Knoxville’s Historic Month of May

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Compiled by Jack Neely for the Knoxville History Project.

This month is known for flowers, graduations, and history.

Wednesday is the 120th birthday of journalist Bert Vincent (1896-1969), whose Knoxville News Sentinel column “Strolling” debuted in the late 1920s, when he wrote colorfully about the opening of the brand-new Tennessee Theatre. He was a lover of musicians, hucksters, tall tales, and oddities of both city and country. “Strolling” was essential reading for four decades.

His birthday coincides with the annual opening of one of Vincent’s favorite subjects, the Market Square Farmers Market, open every Wednesday and Saturday until fall, featuring farmers selling produce on the old square just as they have every growing season since 1854.


On Friday, May 6, Knox Heritage offers another “Behind the Scenes” tour of the newly renovated late-Victorian commercial buildings known as the Daniel on West Jackson, for KH members. (It’s not too late to join. See


This month’s biggest historic event is the first-ever Knoxville Stomp festival, celebrating the release of the Knoxville Sessions. It’s one of the most interesting documents of early American music released anywhere lately, and the Stomp will celebrate it with lectures, panel discussions, film, and concerts.

At 11 on Sat., May 7, Jack Neely of the Knoxville History Project will lead a free tour about “Knoxville’s Musical History.” The tour will convene at the northern end of Market Square and last about two hours.

Read more about the Knoxville Stomp elsewhere in this issue of the Mercury, but you can see the associated interactive exhibit “Come to Make Records,” about early recording of area musicians, at the Museum of East Tennessee History until Oct. 30.


May 7 is also the 165th birthday of Knoxville’s most famous feminist, Lizzie Crozier French (1851-1926), a young widow who promoted women’s rights with speeches and writings beginning in the 1870s. She lived long enough to see her home state make the difference in passing the 19th amendment, guaranteeing the right to vote to women nationwide.

May 7 is also the day of Vestival, Vestal’s annual all-day neighborhood party on the grounds of the historic Candoro Marble building, an extraordinary Tennessee-marble showplace built in 1923 at the corner of Candoro Avenue and Maryville Pike. See for more.


May 10 is the 177th birthday of longtime editor and onetime Knoxville mayor William Rule (1839-1928). A Union veteran and Republican, Rule was known as an uncommonly objective editor in a volatile era. He remained editor of the Journal until his sudden death of appendicitis at age 89.


May 12 is the 161st birthday of Calvin Morgan McClung (1855-1919), wholesale magnate whose C.M. McClung & Co. was once a major regional hardware business, and historical scholar whose personal collection was the basis of the modern Calvin M. McClung Historical Collection, Knoxville’s best reference library of local and regional history.


Charles Cansler would have turned 145 on May 15. The black educator (1871-1953) was principal of several public schools in Knoxville, and wrote a book of African-American history, Three Generations: the Story of a Colored Family of Eastern Tennessee (1939). He is buried in the Crestview complex of graveyards on Keith Avenue, the subject of a current historical interpretive effort.


On May 16, tickets for Knox Heritage’s popular, imaginative, and always different Summer Supper series go on sale to the general public.


May 17 is the 152nd birthday of arts matron Eleanor Audigier (1864-1931), the grande dame of the influential late-Victorian cultural organization known as the Nicholson Art League, which mounted important shows of impressionists and realists in Knoxville.


May 18 is the 100th anniversary of the death of Jay Agee. His son, James Agee (1909-1955), remembered the early car-accident fatality on Clinton Pike near Beaver Creek in a novel, A Death in the Family, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature and has been interpreted in a successful Broadway show (All the Way Home) and four motion pictures, in which his character, called Jay Follett, has been portrayed by actors Robert Preston, Richard Kiley, William Hurt, and John Slattery.


May 19 is the 130th birthday of Bernadotte Schmitt (1886-1969), who grew up on White Avenue, graduated from UT, earned a Rhodes Scholarship, and wrote a book called The Coming of War, about World War I, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize for History. His childhood home was successfully moved out of the way of a university construction project, and the Victorian house now stands on Clinch Avenue.

Featured photo: 

Union veteran William Rule’s career as a prominent Knoxville journalist lasted for over 60 years. Twice mayor of Knoxville, he wrote and edited the Standard History of Knoxville (1900), a thorough and comprehensive resource still used today. Image courtesy of the Calvin M. McClung Historical Collection.

The Knoxville History Project, a nonprofit organization devoted to the promotion of and education about the history of Knoxville, presents this column each week to raise awareness of the themes, personalities, and stories of our unique city. 

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Jack Neely
Contributing Editor & Writer | |

Jack Neely is the director of the Knoxville History Project, a nonprofit devoted to exploring, disseminating, and celebrating Knoxville's cultural heritage. He’s also one of the most popular and influential writers in the area, known for his books and columns. The Scruffy Citizen surveys the city of Knoxville's life and culture in the context of its history, with emphasis on what makes it unique and how its past continues to affect and inform its future.

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