South Knoxville was mostly rural and industrial–thick woods pocketed with marble quarries and lumber mills–and largely ignored by mainstream Knoxville until the 1920s, when excitement about the suddenly accessible Smoky Mountains drew new traffic. Upon its completion in the early 1930s, Chapman Highway, which leads toward Sevierville, became the nation’s main route to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Although there are now faster highways to the Smokies, Chapman Highway remains South Knoxville’s main artery, roughly bisecting the section. Today, Chapman Highway offers traces of its tourist years, along with an ever-changing variety of restaurants and shops.
Because of its perceived remoteness, South Knoxville was once derided as “South America.” Not only was it across the river, but its topography was rugged and unfamiliar. Then and now, that became a source of brash pride. Of course, it’s no longer really remote, connected by Chapman Highway and Alcoa Highway, which leads not just to the industrial aluminum town of its name but to McGhee Tyson Airport. Some prefer older Maryville Pike, a slower and more picturesque route to the county seat, home of Maryville College.
However, not far off these major arteries are narrow, twisty roads through wooded hills. With a few single-lane trestle underpasses, some roads seem like remote mountain roads, even though they may be hardly a mile from downtown. Only recently has the city begun to capitalize on South Knoxville’s persistent wildness as an asset. Today, dozens of miles of walking and biking trails connecting park attractions are part of what’s called the Urban Wilderness.