Officially, I’m not supposed to like one thing around here more than another, but in two years here Jackson Avenue has become one of my favorite places around Knoxville.
Many times I’ve wandered down the street, and there’s plenty to explore. Hung out on the Gay Street viaduct to watch trains cross, used it for a running route (just yesterday, in fact), and two of my favorite watering holes in town are on Jackson. And on Saturdays, if I’m up and around, I’ll grab a hot dog in the Old City.
In a city with some occasional identity crises, Jackson’s personality is the blue-collar kid who puts in 40 solid hours a week and knows how to have a good time, but isn’t boastful about things, because, well, Jackson just is. The there’s a zen to it: the rumbling sound of your car tires on the ramps to Gay Street, the length of an unbroken block as a spine for adjoining neighborhoods, clacking train tracks. But there’s also a touch of spookiness that keeps you from slipping fully into a trance. Things burn on Jackson too.
Jack Neely does his treatment on the road and burgeoning neighborhood in this week’s MP, and if you’re interested in the past and some musings on the future of a long block that has a full head of steam, read his piece. He even introduces some of us to a new place to hangout:
In the backyard of Knoxville’s newest residences, accessible via a passageway underneath the viaduct ramp but not obvious from the street, is a courtyard like no other in Tennessee.
Surrounded by a pocket canyon of three-, four-, and five-story buildings, and a steep bluff of mossy boulders, a curved walkway leads past unusual wooden sculptures. The combination of greenery and elevation all seems almost surreal, and vaguely Mediterranean—even though only a little bit of what you see of is newly built. It’s almost all just old Knoxville stuff that’s been renovated in ways that bring out the contrasts. If you doubt the scene’s real, or that it’s in Knoxville, you can look up at an old chain-link fence serving to prevent an avalanche of a few decades of Vine Street rubble and refuse.