Coda for the Fountain City Park swings

Beth KinnaneFountain City, Our Town Neighbors

Two weeks ago, Knox TN Today ran Betty Bean’s origin story about the swings in Fountain City Park, how they were built by Eddie Harvey, famous for his “Aw-Tow” parts store and being phone pranked by Bean’s late, great brother John.

There had been some considerable gnashing of teeth in the community about the swings’ future since extensive renovations at the park and lake (duck pond) began after the city of Knoxville took over both landmarks from the Fountain City Lions Club. Other than the swings, all the other playground equipment, including the “burn your hide off” metal slides, was removed. By noon the day after the story ran, the city sent out a press release that the swings would indeed remain. And the masses rejoiced.

The certificate Norton received from the Lions Club. Officially, though, he is not a “William.”

As far as we, and probably most of Fountain City, knew, the swings were still as they were made in the early ’50s when Harvey built them. Until we got a message stating otherwise.

While it wasn’t exactly under the cover of darkness, as the accompanying photographs will attest, the swing frame was rebuilt in less than 48 hours nearly 30 years ago after a concerned father noticed some considerable rust and decay around the footers when he’d taken his daughter to the park to play.

“I was afraid someone would get hurt” said Billy Norton, who still lives in Fountain City with his wife, Susan. “They were actually in pretty bad shape.”

This was in 1993, when the swing set was in its early 40s. Norton approached the Lions Club about the issue and what could be done about it. The club agreed to foot the money for the materials, then Norton starting gathering up volunteers to contribute their labor and expertise to the project.

At the time, Norton worked for the Knoxville Utilities Board, then divided into four bureaus. Norton worked in the gas division and saw the swing reconstruction as a great opportunity for one of its community outreach programs.

“There was a lot of preparation to do in terms of materials and volunteers,” Norton said. “We copied the design and dimensions pretty much as they were. They were built a little different in that they were bolted together.”

Some online commenters said the swings used to be much taller, but Norton said that is likely nothing more than the difference in perspective of seeing something as a child versus seeing it as an adult.

“There couldn’t have been a significant height difference because we put the same chains, chairs and swings back on the new frame,” he said.

As to the lack of fanfare for the rebuild, Norton said the Lions Club wanted to put up a plaque acknowledging all the participants, but the group doing the work didn’t really want to draw any attention to it.

“We just felt it was best to build it and not say anything about it,” Norton said, though he did receive a certificate of appreciation from the club. “I call them Erin’s swings, for my daughter. She was the inspiration for doing it.”

Though the years have erased the memory of who all did what, Norton said the attached photos include the following:

  • Charlie Roach
  • Kyle Taylor
  • Patrick Lund
  • Randy Williams
  • Buck Smith
  • Charlie Hickey
  • David Lowe
  • Jerry Burnett
  • Steve Carroll

Norton said he is glad the swings are as loved as they are, have held up well and will remain after all the new renovations.

“They should last a good long time,” he said. “There’s a yard of concrete on those supports.”

Enjoy these photos from the rebuild in 1993:

And take a look back at the original swings in this 1960 video from the collection of local film archivist Bradley Reeves:

Knox TN Today welcomes comments from anyone who participated in this rebuild.

Beth Kinnane is the community news editor for

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