I’m looking forward to this Saturday morning at 10, when I get to lead a tour of Volunteer Landing, and its historic markers. It’s part of Visit Knoxville’s unique one-day festival known as Bike Boat Brew & Bark.
We give lots of tours of various sorts, here at the Knoxville History Project, but this one will be a little more personal than most. About 20 years ago, I was a full-time newspaper reporter when I got a freelance gig from the city to do the research for these marble markers. I worked on it for some months, in cooperation with Allen & Hoshall, the development group, who hired a stonecutter to carve them. In all this time, all this water under the Gay Street Bridge, I’ve never given a tour of our work. This will be a first.
This won’t be one of my urban hikes or literary pub crawls, by the way, the ones that are rumored to be exhausting. It’s just a slow, easy mile, round trip, on flat surfaces, and considering there are two restaurants along the way, heat stroke and starvation is unlikely. Bring your grandmother, and your dog’s grandmother. Still, there’s a lot of history there, with river descriptions by James Agee and Cormac McCarthy, the likely site of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s “Vagabondia” (though for reasons I’ll explain, that one’s a little contrary) and a nod to poet Nikki Giovanni, who spend her childhood not far from here. But there’s also some Civil War history, and just a bit of War of 1812 history. Plus riverboat history; Knoxville was once a real river town, with business on downtown’s two wharves in both passengers and freight, but you won’t hear much about that except down here. There’s even a big marker about Maj. Robert Neyland and his amazing Tennessee Vols.
And I’ll explain what all those intriguing words are down there, inscribed on the walk. Duck, Elk, Bloody. Everybody wonders. When I go down there, I overhear people ask about them, and speculate. I never correct them. I don’t like to be the know-it-all.