Scruffy Knoxville

brick building in knoxville's old city

What makes Knoxville so charming is that it’s made up of the confluence of things.

Nature is always present in the city, by way of the Urban Wilderness and many city parks and greenways that will eventually connect us all the way to the Smoky Mountains, powered by our feet or two-wheel non-motorized wheels. We have big companies here, too: Cellular Sales, Regal Cinemas, Discovery and JTV, to name a handful. Those big-business types bring a polish and bigger-city appeal to some areas of town, lending a bit of high-falutin’ attitude here and there.

And we have the scruffy part of town. Scruffy Knoxville is made of those people who saw the crumbling brick and boarded-up windows of Old City and Market Square, and said, looking distantly into an internal vision of the future, “I’ve never seen anything so beautiful.” And those artists and entrepreneurs, venue operators, brewers, distillers, chefs, craftspeople, designers, activists and general visionaries settled into a way of life that literally and metaphorically builds community in a singularly unique way. I daresay it’s this scruffy Knox culture that really makes us The Maker City.

mural of scottish woman with bagpipes on the side of the jig and reel

Of course, the Old City was scruffy in a very different, decidedly less artsy way, back when it wasn’t old. According to local historian Jack Neely, the neighborhood was called any number of names, some less complimentary than others: “Irish Town, Cripple Creek, the Bowery, Gunter’s Flats, the Bottom.” Early on, those few blocks lining the railway were home to saloons and brothels, rough-neck cattlemen and housing for immigrants and freed slaves. Knowing this, it’s easy to see how Knoxville’s role as a confluence of varying cultural streams was nurtured.

Even in the outskirts of our fair Ville, like my neck of the woods in South Knox, you can see evidence of the scruffy life. Admittedly, some neighborhoods around here, like Vestal, are pretty rough upon first blush. But if you look deeper, you’ll see houses being restored–not gentrified, not made into something fancier, but brought back to a state of repair, a home that’s loved and lived in. You’ll also see pockets of urban homesteading, which would be a pretty great topic for a video! (Hm … we’ll get back to you on that!)

Scruffy City is even one of Knoxville’s multitude of nicknames. (We’ve been Marble City, the Underwear Capital of the World, even The Couch.) But is the average Knoxvillian apt to use the title to describe their town? Well, according to … some of us are! There’s the ScruffEBlast, a newsletter dedicated to keeping citizens updated on the Knoxville Renaissance, for example. And Earth to Old City, a delightful source of bohemian goods, has this to say: “Keep Knoxville Scruffy” means “support local food, music, culture, history and businesses.”

Sounds good to us.

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