Places that Made a Difference: Fountain City Park

Dr. Jim TumblinFountain City

The 12-acre site of Fountain City Park was used for religious camp meetings as early as the 1830s. In 1851, the Fountain Head Methodist Episcopal Church (later Fountain City United Methodist Church) purchased the property.

Col. J.C. Woodward (1841-1913), who owned Woodward Heights and its “Crown Jewel,” Botherum Mansion, in downtown Lexington, Ky., sold the mansion and the entire 36-acre subdivision for just over $90,000 in 1890.

That same year, he moved to Knox County, founded the Knoxville and Fountain Head Land Company and purchased 431-acres including the park and lake sites for $159,600. He also purchased an additional 14-acres and the Fountain Head Hotel itself for $27,500.

The 40- to 50-room Fountain Head Hotel overlooked the magnificent spring and the park and fulfilled Col. Woodward’s image of a resort that would attract patrons from far and wide. He improved the park, added a bandstand and a dance pavilion and, in 1894, impounded Fountain City Lake. Connected to the park by a corridor, the heart-shaped lake originally was surrounded by a paved walkway with a white board fence and gas lights to add to its attraction.

In that same very eventful year of 1890, another group of investors established the Fountain Head Railway (the “Dummy Line”), a 5.25-mile railway connecting Central Market (now Emory Park) to the resort. With a full package of attractions and convenient transportation, the Fountain Head Hotel and Resort became the destination place that locals would not otherwise have available until a much later date when the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg and Big Ridge Park among others would become available for rest and recreation.

Under Col. Woodward’s leadership the resort thrived for a number of years but, by the 1920s, it had been acquired by the Knoxville Railway and Light Company (later renamed the Knoxville Power and Light Company). The KR&LC had consolidated ownership of both Chilhowee Park and Fountain City Park and operated all the local street railway lines, including the Lake Ottosee (Chilhowee Park) and Fountain City Park lines. They also supplied electric light and power for Knoxville and several of its suburbs. The KR&LC had grown to a very powerful position and was featured in the 1915 Commercial History of the State of Tennessee, which described it as follows:

Construction underway on the original Fountain City Park dance pavilion.

“The Company’s physical property is in excellent condition, having been mainly constructed or reconstructed, since 1903 at a cost of over $2,500,000. The Company owns Chilhowee Park, recently enlarged and beautified. It also owns and operates Fountain City Park. The street railway system, December 31, 1914, covers 29.825 miles of single and 11.582 miles of double track, equivalent in total mileage of 52.989 miles of single track, all standard gauge. Equipment consists of 65 open cars, 82 closed cars, and 11 work cars. The company has a modern building devoted to car barns and shops, fully equipped for efficient care and maintenance of equipment. The Power House is of up-to-date construction, equipped with turbines and generators of 6,800 K.W. rated capacity, giving ample reserve.”

Under the management of two very prominent Knoxville businessmen, Charles H. Harvey and William S. Shields, respectively president and vice-president of the company, the KP&LC proposed to add to their empire by subdividing Fountain City Park into residential lots.

H.E. Goetz, MD (1874-1927), formerly a general physician in the Deaderick Building in downtown Knoxville, had taken a special course in New York in mental and nervous diseases and, in 1913, opened a sanitarium for their treatment at 3000 North Broadway (near Atlantic Avenue).

The Fountain Head Hotel property had changed hands several times but, in 1919, the City Directory shows that Dr. Goetz acquired it and moved his Goetz Sanitarium to Hotel Ave. and Fifth St. (later designated 107 Evergreen Lane) into the converted hotel.

Since his sanitarium adjoined the park, he had asked for and received assurance that he would have both ingress and egress into the park when he purchased the property. Not only would the proposed subdivision void that agreement, it would also deprive the public of the recreational use of the park.

Dr. Goetz organized his neighbors and, with the encouragement of civic-minded attorney and Fountain City resident John W. Green of the law firm of Green and Webb, sued in Knox County Chancery Court (Case No. 19472, Goetz vs. Knoxville Railway and Light Company). Beginning in December 1924, the suit moved through that court and the state Court of Appeals and was finally decided on November 20, 1926, by the Tennessee Supreme Court. The lengthy Supreme Court opinion included this clause:

“We are further of the opinion that the complainants (Goetz, et al), as McBee’s successors in title to the hotel tract, may claim and enforce this easement, regardless of whether it was specifically mentioned in the mesne (intervening) conveyance or not, and it is therefore unnecessary to determine whether the specific reference in all of the deeds, except the one from McBee to Gillespie, to the park as the south boundary of the lots conveyed, is a sufficient reference to the easement to amount to an express conveyance of it. … An easement which by grant, reservation or prescription is appurtenant to land is not a mere privilege to be enjoyed by the person to whom it is granted or by whom it is reserved. It passes by a deed of such person to his grantee and follows the land without any mention whatever.”

On June 15, 1932, after considerable negotiation, the Tennessee Public Service Company (successor to the Knoxville Power and Light Company) executed a deed to Anna H. Lowe, Carl R. Martin, C.A. Moore, Arthur Savage, Fred W. Keith, John W. Green and Emma J. Clark, as trustees of the Fountain City Park Commission. Upon token payment of $10, the Commission was given the responsibility of holding the park property “to be used and enjoyed as a public park for the benefit and use of the public generally, under such reasonable rules and regulations as may be made, from time to time, by said (Commission) for the protection of said property and the public.”

Thanks to Dr. Goetz and his attorney, Judge John W. Green, the park had been preserved for public use and now, more than 85 years later, the Fountain City Park Commission and the Fountain City Lions Club continue to manage the park and the lake for the enjoyment of the public.

Sources: N.L. Hicks’s A History of Fountain City (2000), J.C. (Jim) Tumblin’s Images of America: Fountain City (2004) and Fountain City: People Who Made A Difference (2016).

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