Indians were the first settlers of Knoxville and East Tennessee. By the time the first European settlers appeared, the Cherokees dominated the region.
James White was the first known settler of Knoxville. He came from North Carolina and built James White's Fort which is still standing just East of the present day downtown area.
It was at White's Fort that William Blount, Governor of the Southwest Territory negotiated the Treaty of the Holston with the Cherokees in 1791. This treaty opened up what is now Knox County to settlement. In the same year White sold land around his fort for the establishment of a town that Governor Blount called Knoxville, after President George Washington's Secretary of War, Henry Knox. Lots were sold at lottery on October 3, 1791 making that the birth date of Knoxville. Knox County was established the following year on June 11, 1792.
Knoxville served as the capital of the Territory and the state of Tennessee following its formation in 1796. The City of Knoxville was incorporated in 1815.
The first train arrived in Knoxville in 1855, and the railroad placed the city in a strategic position during the Civil War. The Confederates first occupied Knoxville. In 1863 Union General Burnside invaded Tennessee. The Confederate forces in Knoxville were called South to support the conflict in Chattanooga so General Burnside swept into Knoxville and took control. In the fall of 1863 Confederate General James Longstreet tried to retake Knoxville but failed .
During the reconstruction period after the Civil War Knoxville became a central location for shipping East Tennessee products throughout the Southeast. Some of the locally produced products were cloth, furniture, marble, and agricultural products.
As the population grew, the city expanded. Local developers and architects build houses and subdivisions away from the center city. The city center became increasingly a commercial area with residential areas spreading beyond the city limits.
Knoxville's industrialization continued until the Great Depression in the 30s after which there was a gradual decline in its industries and deterioration of housing in the city center.
Several attempts in the 1960s to reinvigorate the city center as a retail center were only partially successful. The trend for shopping to be done in outlying malls was too strong to overcome. Then in the 1970s, city leaders developed a vision of the center city as a business and financial district. They also conceived the idea of an energy exposition that became the 1982 World's Fair.
Since the World's Fair, there has been much revitalization of Knoxville's city center. New commercial buildings have risen beside historic structures restored to their former grandeur.
Knoxville today is a transportation hub with two major interstate highways intersecting here along with rail, air, and river traffic. One half of the population of the United States lives within a days drive of Knoxville.
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