Bearden today is an amalgam of about a mile and a half of commercial Kingston Pike, the affluent residential river bluff known as Lyons View, the region’s oldest country club and golf course, a modest neighborhood, Eat Tennessee’s only Catholic cathedral and a riverside park that was once a mental institution. A semi-rural community for many years before it was annexed into Knoxville in 1962, Bearden once had its own train station but never its own city limits.
Its boundaries vary with the person describing it, but all definitions center it around the intersection of Kingston Pike and Northshore. The Bearden depot was once there, and Fourth Creek, along Northshore, bisects the neighborhood north and south. Some residents and merchants would stretch the concept of Bearden east to Sequoyah Hills or West High School. Some would stretch it to the west to about Morrell Road, to include the neighborhoods of West Hills and Westmoreland. Complicating the issues is that in the 1970s, Bearden High moved a good two miles west of the original neighborhood of Bearden, but kept the name.
Originally including an Irish-dominant neighborhood called Erin, Bearden got its name in the late 19th century not from a bear den, but through its association with the mayor, sheriff, and state legislator Marcus DeLafayette Bearden, the younger. (Strange as it may seem, there were two by that name; they were cousins, and the elder was responsible for the 19th-century paper mill on Third Creek from which Papermill Road got its name.) That younger Bearden worked to establish the Lyons View Asylum, a state mental institution that became the area’s biggest employer. Today, that old “asylum” is popular Lakeshore Park.
Knoxville’s first commercial airport opened on Bearden’s eastern fringe in the 1920s. By then the commerce of cross-country tourists along the old Dixie-Lee Highway, a junction of two major national routed along Kingston Pike, made Bearden a natural place for tourist courts, motels, “Southern-style” restaurants, beer joints, and even a couple of movie theaters (one of them a drive-in). It also developed some industry, including a brickyard and a hat factory (hence the name Homberg Place, a small pedestrian-scale shopping center within Bearden).
The construction of Interstates 40 and 75 bypassed all that in the 1960s, starving Bearden’s tourist economy, but you can still see a few remnants of old Bearden in the modest scale of the existing buildings, the persistence fo locally owned shops–and sidewalks. A few institutions remain open from the tourist era, like Naples. The old-school Italian restaurant is little changes since the early 1960s, but before that, it was a roadside attraction called the Wayside Inn. Long’s Drugs, open since 1956, is one of the nation’s few independent drugstores that still maintains its original soda fountain. The neighborhood’s oldest house stands on the summit of Bearden Hill. One of a small handful of antebellum homes still standing along Kingston Pike, Knollwood (1851) was a family residence for over a century and served both as headquarters for Confederate generals during the siege of Knoxville in 1863 and, a half-century later, the childhood home of a U.S. general. Another notable mention includes the Ice Chalet, an old-fashioned ice-skating rink from about 1962 of which little has changed since the Kennedy administration, but is still a popular evening and weekend diversion today.
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