July Road Notes, Day 11: Alone in A Small Fort

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July 15, 2021, Harrisonburg- Every so often, I encounter a soul who tosses out a corner of the truth, even as the greater arc of history escapes him. Such was my visit to James White’s Fort, in Knoxville, this afternoon.

I bid farewell to my stalwart friends in Crossville, around 10:30 CDT, then headed to northeast Tennessee’s cultural and commercial hub, with the intent of getting Elantra serviced, though nothing is amiss with my trusted steed, at this point. A pair of slowdowns, which were mainly pre-emptive reactions by a few commercial rigs to warnings about “construction”, (there was none in progress), added nearly an hour to the fifty-minute drive. Thus, the decision was made to wait until I get to Saugus, to have the oil & lube done. Friends in Knoxville were also not available to visit, so my stop there consisted of lunch, a walk around the Court District and a visit to the above- mentioned fort.

The Court District includes, among its amenities, a fine little establishment called Yasmin’s Kitchen. It’s a Kosher Moroccan restaurant, and the “plates” are filled with delectable Mediterranean staples, sufficient for two meals. The cheerful young ladies running the place made everyone in the busy lunch crowd feel at home. Yes, that’s what cheerful people tend to do, and it was a much-needed break from the late morning’s road grind. It also saved me from a dinner stop, as plenty was left over, in the falafel plate.

The Knox County Courthouse includes a spacious yard, where a few people were whiling away their lunch hour. Here are a few scenes of the Court District.

Knox County Courthouse
Courthouse Garden
“Beloved Woman of Justice”, by Audrey Flack

The area also has a couple of churches, of architectural note.

First Baptist Church, downtown Knoxville
St. John’s Cathedral, downtown Knoxville

Then, there is this memento of the 1982 Knoxville World’s Fair (Knoxville International Energy Exposition).

Knoxville Sunsphere

Whilst looking for a Riverwalk, of sorts, I found the Holston River was fairly surrounded by private enterprise: A well-guarded Marina, a branch of Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and an outfitter called Outdoor Knoxville Adventure Center. Giving up, at least for now, on the riverbank hike, I spotted James White’s Fort.

The docent was chatty, if flinty-eyed, and gave me a well-practiced primer on early Knoxville. He then sent me off, on the short but jam-packed walk around the compound. It is quite similar, in terms of household goods and furniture, to other historical sites of the late Eighteenth Century, particularly those of the Appalachian frontier. Nonetheless, this is the beginning of Knoxville’s story. https://knoxheritage.org/our-work/neighborhood-tours/historic-downtown-knoxville-walking-tour/james-whites-fort/

James White’s Fort-Courtyard, Main House (left) and kitchen (right)
Outside storage, kitchen area

As an indication of my mildly fatigued state, I was puzzled by this sight. It looked, to my mind’s eye, like the cover of a land mine. I later showed the photo to the docent, whose flinty eyes just got a bit flintier. “That is an upside-down kitchen pot”, though he acknowledged the land mine cover as a possible interpretation.

Dogtrot, so named because it was a place to sit, during the Dog Days of summer.
Main kitchen
Hearth and study, Main House
Sleeping area, Main House
Salt bin, outdoor grill and secondary pantry
Loom, in artifacts building
Mr. White’s tool room (I’ll bet he wished for such relief, as the modern air conditioner shown above!)
Forge and bellows, Blacksmith Shop
Courtyard, James White’s Fort

After my walk-around, the docent asked me a rather simple question: “Since you’re from Massachusetts originally, where was the first per European settlement, in these United States?” My overloaded, foggy brain heard “Massachusetts” and replied, “Plymouth”. AAAIIT! Wrong answer! “Nope, it was Jamestown, 1607”. Turns out, though, we were both wrong, at that point. I remembered, later, about St. Augustine (1565), the real first permanent European settlement in what is now the United States. He then made other comments, that suggested he may be in for some surprises, in the months and years ahead.

No harm, no foul-and on I went on my way- up the road to this Shenandoah