Emory Place: A Rich History of Knoxville’s Early Development

Emory Place is a short, two block long, divided street located near the intersection of N. Central Street and N. Broadway. It was developed in 1888 by The Central Market Company, a syndicate chartered to develop a market house for the citizens of the incorporated town of North Knoxville (Fourth and Gill and Old North Knoxville Historic Districts). Emory Place first appears in the Knoxville City Directory in 1889 and was called Central Market.

The Central Market Company built a one-story market house of frame construction that housed 30 stalls. Land to the north and south of the market house was divided into lots for building development. Soon after the construction of the market house it was sold to the City of Knoxville. At this time, the “City Scales” where placed on the west end of the market house and a fire hall was located on the east end.

The monumental growth of North Knoxville was most likely the catalyst of the early development of Central Market. Situated in the center of a rapidly growing section of the city, it became evident that a market house would be a convenient added benefit to those citizens and businesses. Another reason for the Central Market development most likely came from citizens feeling that the market house (built in 1854) on Market Square in downtown Knoxville had become overcrowded and dilapidated.

The Central Market house opened with about a dozen tenants, but it always had several vacancies and listed fewer merchants each year. The market house was short lived and did not prosper, but commercial development around the market house did. Assorted commercial enterprises included Swan Bakery, The Walla Walla Gum Manufacturing Company, W.F. Green & Company, and the Whittle and Spence Trunk Company. Additional businesses along N. Central Street and N. Broadway opened, including produce and grocery stores, liveries, hardware stores, drug stores, saloons, laundries, and a meat market.

In April 1905, due to the market house not being patronized, it was torn down and the space was turned into a public park. The area was renamed Emory Park, in honor of Reverend Isaac Emory, a well-known religious figure in Knoxville who died in the New Market Train Wreck on September 24, 1904.

Emory Place was an important part of Knoxville’s transportation development. The corner of N. Broadway and Tyson Street was the location of the southern terminus of the Fountain Head Railway Company’s steam powered “Dummy Line.” These small trains closely resembled future streetcars in body style. The 5.25 mile track ran from Central Market to Fountain City and opened for business in May 1890. The steam powered “Dummy Line” ran until 1906 when it was replaced by electric streetcars. Emory Place was a key stop along the popular Broadway Line.

In the early 20th century, residential development around Emory Place started, most notably with the construction of rowhouses along W. Fifth Avenue and N. Central Street. The construction of two apartment buildings, The Sterchi and The Lucerne, solidified the area as not only a desirable commercial hub, but also as an attractive residential area.

Increased popularity in the area led to the construction of Knoxville High School, located on E. Fifth Avenue. Constructed in several phases, the main portion of the building was completed in 1910, with additions in 1914 and 1920.

Throughout the 1930s and into the mid-1940s, the area continued to prosper as a hub of commercial activity. A decline began in 1955 when Emory Park was renamed Emory Place and trees planted in 1905 were cut down to make way for parking. A few businesses remained into the 1960s and 1970s, but many eventually closed or relocated. By the early 1980s, many of the buildings were rundown, with only a handful of individuals investing in the area. The City of Knoxville returned some of the areas at Emory Place to its original park-like space in 1989.

During the beginning of the 21st century, the area saw an influx of popularity that grew from individuals wanting to move back into the surrounding historic neighborhoods. This influenced a desire to bring back commercial businesses to the corridor and improve existing buildings. In 2007, the City of Knoxville adopted the Broadway-Central-Emory Place Small Area Plan. This plan provided guidance for redevelopment and included a number of recommendations. Some recommendations included creating a more pedestrian friendly street, encouraging mixed-used development, enhancing stability in the surrounding neighborhood, and improving the aesthetic character of the corridor with façade improvement grants and incentives for redevelopment.

The Emory Place Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994. Knox Heritage is currently working on a nomination to expand the district to include buildings along N. Central Street and N. Broadway.

Knox Heritage preserves structures and places of historic or cultural significance for our community. Established in 1974 as a non-profit educational corporation, our organization works to protect and raise awareness of what is beautiful and irreplaceable in East Tennessee.