I.C. King: The man behind the park

Betsy PickleOur Town Stories, South Knox

It’s common for parks to be named after prominent citizens – living or dead. That’s certainly the case in South Knoxville and South Knox County, where everyone from Gary Underwood to Marie Myers is celebrated in grass, greenways and play areas.

The granddaddy of them all, south of the river, is indisputably I.C. King, whose name is honored by a 230-acre park that stretches between Alcoa Highway and Maryville Pike.

I.C. King

The 2019 creation of an entrance at 2625 Maryville Pike, along with a picnic pavilion, play structure, parking lot, restrooms and 2-acre dog park, has made King’s name part of the popular vernacular once again. While the structures are still off limits as part of the county’s coronavirus closures, outdoor enthusiasts are enjoying socially distanced fishing and paddling, as well as hiking, running and mountain-bike rides on the park’s eight miles of natural-surface trails.

Unfortunately, we’ll never know what King would think of I.C. King Park; he died Dec. 23, 1952. But considering the prodigiousness of his offspring, it’s likely that he would have appreciated having a place for his kids to go to get out of the house.

Inslee Columbus King, born July 5, 1877, was the son of Benjamin F. and Elizabeth Monday King. Benjamin, a blacksmith, died when I.C. was 16.

King was 20 when he married Annie B. Jones, daughter of Jack “Jackie” Jones and Sarah Matthews Jones, on Aug. 10, 1897. Jackie Jones owned the majority of South Knoxville from the Tennessee River to Woodlawn Cemetery and donated land for the original South Knoxville Baptist Church building.

I.C. and Annie had 12 children: Frank “Sonny” Jones King, Jack Arnold King, Charles McGee King, Helen King Byrd, Irene King Rose, Louise King Haws, Elizabeth King Parnell, Stella King Anderson, Sue Annette King, Inslee Columbus King Jr., William Taylor King and Roe “Rody” Monday King.

Although he left school after eighth grade, I.C. King was a successful businessman and a politician. He dealt in real estate, but his main business was a grocery store on Sevier Avenue – the building now houses Alliance Brewing Co.

I.C. King’s headstone near the King monument at Woodlawn Cemetery (File photo by Betsy Pickle)

He ran for and won the office of register of deeds when he was 32. He was appointed a U.S. Marshal and served during the terms of presidents Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover. Well respected in local Republican politics, he served as county welfare director and a county squire (the precursor to county commissioner).

King descendant Meridee Nelson Underwood published the book “Gifts From Mama King,” a collection of Annie King’s poems, other writings and news clippings, in 1996. Included was an undated, unsourced newspaper article that stated King “was born and reared near the river about four miles south of Knoxville.”

A similar bio could be printed for many of King’s descendants, who are still spread throughout South Knoxville. Acclaimed eatery Ye Olde Steakhouse was started by Burnett “Bunt” King in 1968 and is still owned by his children. Longtime Knoxville Journal sports editor Ben Byrd, who died in 2016, made his home in SoKno most of his life.

Many folks in South Knoxville (this writer included) can claim some tie to the King and Jones families. So while he’s been gone almost 70 years, I.C. King remains a vital part of this community, through his kinfolks and the park that honors him.

Betsy Pickle is a freelance writer and editor who particularly enjoys spotlighting South Knoxville.

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