City People Dissolves: East Tennessee Historical Society to Host First Downtown Home Tour Since 2019

East Tennessee History Center, 601 South Gay Street, Knoxville, August 2022
East Tennessee History Center, 601 South Gay Street, Knoxville, August 2022

(Ed. Notes: Today’s article is by guest writer Heather Ryerson. Also, a word of thanks to everyone who joined the conversation regarding yesterday’s article. That was the kind of discussion I’d like to see more often. Opinions were expressed, disagreements were shared, but the tone remained respectful. Thank you.)

Long time residents of downtown Knoxville will be familiar with the City People non-profit that began in 1983. Their mission was to bring together downtown residents and connect them to each other and to all the area had to offer. They also had a goal to showcase the downtown lifestyle as well as the beauty and diversity of the living spaces available.

One of the ways they did this was through the very popular downtown home tour hosted each year. This brought together downtown home dwellers and those interested in what the residential culture of Knoxville’s urban area offered. Urban Guy covered the 2018 tour. Interestingly, he and Urban Woman purchased their first downtown living space after one of the City People sponsored tours. 

The last year of over 30 years of tours was in 2019. Though a tour was scheduled for 2020, not surprisingly, the pandemic shut that down. Peggy Hargis, former board member, told me, “2020 truncated social life and all the things people loved about downtown.” Without the ability to safely host the event, they used prior profits to sponsor other nonprofit organizations that were hit hard by the pandemic such as those in the arts and music scene. 

Recently, the downtown nonprofit announced their dissolution by email to their members and briefly on their now closed website. I spoke with two other former board members, David Jones and Gay Lyons about the history of City People and what the dissolution means for the home tour. Feeling as though the organization had met its goal of connecting people in downtown and to downtown, the board and members believed it was time to pass the torch on to another nonprofit. They wanted and organization that could carry on the legacy of the tour and connect Knoxvillians to what it means to live, work and play downtown.

Dr. Gay Lyons, long-time Knoxville resident, former educator and now Chief Development Officer at the East Tennessee Historical Society since 2022, got wind of the group’s need for a nonprofit to take on the tour. She felt the event was a perfect fit with the mission of the historical society and a fitting way to showcase the beauty of historic downtown Knoxville. 

Gay and her husband, Dr. Bill Lyons, have lived downtown since 2004 and have been hugely invested in it’s culture and success. You will even see his name on the Bill Lyons Pavilion in Market Square as he was instrumental in the revitalization that took place there in the early 2000’s. 

The Emporium, 112 South Gay Street, City People Home Tour, Knoxville, May 2017
Fire Street Lofts, 220 West Jackson (Unit 1), City People Home Tour, Knoxville, May 2017
The JC Penney Building (First Unit), 416 South Gay Street, City People Home Tour, Knoxville, May 2017
The Cable Piano Building, 422 South Gay Street, City People Home Tour, Knoxville, May 2017

Gay already has a vision for what the home tour will look like this year. As a former home tour participant, both as a homeowner and tour guest, she knows what it takes to put on this event. Plans include showcasing newer residences and developments since the last tour as well as residences in the historic buildings around the town, many of which are lesser known. The tour will begin with check-in at the East Tennessee History Center (601 S. Gay Street), home to the Museum of East Tennessee History, which will have free admission to the public that day, and go throughout the downtown area.

Previously a 2 day event, this year will be a Saturday only, but with longer hours. 

The tour is slated for Saturday, June 10th from 10-5. Tickets will go on sale in the spring and will have both regular admission and a VIP ticket that will get you into a catered VIP-only event on the Thursday prior to the home tour in a location that will only be showcased that evening. 

The group is soliciting ads, sponsors, willing homeowners, and volunteers for the event. If you are interested in any of these opportunities, reach out to Gay directly at