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The 700 Block of Gay Street, West Side - Birthplace of a State - The Gaps of Gay Street Part 8

February 6, 1796, 225 years ago, the Constitutional Convention for the State of Tennessee met in Knoxville to adopt the document that would give birth to the 16th state in the Union: Tennessee. Fifty-five statesmen from the territory gathered in Knoxville to sign the document that would be sent to the United States Congress. These men met at David Henley's headquarters, located on the southwest corner of the intersection of Gay Street and Church Avenue, what was then the northern fringe of Knoxville. Such a monumental event must surely be commemorated by a monument or, more likely, a museum recreating the scene. What if I told you that the birthplace of the State of Tennessee is marked by a couple of Ford F-150's, some Toyotas, a Honda or two, a pretty nice Range Rover, and a small booth with a sign that says "Pay Here in Advance." If you're a longtime reader of this blog, then this comes as no surprise. That's right folks, we the people of Knoxville paved over this significant, historic site and put up a parking lot. Welcome to the 700 block, the largest surface parking lot in downtown Knoxville and the largest Gap of Gay Street. 

The 700 block of Gay Street, West Side, looking northwest. Pryor-Brown garage and General Building in background.

The 700 Block of Gay Street, West Side, looking southwest. Howard Baker Federal Courthouse in background.

The 700 block of Gay Street, West Side, looking southeast. 700 block, East Side in back ground.

The 700 block is one of the oldest in town. It is within the bounds of the original city plan laid out by James White in 1791. The earliest photo we have of the 700 block (or Gay Street for that matter) is this shot from 1869.

700 Block, 1869.

The commercial district of Knoxville basically ended at the current 600 block. Only one building in the photo remains standing today, the one on the right (east side) with the sign that says T.M. Schleier's Picture Gallery. That's the Deadrick Block, which currently houses Knoxville Soap, Candles, & Gifts. In 1869, the west side of the block housed an ironworks, a couple of real estate companies, a ladies' clothing store, and a boot shop. 

725-723 S. Gay Street

Back to 1796. When the delegates to the constitutional convention arrived in Knoxville, the closest lodging to Henley's headquarters was Stone's Tavern. Captain John Stone, a Revolutionary War veteran who served under John Sevier, opened his tavern on the northwest corner of Gay Street and Cumberland Avenue in 1791. Mr. Stone was German and was known for his courteous hospitality. The tavern was a large log structure, the largest of the five lodgings in Knoxville at the time. It consisted of multiple buildings (the main lodge, stables, outhouses, gardens, etc.) and occupied nearly half of the block. Stone's was the first meeting place of the Knox County Court in 1792. Both the first and second legislative council of the territory met here. Stone's Tavern operated for many years, with a more permanent structure taking place of the original log building in 1854. It became the Globe in the mid 1880s. 

In the 1880's, new owners remodeled the building and the Globe became Shubert's Hotel, a name it would keep for roughly 20 years. 

A rendering of Schubert's Hotel from Souvenir Knoxville 1889

Schubert's was known as the best place to eat in the city during those years. It was one of the first places one could get oysters and, for that reason, people flocked to it. Soon, most pubs in Knoxville began having oysters shipped daily from the Chesapeake Bay and oysters became the most popular pub fare in town. The hotel was described as having an elegant barroom, a spacious ballroom, and a commodious lobby with a large, open fireplace. Rooms had impressively high ceilings. 

From Handbook of Knoxville, 1892.

By 1895, the Schubert Hotel received a refreshing and was known as the New Schubert Hotel. In 1900, the hotel was known as the Hotel Flanders and, by 1905, the Cumberland Hotel. The building did a brief stint as the Appalachian Hotel in the 1910's, before becoming the Cumberland again by 1920. 

The Cumberland Hotel, 1930s. The 700 Block, West Side, looking northwest. 

Closeup on the entrance to the Cumberland Hotel. 

Looking south down Gay Street, the Cumberland Hotel at right and the Bijou just beyond.

The 1930's were not kind to the Cumberland. As other hotels rose to prominence, this one began to fade. Eventually the dining room shut down and by 1945 the Cumberland was renting rooms by the month. 

The Cumberland, 1936.

The end came for the Cumberland Hotel in 1945. Fire swept through the building, burning it to the ground. The newspaper reported that the hotel went up "like a tinderbox." Arson was the suspected cause of the fire. 

A brief anomaly occurred during the life of the hotel when, in the 1920's, the hotel rented the front lobby to Bill's Auto Part. Bill's, as longtime readers may recall, had several locations up and down Gay Street over the years. 

Bill's Auto Parts in the corner of the Cumberland Hotel, 1920's.

Inside of Bill's Auto at the Cumberland Hotel

By the 1930's, the Cumberland once again was using the front corner of the building. After the 1945 fire, the lot was cleared and became surface parking. It remained surface parking until the mid-1960's when the Federal Housing Administration built a very bland, 3 story office building (pictures of which are apparently non-existent). That building stood for another 25 years, occupied by the TVA and other Federal entities until it was demolished in 1988/89, to make way for a Federal Courthouse that was never built. The location of the Cumberland Hotel has been surface parking for the last 3 decades. 

721-719 S. Gay Street

These two addresses correspond to the northern two commercial bays under the Cumberland Hotel. From 1895 until 1915, this space was occupied by businesses associated with the hotel, particularly the billiards room. In 1900, 719 was occupied by C. McNabb Deli. In 1905, it was TJ Donahue Saloon. The hotel occupied the space again until around 1920 when the space became Cadillac Sales Company Inc. Presumably, this was the forerunner of Rodgers Cadillac. By 1925, the space was occupied by the East Tennessee Music Company, purveyors of pianos and fine musical instruments.

The East Tennessee Music Company, 1932

By 1935, the music store was gone, replaced by General Electric's Electric Home Servants (appliances) store.

721-719 S. Gay Street, 1936, General Electric's Electric Home Servant Store

From the Cumberland Hotel, we'll move north until we reach Church Avenue.

717 S. Gay Street

717 S. Gay Street was the first building, heading north, past the Cumberland Hotel. The building was a fairly non-descript, one bay, two story brick building in the Victorian commercial vernacular. In its younger years, the building was home to several plumbing companies. In 1890, the building held the address 89 Gay Street. At that time, a plumbing firm under the name MF Rourke was located there. By 1895, the spot was occupied by Kirk & Stout Plumbers. 1900 saw the return of MF Rourke, but 1905 brought CT Heins Plumbers. 1910 brought a new industry with Tenn Printing. In 1915, 717 was home to Mrs. D.A. McCampbell. In 1920, Tinsley Economy Tire Company moved into the spot, followed by Gay Billiards Parlor in 1925. 1930 ushered in The Tennessee Automobile Insurance Company, followed by Lynnhurst Cemetery in 1935, and a Real Estate Title Co in 1945. The title business proved fruitful, as it hung on until about 1989, changing names to Pioneer Title Insurance around 1975 and Ticor Title Insurance by 1985. By 1990, the address shows up as All Right Auto Parking. Another building lost to the Federal Courthouse that never materialized.

717 S. Gay Street circa 1930.

715 S. Gay Street

715 S. Gay St. was very similar to 717, a two story, one bay, Victorian commercial building. The window treatment was slightly more interesting, with 715 featuring 2 large windows on the second floor over the three window ground floor store front. 715 shows as "Vacant" in the city directory for 1890 and 1895. 1900 shows the presence of MF Rourke plumbing company, who also occupied 717 at that time. MF Rourke would be there until at least 1910. In 1915, the building was occupied by SH Palmer, Blacksmith. The 700 block had a heavily automobile oriented focus in the early 20th century, so it is interesting to see this last vestige of the equestrian era in this shop. That quickly ended and by 1920 the space was occupied by Standard Tire and Equipment. 1925 brings us Knoxville Gas Co., which would occupy the space through 1950. In 1955, Curtis Mortgage had moved in, but in 1965 the building was vacant. The Hearing Aid Center was here in 1975. Pioneer National Title and Ticor Title held the building with 717 in 1980 and 1985 respectively. By 1990, All Right Auto Parking had claimed the spot. Presumably the building fell, with the others, in 1989.

715 S. Gay Street, circa 1930

713 and 713.5 S. Gay Street

713 really kicked it up a notch in that it was three stories tall. 713 was visually more interesting than its neighbors with tall, arched windows on the third floor. It also disappeared before its neighbors, 715 and 717, becoming the first piece of what we now know as the large parking lot on Gay Street. 

In 1884, the building shows up on the Sanborn maps as a 3 story building with a stairwell running up the south wall to the upper floors. The building housed a billiards parlor and Spiro and Bros. Cider and Vinegar manufacturers (Jacob Spiro Cider by 1900). Mr. Spiro's place was notable as home to Knoxville's first Jewish congregation. The (soon to be named) Temple Beth El,  held its worship in the basement of his cidery. Julius Ochs, father or New York Times Publisher Adolph Ochs, was the Rabbi.

By 1905, Spiro was replaced by Marble City Auction Mart. 1910 saw the Knoxville Evening World in the building (interesting given the building's connection to the New York Times). In 1915, the building was vacant, but by 1920 Olds Taxi Service had moved in on the ground floor and something more interesting occupied the upper floors, or 713.5 S. Gay Street: Branson Studios Photography. By 1925, that business had become Lloyd Branson Photography. As the artist Lloyd Branson died in 1925, these Bransons were likely relatives of his and not him. 

As of 1935, 713 housed the Dixie Drive-It Yourself rental car company, a.k.a. Saunders Drive-It Yourself. Saunders was one of two large rental car companies on the block, the other being Hertz at 703. The rental car companies were similar to today's "Zip Car," in that they marketed themselves to people who didn't own cars but needed a car every now and again; an alternative to the taxi/bus/streetcar. The Saunders Rental Car System is largely regarded as the first car rental company and it survives today as AVIS. 

713 S. Gay St., late 1920s, housing the Saunders Rental Car System and Branson Studios

The rental car business was located there for nearly 30 years until, by 1965, the Knox County Book Company moved in. Sadly, by 1975, the building had disappeared, becoming the first part of the current, massive parking lot.

711 S. Gay Street

The next address, moving north, was 711 S. Gay Street. In 1884, the building is shown on the Sanborn maps as a grocer. 1890 showed the first floor as being vacant. However, the most interesting tenant of this building had been on the second floor, "Mozart Hall." From the 1860's, Mozart Hall was one of Knoxville's first performance spaces. People would go there to see musical performances, even large art displays. Many local artists, including Lloyd Branson, exhibited their art there. It was described as a large, empty room. Mozart Hall may not have been much, it may have been replaced by larger venues like Staubs, the Bijou, the Tennessee, or even the Grand (just down the block), but it represented one of the first performance venues in the city. 

By 1895, the first floor was occupied by L. Schwartz Fruits. Upstairs was home to the Knoxville Cotillion Club, likely meeting in Mozart Hall. L. Schwartz was replaced by CE Hatton Confectionery by 1905. The automotive industry found its way to 711 by 1915 with the Citizens Auto Company followed by the Willis Motor Company in 1920. The building was vacant in 1925. Circa 1930 the building was occupied by the Knoxville Office Furniture Co. Upstairs, the building housed the ABC Bible Class and Club Rooms, likely in the old Mozart Hall space. The building was vacant by 1935. 1945 shows the Epiphone Company in the building, and by 1955, just like 713, the Knox County Book Company. Just like 713, 711 was part of the massive parking lot by 1975.

711 S. Gay Street, late 1920s, housing the Knoxville Office Furniture Co. and ABC Bible Class and Club Rooms.

709 S. Gay Street

709 S. Gay Street was another brick, Victorian commercial structure, almost as tall as its three story neighbors, but composed of two floors with very high ceilings. The most striking feature of this building was the set of ornate windows on the second floor. 

The 1884 Sanborn map shows 709 housing a wholesale liquor seller. By 1890, J.E. Rumboughly Tobacconist occupied the space, replaced by Johnson & Co. Cigars by 1895. 1900 brings the J.C. Ward Saloon, bringing the building back to libations. By 1905, 709 S. Gay Street housed Heller Brothers Whiskies. 

Maurice and Adolph Heller operated a whiskey business in Bristol (Tennessee and Virginia) during a tumultuous era in liquor sales. This was the time of temperance. The brothers located on State Street, in Bristol, where the state line runs down the center of the street. This was an advantageous location because it allowed the brothers to move from state to state in the face of ever changing temperance movements. From 1886 to 1888, it was illegal to sell liquor in Bristol, VA, so the brothers operated across the street in Bristol, TN. When liquor became legal again on the Virginia side, the brothers located their headquarters on that side. Heller Brother Whiskies was successful enough that they were able to open a shop on Gay Street in Knoxville in 1905. Sadly, in 1907, Knoxville voted in temperance and the city went dry well prior to Prohibition. So, Heller Brother's Whiskies became HMC Reynold Soft Drinks. 

Heller Bros. Whiskies, touting their impressive mail order business. 
Image found on

In 1915, the spot was occupied by C.E. Hatton Confectionery. 1920 brought Schaad and Gibbs grocers. 1925 was Love Brothers Confectioners. In 1935, the building was occupied by Locletti's Confectioners. That business remained in the spot for nearly 30 years, being replaced by 1965 with a beer bar. By 1975, the building had been razed and the spot was subsumed into the Allright Parking lot. 

709 S. Gay Street, showing its tall, ornate windows. 

707 S. Gay Street

707 was another brick, two-story, commercial store. The 1884 Sanborn map shows George W. Adney and Co. Stove and Tinworks in the building at 707 S. Gay Street. At the same time, another business named Cheap John's Auction was operating on the upper floor. By 1895, the building was vacant. 1900 brought the EL Deering Plumbing Co, which was replaced by Samuel and Co. Liquors by 1905. Of course, temperance came in 1907, so the liquor sales dried up and E.W. Camp Pool Room moved in. By 1915, the spot was occupied by J.T. Breen Printing Company.

J.T. Breen published a weekly paper called the "Voice of Labor." This paper was published to promote the interests of organized labor. The paper was four pages long and had a fairly lengthy subscription list. Evidently, 1915 brought a couple of organized labor based periodicals to Knoxville, as "The Voice" competed with another new paper, "The Press." Pundits, at the time, thought that these two new periodicals would bring new life to organized labor in the city. 

By 1920, "The Voice" was gone, replaced by Sheeley and Rose Pianos and then Doll & Co. Office Supply in 1925. In 1935, the building was vacant. 1945, post World War II, brought the "Victory Beer Bar" to 707. Spike's Lunch Counter, Cosson's Sports, and R.E. Pryor occupied the space in 1955, 65, and 75 respectively. By 1980, the lawyers had arrived. Gilreath, Pryor, and Rowland were in the space by 1980. That firm became Gilreath and Associates. They occupied the building until the 1990s. In 1995, the building was vacant. The building fell and became part of the Allright Parking lot in 1997/1998. 

707 S. Gay Street, circa 1925, with Doll and Co. Office Supply. 

705 and 703 S. Gay Street

705 and 703 were two addresses that were consolidated into one building. Another brick, Victorian, commercial structure, 705 and 703 were distinctive because of a gabled roof. 705 was the J.E. Rumdoughy Tobacco Comany in 1890, in 1895 it was the Journal Company, in 1900, the Journal and Tribune, and in 1905 H.R. Howard Automobiles. 703 was P.A. Shepard Carriages in 1890, in 1895 the Evening Sentinel and Tribune, and in 1900, the Knoxville Sentinel. Then it was Home Steam Laundry. Interestingly, the Journal and the Sentinel were side by side before moving across Gay Street on adjacent blocks.

After 1905, the real transformation began. The building was completely reconstructed as a theatre. 705 and 703 became one edifice and, in 1907, opened as the Edison Theatorium. Just a year later, the theater was renamed the Marvel. In 1910, the place was rebranded The Grand Theatre. The Grand was a fairly large, one screen theater which showed movies and Vaudeville. It operated until 1917. 

The Grand Theatre, opening night, September 5, 1910
Photo from

A vestige of the Grand, after the theater's demise. This was located under the front gable of the building.

The final curtain fell at the Grand in 1917, and the place became Palace Garage and Sales. By 1925, "Rent a Ford" operated in the majority of the building with the Preston Typewrite Co. operating out of the 705 side. By the 1930's, the "Rent a Ford" had become Hertz Car Rentals, with A-Terminix operating out of 705. With Saunders a few doors down, the rental car wars were on. 

705 and 703 S. Gay St. operating as Hertz, Yellow Drivurself Co. Note the recessed, theater style entrance and the medallion from the Grand beneath the gable.

"Our cars are not painted yellow"

Hertz remained at this location until around 1970. By 1975, the lawyers had moved into the building. 705 was occupied by Johnson, Monceret, Stewart, Moore, and Waggoner in 1980. That firm became Johnson and Johnson, Stephanie Gamucheau, Arthur Monceret, Lawyers by 1985. Ray Cate, Walter Johnson, and WM Cremins, Lawyers were there in 1990, and by 1995, 705 was vacant. 703 was occupied by Leibowitz, Watson, Kressin, Stivers, and Erickson in 1980. That firm was Leibowitz and Associates by 1885. 703 was vacant by 1995. The building came down after a fire next door in 1996. 

701 S. Gay Street

Finally, we come to the northernmost building on the block, 701 or the Knaffl building. 701 was constructed in the mid 1880's: three stories in an interesting style. The bottom floor was your standard, Victorian storefront. The second floor featured impressive window designs, with a tile capped bay window and a recessed alcove on the wall facing Church Ave. The top floor featured arched windows with tile capped eaves and arched cornice. 

In 1900, the building housed the Knoxville Sentinel, before it moved directly across the street. Knaffl Studios occupied the second floor. We'll get to them later. Occupying the storefront, in 1905 there was F.J. Callum tailors. In 1910, it was McNichol's Art Shop. That lasted until at least 1920, when F.J. Callum returned. In 1925, Logan real estate had moved in. By 1935, Preston Typewriters occupied the spot. By 1955, the directory lists "Finance" as occupying the storefront. 1975 brought Executive Massage. 1980 brought the House of David, Family of Hairstlyes. That business survived most of the 1980's, and by 1990, the spot was vacant. 

On the second floor was Knaffl Photography Studios. Joseph Knaffl, was born in Wartburg in 1861 to Austrian immigrants. Joseph studied photography in the studio of his brother-in-law T.M. Schleier, who had documented Knoxville during the civil war. You can see Schleier's studio, in the Deadrick block in the photo from 1869 above. He was married to Lula May Atkin, daughter of Samuel Atkin, of Knoxville hotel and real estate fame. Knaffl joined forces with his brother Charles to start Knaffl Studios in 1884. Joseph would run the business until his death in 1938. The business stayed in the family, eventually moving to Kingston Pike, before it closed in 1989. Joseph's primary focus was portraiture. He took most of the portraits we now have of the city leaders from those times; however, his most famous photo was the Knaffl Madonna. This photo has graced millions of Christmas cards over the decades. 
The Knaffl Madonna, Joseph Knaffl's baby daughter standing in for baby Jesus.

1977 brought the Farragut Diner to the building. The diner was extremely popular among downtown workers. The Farragut moved into the Knaffl from a previous location across Gay Street, in the Farragut Hotel. The diner moved to the new location because of a fire in the Farragut. In 1990, the Knaffl building caught fire and was heavily damaged. The building was full of customers when it caught fire. The Knox Bonding Company and the Upstairs Lounge were on the upper floors and were heavily damaged. As the fire was burning, lawyers from nearby firms, came to help the law firms in the adjacent building save their files. The original diagnosis was that a fire started in the fuse box and then spread through the many false ceilings and plaster walls. Later, investigators determined that the cause of the fire was suspicious. Sadly, the owner of the Farragut Diner did not have insurance. She was able to scrimp and save to open a new restaurant in the former Blue Circle building that recently stood next to the Promenade Garage. 

In 1996, after another fire, the Knaffl was torn down. It had been a beautiful building and was a great loss to Gay Street. However, the Knaffl held a very interesting and important artifact that was lost when the building was demolished. On the side of the building was a placard that commemorated the adoption of the Tennessee Constitution in February 6, 1796. The placard disappeared and has yet to surface. Unfortunately, it has never been replaced and the birthplace of the State of Tennessee remains unknown to most of its citizens.

And now for some photos of the 700 block, in its glory days...

The 700 Block with the Bijou up front and the Cumberland Hotel just behind. The Pryor Brown Garage is under construction at top left. Circa 1928.

700 Block, closer, 1928

Construction on the 700 block, 1920s

A crowd gathers outside the Knoxville Sentinel, 1920s. Knaffl Building at right, Cumberland Hotel at left.

700 Block circa 1935

Closer up on the 700 Block

700 Block 1936

Aerial shot, looking north

Looking north, labeled

Aerial shot looking east

Looking east, labeled

Watch the buildings disappear.

1985, Note the Federal Gov't building on the corner. 717 and 715 are there. 713, 711, and 709 are gone. 707, 705, 703, and 701 (Knaffl) are there.

1995, the Federal Gov't building is gone. 717 and 715 are gone. 707, 705, 703, and 701 are still standing, but not for long.

2018, only the Pryor Brown Garage is left.

That concludes our trip to the largest parking lot in downtown Knoxville. Most folks stashing their autos there, have no idea that they are standing on such an historic plot of land. From John Stone's Tavern, the adoption of the Constitution of the State of Tennessee, to the first Jewish worship space in Knoxville, the Mozart Hall, to the Knaffl Madonna. The 700 block has many stories to tell. 

We have one more stop to make in our study of the Gaps of Gay Street. Until next time. 

Happy Statehood Day!

Unless otherwise noted, all photos are used with permission from the McClung Collection, Knox County Library System. 


Gentleman Dan said…
I moved to Knoxville in 1984 and worked downtown until 2003. I'm remembering something different on the NW corner of Cumberland and Gay (Cumberland Hotel site). I'm guessing the city directories are your source, and I could be wrong, of course.

I don't remember an office building on that corner in the 1980s-90s. I remember a mid-2oth century, brick, near-windowless building that housed a Bell or AT&T phone switching center. To be sure, it was a bland structure and may have had offices in it, but it always struck me as being fortress-like and out of place on Gay Street.
No Dan, that corner was covered with a very nondescript office building. It was a federal biding, which was one of the reasons why this block was originally slated to house the new federal Courthouse. I vaguely remember it from my childhood.
Kay Norton said…
Hello. I enjoy your articles very much. What can you tell us about how the old tavern/boarding house located at 200 W Cumberland (corner of Cumberland and State St) figures into the forming of the new state of TN? I don’t find a way to attach a copy of an old postcard identifying it as the first state Capitol. Thanks.
Steve Procko said…
The Schleier Gallery photo you posted I believe is attributed to the gallery he opened in 6/1867 "On Gay Street over Ramsey's Hall". He had an earlier gallery in early 1864 located right next to the Provost Marshal General Samuel P. Carter's headquarters. Any idea where exactly that location was?

He advertised it in a 1/9/1864 in Brownlow’s Knoxville Whig - Headquarters for Pictures Mr. T. M. Schieler, Artist from Nashville has established a branch gallery in this city. His place of business is next to General Carter’s headquarters where he is ready to furnish every style of picture such as photographs, cart de visite, stereotypes, etc. Call and see specimens.

In the 1870s Schleier's gallery was at 95 Gay Street.
Anonymous said…
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