A Journey Through Knoxville’s History with the Technology of Today

Sevier Monuments, November 2023
Sevier Monuments, November 2023

Whether you are a history fan, music lover, or art enthusiast, there is a walking tour ready for you to explore the downtown area. Last Saturday, while my oldest theater fan attended a masterclass with Amina Faye from the traveling Broadway musical Six, I decided to check one out. By the way, Six was fantastic, and the Ryerson ladies highly recommend it!

There are lots of history tours you can take advantage of through Visit Knoxville, which has a paper map tour as well as a GPS-guided tour, the Knoxville History Project, and Laura Still of Knoxville Walking Tours. However, if you find yourself with an hour on hand like I did, you can download an app or grab a map from the Visit Knoxville Center and go on an adventure of your own.

I was recently made aware of an app called Pocketsights by Knoxvillian and philanthropist Liz Stowers. Liz has a passion for Knoxville’s history and developed a walking tour of Knoxville’s 1793 history. The tour began at the original location of the James White Fort, which is around the area of the corner of the State Street parking garage and the back of the Tennessee Theatre. I knew that the current location of James White Fort was not its original location, but I did not know where it had been. Check one off for learning something new!

Original site of the James White Fort (backside of the Tennessee Theatre), November 2023

The app uses GPS to help guide you to each stop. Even if you are “map-challenged,” as I am, it still does a great job of getting you to the right point. Once you arrive at the location, your phone gives you a buzz to let you know you are there, which I found very helpful at several stops. Many of the sites are easily found, such as the Blount Mansion and the Sevier monuments, but others that have no markers are harder to locate. Historical records help to determine those spots, and the little buzz from the app lets you know you have made it. The two most interesting to me that were not landmarked today were the first post office and the first jail.

Blount Mansion, November 2023
Northern Border of the 1791 Lot Lottery, The Oarsman Statue, November 2023

The app has photos and historical reading to tell you more about each of the 18 stops. It also has virtual tour trivia questions and a “mission” at each stop. For example, when you make stop #2 at the First Presbyterian Cemetery, your mission is to find and take a photo of James White’s and William Blount’s tombstones. You have the option to upload those photos into the app. These extra additions offered a fun twist to the typical walking tours.

First Presbyterian Church Cemetery, November 2023
Old County Courthouse, November 2023

This tour takes you about 1.4 miles around downtown, and at a leisurely pace of walking, taking photos, and reading history provided in the app, I completed it in about an hour. It rightly ends at the East Tenessee History Center for you to continue your exploration. The app itself is free, but as Liz is a community advocate for those in need, you do have the option to make a charitable donation to the local United Way of Greater Knoxville as you end the tour. Pocketsights also offers tours of the Dogwood Trail, so download it now for the history tour, but keep it for the Dogwood Trail in the Spring!

Have you taken a walking tour of downtown Knoxville?