Fountain City, at the end of Broadway near Knoxville’s northern city limits, is defined by the valley between Sharp’s Ridge and Black Oak Ridge. Though never a “city” with its own government, it always seemed a place apart from the rest of Knoxville. In fact, it wasn’t even annexed into the city until 1962. Its beauty attracted developers who by the 1880s were building the Fountainhead Hotel here, as a “springs resort.” The hotel closed in the early 1900s, and later burned down. Only the name Hotel Avenue and the hotel’s water feature, a heart-shaped pond, remain today.
After the hotel closed, Fountain City emerged as a residential suburb, with little industry, and retained its reputation as a clean-living paradise noted for its lack of both smoke and alcoholic beverages–each in stark contrast to downtown Knoxville–for most of the 20th century. Fountain City became a popular destination, both for northern tourists and for Knoxvillians, who could ride the small steam train that left hourly from downtown for the five-mile trek. The parkland along the creek was especially popular for Fourth of July and Labor Day events, including picnics, races, and baseball games.
Today, Fountain City’s spirit lives in Fountain City Park, the heart-shaped pond, and the friendly crowds at Litton’s, a grocery that evolved into a restaurant and is now an institution. All those are within a walkable cluster. The rest of Fountain City may be most easily seen from the window of a car. It contains several handsome early 20th century homes of the Crafstman era.
One extraordinary feature of Fountain City, visible from the road and only occasionally open to the public, is the privately-owned “oriental garden” known as Savage Gardens, on Garden Drive off-Broadway. Established around 1917 by British-born industrialist Arthur Savage, it reflects its era’s fascination with Asian styles. It lapsed into near-ruin after Savage’s 1946 death, but its owner has worked to restore it in recent years. It’s used by the adjacent Montessori school.
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