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Knoxville and Knox County Businesses


The manufacturing interests of Knoxville are of late years becoming more important. This indicates a prosperous agricultural community in the immediate vicinity, widely extended exportations of manufactured goods, and the growth of towns and cities, for it is only in a country where civilization is or is becoming complex, that manufactures can flourish to any great extent.

Various industries were started as soon as Knoxville became a town. There were soon several blacksmith shops and there was also a goldsmith and jeweler, who in addition to what such a tradesman would carry on at the present day, advertised that he made rifle guns in the neatest and most approved fashion.

One of the early industries of Knoxville was a tanyard established in 1793 on Second creek by Lord & McCoy, and in 1795, a saddler's shop was established by John and Robert Hunter. In 1796 John Lavender opened a second shop of this kind. The number of tanyards gradually increased until in 1830 there were five. One owned by William Morrow on First creek where it is crossed by Cumberland street, one almost directly across the street owned by John Webb, one owned by Robert Lindsey, at the east end of Clinch street, and there was one on Second creek operated by Rutherford & White.

As it is perfectly natural to suppose during the early history of the county and the city the early industrial establishments would be such as were needed to supply the means of existence and comfort as the people had to live and to clothe and protect themselves from the elements. Grist and saw mills were much in demand and during the first eighteen months after the county court was organized, permits for the erection of these kinds of mills were numerous. They were in all cases run by water power, which was then more commonly employed than now, when steam has taken possession of almost all kinds of industries and methods of locomotion either directly or indirectly. Domestic manufactures were then numerous, though carried on on a much smaller scale than afterward, but now almost wholly superseded by much larger concerns.

In 1830, besides the five lanyards above mentioned, there were two spinning factories, ten wool carding machines, three saw mills, one brass foundry, six blacksmith shops, two cabinet makers, three hatters, six saddlers, eight shoemakers, one tinner, two coach makers, and two wagon makers. The brass foundry was operated by William Morse, the foundry standing on Second creek near Churchwell street and Mr Morse also operated a spinning factory and a blacksmith shop. The other spinning factory was operated by Nathaniel Bosworth, a little higher up the creek, and here there were employed from fifteen to twenty hands. It remained in operation until 1838. William Oldham, in 1833, built a cotton spinning factory which was located on First creek between Church and Cumberland streets, the machinery for which, Mr Oldham hauled across the Cumberland mountains from Lexington, Ky. This mill was operated exclusively by water power. In 1838, the mill dams were destroyed by a freshet and Mr Oldham removed his machinery to Blount county.

It may be well to state that during the first twenty-five or thirty years of the history of Knox county, cotton was therein a staple crop. But it began to decline about 1820 and had entirely ceased by 1830 The first cotton gin about which anything is still remembered was erected by Calvin Morgan on Gay street near where the Insurance building now stands and the second was built and operated on Second creek by Mr McCulloch. The earliest wool carding machine in this vicinity was located on First creek, about two miles above its mouth, set up by James Scott and operated by him until the coming on of the Civil war. Another was run for a time near the site of Bosworth's factory mentioned above.

In this connection it may be well to explain the decline of the water power, which up to 1838, was unusually abundant. Previous to that time, the town was confined almost exclusively to the territory between First and Second creeks, and the Flag pond and Holston river. and was almost entirely surrounded by water. Flag pond occupied the depression now occupied by the tracks of the East Tennessee Virginia and Georgia railroad, now the Southern railway, and in 1838, the cutting down of the dams, drained the ponds and thus destroyed to a considerable extent the water power. Flag pond was looked upon for a number of years as a menace to the health of the town, and was frequently under the consideration of the board of health. On First creek, prior to the cutting down of the dams, there were three mill ponds within the space of half a mile, the upper one known as White's pond extending north and northeast for more than a mile. On Second creek, there were two large ponds of this kind, and while the dams were afterward to some extent restored, yet there has not since 1838, been anywhere near as much water power. Since steam has been generally introduced, water power is not so popular.

In 1838 a paper mill was erected at Middlebrook by Gideon M Hazen and MD Bearden. It was about three and a half miles above the town and was run about seven months in the year by water power, and the rest of the year by water and steam power combined. It was continued in operation until 1886 when the breaking of the dam caused its suspension.

In 1850 a small oil mill was built on Second creek by FAR Scott. In 1851 Mr Scott opened a tannery in connection therewith, and in 1853 sold the entire establishment to MB McMahan, who operated the tannery until 1860, when he was succeeded by an incorporated company. During the Civil War, John S Van Gilder, who was then largely engaged in the manufacture of boots and shoes, obtained control of the tannery and was joined in 1865 by Mr Scott. These two gentlemen continued to run it under the name of the Knoxville Leather company until 1890.

In 1853 the first large manufacturing establishment ever seen in Knoxville was started. It was a machine shop located at the corner of Broad street and the railroad and was erected by AL Maxwell, who came here from New York in 1852. This machine shop was erected for the purpose of supplying the iron work for bridges which the firm of Maxwell Briggs & Co, of which Mr AL Maxwell was the senior member, was then erecting largely throughout the Southern states. The shop under consideration, went into operation in 1853, with somewhat more than 200 hands. In 1855, finding that the bridge material could be more advantageously handled from Richmond, Va, an interest in the establishment was sold to some Vermont parties and the Knoxville Manufacturing company was formed for the purpose of building engines boilers etc which business was carried on until near the beginning of the war.

In 1852 a foundry and stove factory was erected on Second creek by Williams Moffett & Co, near the site of the Knoxville Leather company's works, and this foundry carried on quite an extensive business for some time. In 1856, the establishment was transferred to Shepard Leeds & Hoyt, who in 1854, had built a foundry and car works where the railroad shops now stand. The capital of this firm was about $20,000 and they employed some twenty hands. They were engaged in the manufacture of cars, car wheels, plows, and agricultural implements generally. Later Mr AL Maxwell purchased the interests of these gentlemen and by 1861 had become the sole proprietor of the business which he carried on until the siege of 1863 when the entire plant was destroyed by fire.

Clark Quaife & Co, in 1867, erected a small foundry for the manufacture of stoves, hollow ware, etc, and later added thereto the manufacture of car wheels, becoming, in 1873, the Knoxville Car Wheel company, with a capital stock of $57,000, and having as officers: AL Maxwell, president and Harvey Clark, secretary and treasurer. This company was located on Jacksboro street and the manufacture of car wheels was, for quite a number of years, the exclusive business of the works. They purchased 30,000 acres of land in Carter County, which contained large quantities of brown hematite iron ore, known as among the best ores anywhere to be found. For the first eight or ten years of this company's existence, the wheels turned out by them bore a reputation for excellence second to none made elsewhere in this country. In June 1881, Charles H Brown became secretary and treasurer and in July 1881, DA Carpenter became president succeeding Mr Maxwell, and being himself succeeded in the later eighties by Charles H Brown, who remained president then during the company's existence. In 1883, a machine shop was added to the plant in Knoxville, and in 1886, the company making at this factory soft castings for cars, engines, gearing, pulleys, etc, with the view of enlarging and diversifying their product as much as possible, and of making the Knoxville Car Wheel works one of the leading industries in the land, but as additional money was needed to carry out this plan, a heavy mortgage was placed upon the property, and as it was at length found impracticable to manage the business, owing in part perhaps to the increasing stringencies of the times, the works ceased to operate and the property was sold in the winter of 1898-99 in Chancery court. (Source: Standard History of Knoxville, Tennessee, edited by William Rule, George Frederick Mellen, John Wooldridge, Lewis Publishing Company,1900)

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