Riverwalk with Historian Jack Neely


Ever notice those historical markers along Volunteer Landing? They tell a non-chronological story of soldiers, authors, and sailors who had something to do with Knoxville's waterfront since 1791, connecting Cherokee chiefs to the Civil War to the Tennessee Vols. Jack Neely, historian of the Knoxville History Project, did the research for those markers back in the 1990s, and will help tell the stories, including that of Vagabondia, the long-vanished riverfront home of author Frances Hodgson Burnett that inspired the title of one of her early novels. It was surprisingly near the ramshackle houseboat home of Cornelius Suttree, the stoic protagonist of a very different novel by Cormac McCarthy.

Registration required. Space is limited. Meet-up locations vary, see registration for info.


More about the Riverwalk Walk

by Jack Neely

Our annual guided historical stroll along Volunteer Landing includes more than a dozen historical markers, an unusual sculpture, two historic bridges, a big marina, and the two major creeks that once famed the eastern and western boundaries of the city—plus, at the end, what’s a bit of surprise to most folks, the picturesque 1890s ruin of Knoxville’s first sophisticated water-treatment plant. 

Along the way we’ll cross the length of the site of the old Prince Street Wharf, which about 100 to 150 years ago was one of the most colorful places in town, where cargo and passengers were loaded and unloaded from the steamboats that docked there before another trip to Kingston or Chattanooga or beyond. 

We’ll also point out the location of the houseboat that was the home of the fictional (?) character Suttree in Cormac McCarthy’s novel of the same name—who’s also the namesake of the new park we’ll see across the river at the eastern end of the tour. And that’s not the only literary connection. We’ll talk about the story behind English-born author Frances Hodgson Burnett’s home known as Vagabondia, which inspired one of her earliest novels; although it’s been gone for more than a century, and clues are vague, it was definitely somewhere along Volunteer Landing. We’ll tell you what we know. 

We’ll also talk about the Gay Street Bridge’s connection to the final escape in 1903 of an infamous Wild West Outlaw. And visible from the tour route is also a pretty good-sized stadium you may have heard of. There are a couple of centuries of cultural complexity down here. 

It’s not much more than a mile and a half, round trip, one of the shortest tours we ever give, and definitely the flattest. Although we don’t promise any biking, boating, brewing, or barking in our event, all that is plentiful nearby.