I’ve noted before the great benefits of membership in Knox Heritage is the opportunity offered by patron only events which often include tours of buildings slated to be renovated or currently undergoing a major renovation. Many posts on this blog were made possible by my membership in Knox Heritage and I strongly encourage people who love the city or the wider history of our area to support this great organization. Here are some examples of previous tours: Armature Building, White Lily Building and the Ely Building.
Anyone who ventures near the railroad tracks in downtown Knoxville has noticed the unusual terminal buildings just north of the tracks on Depot Street. They look from a distance as if they might be stucco (they aren’t) and they remind me, because of the odd-shaped roof-line of pueblos, which is probably one reason for the stucco thought. I also thought they were probably a modern addition to that part of town, but I was surprised to learn they are over 100 years old.
The Southern Terminal is the name of the complex of buildings that includes a passenger terminal and the building we toured, the freight terminal. Built just after the turn of the century, the buildings began use in 1904. Frank Pierce Milburn designed these buildings, as he did many others throughout the south, and his influence was a Classical Revival style. The odd-shaped roof line is called a “corbel-stepped gabled roof,” and there’s nothing else quite like it in the city.
The freight terminal is undergoing extensive renovation and remodeling to prepare it for its new use as an event space. In that respect, the interior reminds me of the Foundry and I think it can have as much character when it is finished. A kitchen is planned for the western side and the rest of the room is open and ready for a wide range of potential uses.
Just outside is a reminder that this was once a bustling rail station. At its peak nearly thirty long-range or regional passenger trains loaded or unloaded here. The last such train came through in 1970. Another piece of history associated with the train station is the fact that Charlie Oakes, a Knoxville musician played here for change in the early 1900’s and it was he who wrote a song commemorating the train crash at Market Market which killed 56 people. His later recordings are considered some of the first country music records ever made.
A display of passenger train cars has found a long-term home on the tracks beside the terminal. Tours are offered to groups and there is a dream afoot of making it a formal museum and including part of the main terminal building as part of a larger transportation museum. It could be another piece of something that downtown could use more of: signature tourist attractions.
I enjoyed looking at the rail cars as much as the building. I caught a very small glimpse inside one, but would welcome the opportunity to explore them further. The fancy passenger cars look like they would be posh inside, but who knows? The one I looked inside (pictured here) was pretty crude.
So, if you find yourself on the 100 Block of Gay Street or in the Old City with a little extra time on your hands, I’d encourage you to wander over the Gay Street viaduct and take a look at these magnificent buildings.