I’m very late to the Fort Dickerson party. Sure, I’d heard about it for a long time and it sounded pretty cool – but where exactly was the thing? I knew it was south of the river, but that’s all I had. It turns out it’s an easy walk from downtown – just 3/4 of a mile from the Henley Bridge and it now features a huge entryway that’s missing only one thing – any sort of sign. It’s easy to see how drivers speeding south on the Chapman Motorway would drive past without noticing.
The best way to spot it is to watch for the light at Woodlawn Pike. Fort Dickerson Road is directly across from Woodlawn Pike and runs up the hill past a large retaining wall. Just above that wall and to the left of the road, still within sight of Chapman highway is a small parking lot with a short trail leading to an overlook for the quarry. It’s not the best view of the quarry – that would be off Augusta Street on the opposite side.
The abandoned marble quarry is beautiful as are so many quarries and is a legal place to swim. The entire park, including the quarry, is part of the urban wilderness and hiking, swimming, floating and paddling are encouraged. Not so much cliff jumping, though it happens. Three people died this spring diving from the eighty to one hundred foot cliffs into the 350 feet of water. At the bottom of this article I’ve included the Pyxl/Legacy Parks video of Sam Quinn performing there this past summer.
Through the gates and up to a height of about 300 feet sits the park site. It includes picnic tables and several historic markers indicating what happened on the spot. Goats graze on the hillside doing battle with the kudzu – and winning by all accounts. The fort itself sits at the crown of the hill.
I thought it was pretty remarkably preserved, though clearly worn by time. It’s pretty amazing to consider it sat neglected on the hillside for so many years. The fort was utilized in the later part of the war, built in 1863 and abandoned in 1865. Named for Captain Jonathan Dickerson who died in September of 1863 near Cleveland, Tennessee, it was one of a ring of sixteen earthen forts built around Knoxville by the Union Troops to protect Knoxville from the Confederate Army.
The primary action seen at the fort was November 15 – 16, 1863 when about 5,000 Confederate cavalry attacked the fort. The attack was repulsed utilizing cannon fire from the lofty spot. Three replica cannons man the spot today and provide the primary point of interest for a six-year-old. Urban Girl had a blast (I know) hanging from, climbing on and pretending to fire the cannons. A trench runs around the earthworks and makes for fun playing, as well.
As Civil War sites go, it will never replace Vicksburg, Shiloh or Antietam, but it’s an afternoon of diversion and it offers a quickly accessible spot from the city to find a little green space. And, if our visit was an indication, it’s a good place to find solitude. There were three or four other visitors during our time there and otherwise we had the fort to ourselves and our imagination. I’d encourage you to visit, even if for fifteen or thirty minutes just to check it out. It’s another cool and unusual asset for the city.
Now for a little business and a giveaway. First the business: Thank you to each of you for making the blog such a success in 2015. Why would I mention this in October? Because the blog – powered by you – reached a couple of significant milestones this month. First, after reaching 3,000 fans on FB last year, that has doubled to 6,000 in just twelve months. Second, the blog has never reached 500,000 page views in a calendar year and, as of the first week of October in 2015, it hit a cool half million for the year. For both these marks, I thank you very much. If you haven’t liked the page, please do so (you can do it from the right-hand side of this page), and please tell your friends and neighbors about the information you find here.
The giveaway is for two tickets to see Mandolin Orange at the Bijou Theatre this Saturday night. If you’d like these tickets, send an email to email@example.com with the subject header: Mandolin Orange Rocks! (Or At Least Sways Real Hard). I’ll notify the winner and give you instructions on claiming your tickets. I’ve also included one of their videos below to get you ready.