South Woodlawn loves its history, wildlife

Betsy PickleOur Town Stories, South Knox

The South Woodlawn Neighborhood Association was formed in 2007, but the South Woodlawn area has been around much, much longer.

Bordered by East Moody Avenue on the north, James White Parkway and Cruze Road on the east, Chapman Highway on the west and the aperture of Stone Road on the south, South Woodlawn, like much of Knoxville, started out rural and gradually became suburban. With its array of hills and valleys, it’s difficult to envision the farms that used to be its hallmark.

One of its best-known features is also probably its most historic now. Woodlawn Cemetery – formerly the site of a sweet potato farm – came into existence in the 1860s, according to a neighborhood newsletter from 2012. It was purchased in 1864 by Henry Davenport and transferred to the Ingersoll and Ford Brothers in 1894. The Lyle family has owned and operated it for more than 100 years.

A view from the top of Woodlawn Cemetery, September 2017.

Driving through the cemetery, visitors can see the markers of many locally familiar names, including Cas Walker and I.C. King. Perhaps the most significant nationally is that of Ken Burkhart (1915-2004), a pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds.

Until recently, the claim of most historic was held by a white oak tree on Taylor Road near South-Doyle Middle School. Recognized as a Constitution Tree – meaning it was alive at the time the U.S. Constitution was signed in 1787 – the tree had long been significant within the state and was honored with a plaque from the Knoxville Tree Board in 1992.

In the early 1900s, the Constitution Tree was located on the property of the Lee Taylor Dairy on land that later was developed into a neighborhood. Unfortunately, the big tree came down during a storm in late September 2021. The homeowners, Kevin and Leigh Ann Dickert, are working with artisans to have wood from the tree carved into appropriate art.

The one school in South Woodlawn is South Knoxville’s only middle school – South-Doyle Middle. Built on former pasture land to accommodate the merger of South and Young high schools, it functioned as a high school from 1976 to 1991, when South-Young was merged with Doyle High into South-Doyle High School, the only 9-12 school in South Knoxville.

South Woodlawn has been home to several Knoxville notables, including Frank Adams (1934-2017), a journalist, author, educator and director of the Highlander Center (1970-73); Ben Byrd (1925-2016), award-winning longtime sports editor of the Knoxville Journal; Ruth DeFriese (1911-2015), a beloved Young High School home economics teacher and co-founder (with Alice Ijams) of the Chapman Highway Garden Club; and Harold G. Woods (1939-2014), a former Green Beret who went to work at the Aluminum Corporation of America and became a union leader in the AFL-CIO at the local, state and national level.

In November 2013, South Woodlawn became the first community in Tennessee to earn the designation of Certified Wildlife Habitat from the National Wildlife Federation. Part of the process was getting at least 40 homes to qualify as individual wildlife habitats. The neighborhood has easily kept up with that requirement, inspired by its proximity to the Urban Wilderness.

South Woodlawn and South Haven both adjoin the Urban Wilderness, and both take pride in supporting Knoxville’s sprawling outdoor playground, which includes the 100-acre Baker Creek Preserve. South Woodlawn also has embraced the 12-acre Sam Duff Memorial Park, the former home of defunct Young High School’s football field and track. Next up for Sam Duff is a dog park in a partnership between the city of Knoxville and the Boyd Foundation.

The association’s current officers are Janice Tocher, president; Debbie Helsley, vice president; Sylvia Woods, secretary; and Danny Gray, treasurer.

Last month, SWNA cut the ribbon on a new neighborhood welcome sign at the intersection of Moody Avenue and Woodlawn Pike. Three identical signs are near other entrances to the neighborhood: Busbee Road at Chapman Highway, Woodlawn Cemetery and Taylor Road at Baker Creek.

Sara Baskin, who chaired the sign committee, says C. Nelson Titsworth II of Laser Precise Inc. crafted the metal work, and her South Woodlawn neighbors Tim Saults and Gary Jacobs of Wayne & Daniel Contractors built the signs and installed them, donating their work. The neighborhood association applied for and received a grant from the Office of Neighborhoods and also received money from Knoxville City Council 202 funds to pay for the long-desired branding.

Next time you want to explore South Woodlawn, just follow the signs.

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

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