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Knoxville's Little Known History: A Moveable City Hall 
Knoxville's first recognizable City Hall was located on Market Square.

On the north end of Market Square, where the stage is now, once stood a three-story Victorian brick building, the Market House. Also at that site was the first recognizable seat of government for the City of Knoxville.

In 1868, 52 years after Knoxville became an incorporated city, the Board of Aldermen finally had a place to meet and call City Hall.

It is unclear where the Board met before 1868; some documents specify the courthouse, and other documents are not specific.

One of most notable things to happen at the first City Hall occurred in 1869, when Knoxville’s first black aldermen, Isaac Gammon and David Brown, were elected to office.

The Market Square building served as City Hall until 1924, and by a quarter-century later, in the 1950s, many of Knoxville’s government officials and citizens wanted the building torn down. The mayor at the time thought of the building as a liability, and many people considered it to be old-fashioned and wanted the extra room for parking that a demolition would provide.

Although there was some sentiment to save the building, including support from poet Carl Sandberg, the building was destroyed by a fire in 1959. Two years later, it was torn down.

"I think it would be cool if it was still there - we would honor it, but we wouldn’t have the Market Square we do now," says Jack Neely, director of the Knoxville History Project and a Knoxville Mercury columnist.

"It’s conflicting, because it’d be great to have something from that era. It would be one of the oldest buildings in Knoxville, and we would be able to celebrate the memory of the first black officials who were elected and served there. If we could have saved the Market House, I’d like to think we could have set up Market Square somewhere else."

Meanwhile, back in the 1920s, when the City left the Market Square building, it situated itself at what had been the School for the Deaf, at what's now the intersection of Henley Street and Summit Hill Drive. The school had moved to a new building. Built in 1848, the School for the Deaf building became known as City Hall, serving citizens from 1924 to 1980. It still stands today as Lincoln Memorial University's Duncan School of Law.

Knoxville's next significant City Hall was located at what's now Summit Hill Drive and Henley Street.

But times change, and with it, government's needs. Since 1980, City of Knoxville and Knox County offices have been headquartered at the City County Building, six blocks south of what then became known as the "old" City Hall off Summit Hill.

The City County Building, built in the late 1970s and designed by Knoxville architect Bruce McCarty, has 10 stories and 534,000 square feet. The opening came 50 years after a combined city-county government building was first proposed. The City County Building is rumored to have been the one of largest office buildings in Tennessee when it opened, and it cost $26 million - something of a bargain price by 2016 standards.

The current seat of City government is the City County Building, 400 W. Main St.

As part of the City's celebration of its 225th anniversary, City Blog is detailing some of the oddities and curiosities from the archives of City government. Next up: What unusual service requests did the Public Service Department respond to in the 1950s?

- Communications intern Tyler Cookston

Posted by evreeland On 23 September, 2016 at 4:31 PM