Forgotten history in The Fork

Beth KinnaneEast Knox, Our Town Stories

Come Friday, a long-awaited installation at Historic Ramsey House will finally be open to the public after a private ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday afternoon. The new exhibit, A Community Born of Water and Stone, expands and expounds upon the rich history of the Forks of the River area of east Knox County.

Recently elected as president of the Ramsey House board of directors, former education chair Jan Loveday Dickens (see KnoxTNToday story here) did the primary research behind the new project, which she finished up in January of last year. She also researched and wrote a new book to accompany the project, Forgotten in the Fork.

Jan Loveday Dickens poses with her new book, “Forgotten in the Fork,” in front of an enlarged print from a painting of Ramsey House by Knoxville artist Eleanor McAdoo Wiley. (Photo courtesy of Jane Loveday Dickens).

She explained that the permanent exhibit, housed in the visitor’s center, and the book showcase the lives of other inhabitants of the area contemporaneous with Colonel Francis Ramsey and his family. They tell the stories of the women, Native Americans, the enslaved and other families from the early European settlement of the Fork.

It’s the kind of research that, for all the information available on line these days, is done the old-fashioned way, searching through dusty tomes in courthouse and library archives as well as family records and other ephemera held in private collections. She also picked up a hefty amount of old books throughout this journey.

“Now I’ve got to figure out what I’m going to do with all of it,” Dickens said, adding that she obtained far more information than could be used in one book, at least one of reasonable size and price point. “If I had included even 50% more of the information I found, the price would have ballooned to at least $80. It would be the size of J.G.M. Ramsey’s The Annals of Tennessee.” As it is, the book costs $35.

All of the proceeds from the book go to Ramsey House, Dickens isn’t making a dime from her four and a half years of labor on it, and it is only available at the Ramsey House Gift Shop. She will find ways to redistribute the materials she has collected while working on the project, and is sharing nuggets of the unused information in a Facebook group called Families of the Fork.

She takes a very Indiana Jones “it belongs in a museum” approach to her passion for history and freely sharing it. “My thought about that is this belongs to the world,” she said. “It doesn’t belong to me.” The possibility of scanning everything for future digital access is also on the table.

The opening of the exhibit and completion of the book lined right up with Dickens’ recent retirement from Knox County Schools. Yes, she was doing all this while still teaching.

The book, available only at the Ramsey House Gift Shop.

“I kind of don’t know what to do with myself now,” she said with a laugh.” “It’s been a wonderful and eye-opening experience.”

In addition to writing the book, Dickens (who was an art and history teacher) painted the background mural for the exhibit. But she’s also quick to point out all the other contributors that brought in their talents. That list includes Adam Alfrey, assistant director for historical services at Knox County Public Library who designed the exhibit panels; Rebecca P’Simer, curator of East Tennessee Historical Society Collections, who helped with installation; Michele Cox who served as fiscal officer for the project; and Mark Sledziewski, executive director at Historic Ramsey House. The project was funded by a grant from Humanities Tennessee.

Dickens said that in addition to opening new doors to history, she hopes the new exhibit brings more visitors and more members to Ramsey House. She said in the meantime they do need help with appropriate display cases for some artifacts to add to the new project. Mark your calendars now for the upcoming Ancient Sounds Music Festival Sept. 1-2.

For more information on Historic Ramsey House go here.

Beth Kinnane is the community news editor for

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