fruits of its success. Grimey, often violent, racist policy systems–and fatalism that depreciated the possibility of local forces beating back external pressures–increasingly took over in the 20th century. Initially, the affluent and cutting edge business elements withdrew from politics, and eventually left the city entirely for affluent suburbs. Their successors, perhaps socialized into the “mountain” culture, gradually merged with native elites. In any case entrepreneurialism and innovation, and congruence with urban lifestyles dissipated, preventing any serious effort to contest decline in its many forms.

Thus while accents and diets and musical tastes may make Knoxville seem to be a southern city, in fact its is not; it is a city of the southern mountains that, like all cities, has been shaped in part by its surrounding hinterland as well as by the ideology and culture of those men and women who have migrated to it. In some ways Knoxville has absorbed the Appalachian South’s view of the past as the story of immutable, powerful historical forces which human will and effort are impotent [9]

The second half of Wheeler’s book details how this “cultural inertia” was broken after the 1950’s, and how Knoxville was able once again to grow its economy and participate in the rise of the Sunbelt. Nonetheless, the old culture remains and even today Knoxville ED carries on a “fierce and almost continuous battle between the forces of change and those of resistance” (p.x)


[1] William B. Wheeler, Knoxville Tennessee: a Mountain City in the New South (2nd Ed.)(University of Tennessee Press, 2005), pp. 3-4.

[2] https://tennesseeencyclopedia.net/entries/knoxville/

[3] Wheeler, Knoxville Tennessee, op.cit., p17.

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Knoxville,_Tennessee

[5] Wheeler, Knoxville Tennessee, op.cit., p 5.

[6] Philip Leighm Southern Reconstruction (Westholme Publishing, 2017), pp. 170-4)

[7] Alison Vick, “We Are A Distinct and Peculiar People”: Oliver Perry Temple and the Knoxville Industrial Association Address of 1868, the Journal of East Tennessee History, Vol. 84 (2012), p. 93.

[8] Alison Vick, “We Are A Distinct and Peculiar People”: Oliver Perry Temple and the Knoxville Industrial Association Address of 1868, the Journal of East Tennessee History, Vol. 84 (2012), p. 96.

[9] William B. Wheeler, Knoxville Tennessee: a Mountain City in the New South (2nd Ed.)(University of Tennessee Press, 2005), pp. ix-x.