Friday, July 28, 2017

Ijams Nature Center (Free!)

Ijams Nature Center

This week, we decided to explore the Ijams (rhymes with "times") Nature Center. The Ijams family, avid birders and nature lovers, bought 20 acres on the undeveloped side of the river (downtown Knoxville is on the other side) in 1910. Back then, this wasn't quite as rustic as it sounds - the family was right next door to a couple of quarries, so they probably heard blasting every day!  

To honor the family's legacy, the city turned the property into a park in the 60s. Over the years, the city kept adding on to the park - today it's 275 acres of well-marked nature trails.

The park is divided into two sections. The first section is the original park; which has the visitor center, a trail that is handicap accessible, and Navitat.  The second section is Mead's Quarry Lake. There is a parking lot at the lake, along with bathrooms, and a small swimming hole. 

Access to the park is free, but you will have to pay if you want to rent a canoe or take the Navitat zipline adventure.

We packed a picnic, parked at the lake, and walked down Imerys trail.
The trail head was right next to the old limestone ovens. The Ross Marble Quarry orginally cut and sold "marble", a crystalline limestone. The marble for the National Art Institute came from this quarry. 

After the Great Depression, the quarry switched to cooking the limestone. The resulting lime would be shipped out on rail cars. 
The trail winds through a field of wildflowers,
curves into a green forest, 
and then begins to wind around massive boulders.
It's hard to believe this used to be an abandoned quarry, and an illegal dump, just 20 years ago.

Hayworth Hollow is cool and shady,
full of massive jumbles of rock,
and thick with moss and ferns. 
We take a small break, and then back track to the other trail.
 We cross over the rock bridge,
 and pick our way down stone steps.
A little ways down the hill, we come to the Keyhole.
 The Keyhole was created in the 1920s, so the workers could access either side of the quarry. There was a crane on either side of the rock bridge, which were used to move the massive blocks.
We make our way through the tunnel, 
and back into sunlight and another trail. 

Instead of continuing on, we decide to stop and finish our picnic. After three hours of walking and exploring, we're hungry!
Know Before You Go: We visited Ijams on a weekday. The road to the lake is a short but fun ride - at least on a motorcycle. The road is narrow and there is no shoulder.  

We arrived before 9am, and found there was plenty of parking and few people on the trails. By the time we headed back at noon, Meade's Quarry Lake was pretty crowded and parking was tight. We checked and the main section of Ijams was even more packed. We would recommend going early and skipping this park on a weekend!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

A Sunday Stroll Through Knoxville's Cemetaries - Part II (Free!)

A Sunday Stroll - Part II

We wanted to visit the Winstead Cottage and the historic confederate cemetery, but discovered it was closed on Sundays. Instead, we visited three other cemeteries nearby.

First, we strolled through the Catholic Cavalry Cemetery. We couldn't find much information about this cemetary online, but there were graves with dates from the late 1800s. 
There are two really beautiful features in this cemetery, a priest's mound in the middle where the fathers are interred, and a series of monuments for the Stations of the Cross. Unfortunately, we couldn't take pictures of either, because we wanted to be respectful of several recent interments.

Next we visited Knox County Potter's Field. This cemetery was where the county interred the poor until the 1930s. It's estimated there are 18,000 graves, but there are no maps of the plots and very few gravestones. Walking through this cemetery was a sobering and powerful reminder of how often our country has fallen short of the promise of equality for all.
Several of the gravestones we were able to find appear to be homemade. Monument companies did make concrete markers, but many families couldn't afford a professional gravestone. Instead, a relative or neighbor would pour concrete into whatever could serve as a mold, and then impress or carve letters into the wet cement.

The third cemetery we visited was the Odd Fellows Cemetery. The property was purchased by three organizations in 1880 and was one of the first African-American cemeteries in Knoxville. Sadly, a lack of funds and clear ownership of the property (The Odd Fellows organization disbanded during the Great Depression) meant the cemetery fell into disrepair.  

There are over 5,000 graves, but less than 500 have gravestones. There are several prominent Knoxville African-Americans, like Cal Johnson, buried here. There are also at least 34 Civil War soldiers from the Ohio unit, which was an African-American regiment.

 The Cemetery of Life is an award-winning short feature video about The Odd Fellow Cemetery and its rich history.

 There is a monument, erected by Knoxville in 1935, to honor those laid to rest in this corner of Knoxville. You can read the entire description here. Truly honoring the dead in these two cemeteries finally began in 2008, when UT and Knoxville began working to reclaim this cemetery. 

Gravestones have been cleaned, the overgrowth cleared, and the students have installed a walking path and put up barriers to prevent further erosion. When we visited, students had also hung their grave rubbings along the new path. To be honest, we found their fluttering papers a far more appropriate memorial.

Monday, July 24, 2017

A Sunday Stroll Through Knoxville's Cemeteries (Free!)

A Sunday Stroll Through Knoxville's Cemeteries  

After a week of knocking some small projects off our list, we packed a picnic and headed to see Knoxville's cemeteries. Probably a strange sort of outing to some, but cemeteries tend to be quiet, shady retreats from the summer heat. 
(double click to enlarge any of the photos)
We ended up seeing five cemeteries, and skipping one more that was closed on Sunday. We could have certainly see a lot more cemeteries though!
Our first stop was Old Gray Cemetery

 Old Gray was established in 1850, and is a wonderful Victorian garden cemetery.  There was a bit of crisis when it came to burying people in the nineteenth century. Traditionally, most people had been buried in the family plot, or in the their local churchyard. The Industrial Revolution changed all that. Suddenly, everyone wanted to move to the nearest city and existing urban churchyards just didn't have space to accommodate the increased need for burials. 

In Europe, they solved this problem by creating garden cemeteries. Old Grey was one of the earliest garden cemeteries to be established on our side of the pond. The cemetery is 13 acres, with several roads winding through beautiful trees and gentle hills. 

You can also see the obsession the Victorians had with obelisks. (In Victorian funeral language, obelisks were a symbol for everlasting life - but that may have just  been an excuse for one last indulgence in the current crazy for all things Egyptian) Being a good, old-fashion Victorian cemetery, Old Gray is also reputed to be haunted by a woman dressed in black. 

One other interesting bit of history about Old Gray - the marble monuments in this cemetery aren't really marble! For many years, the state was reknown for its 'Tennessee marble', which is actually a crystalline limestone that looks like marble when it's polished. Tennessee marble was so popular, a great deal of it ended up in Washington DC. 

We'll let the pictures speak for themselves. (If you are curious about the Woodmen 'tree stump' gravestones, you can read the story here)

Next, we visited the Knoxville National Cemetery, which shares a fence with Old Gray Cemetery.
This cemetery was established in 1863, after the Union seized Knoxville during the Civil War. Burnside created the cemetery so Union soldiers could be buried (or re-interred) here. At the end of the Civil War, there were 3153 burials, but only 2078 of the dead were identified. 
It is also the site of the Union Soldier's monument, which was erected in 1906. 
The cemetery became a national cemetery in the 60s, closed in the 90s, and is a stark reminder of the cost of war. There are 9,000 soldiers and their wives interred in this cemetery, and another 5,700 military veterans buried next door in Old Gray.

Our stroll through Knoxville's past continues tomorrow - in Part II.