Namesake: Sharp's Ridge in North Knoxville

3:46 PM, Dec 3, 2010   |    comments
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Tens of thousands of people drive by Sharp's Ridge in North Knoxville every day. The ridge spans more than three miles on the southern side of I-640. It numerous television and radio towers can be seen from almost anywhere in Knoxville and Knox County.

While the ridge itself is an unmistakable and prominent feature of the city's landscape, the history of Sharp's Ridge is not as easy to locate. Much of its early history occurred as an area on the outskirts of Knoxville's city limits, which means there is little public documentation available on the history of its prior residents in various archives. A southern portion of the ridge was annexed in 1917 and the rest of the ridge eventually was eventually included in Knoxville's city limits in the 1960s.

The main reason the ridge is covered in antennas and broadcast towers today is due to its height and central location. It is one of the highest peaks in the city of Knoxville at more than 1,300 feet above sea level. At the crest of the ridge an observation deck provides one of the most breath-taking views of the city and the dozens of peaks that are visible in the distant Great Smoky Mountains.

The geographical features of the ridge also make it a prime location for bird-watchers. Some call the area a migratory "bird trap" that naturally attracts tropical birds in the spring. The city also maintains a gazebo, picnic tables, and benches at the Sharp's Ridge Memorial Park atop the steep slope.

Before the hillside was dominated by broadcasting towers, it was privately owned residential property. That began to shift in 1929 when the Knoxville City Council heard a proposal from W.C. Terry to trade his 140 acres of ridge land for the old city stables property on Broadway. A 1929 article about the proposal in the Knoxville News-Sentinel quoted Terry as saying he wanted the city to transform Sharp's Ridge into a public "skyline park" that could include "a baseball diamond and bleachers" on the plateau of the ridge.

The 1929 article also indicated a home was once located on the ridge that was "summer residence of the late Col. R.B. Strong, a wealthy Knoxvillian."

Another Knoxville News-Sentinel article from October 5, 1965, offers some insight into how the ridge earned its name. In the paper's coverage of the death of Jack Temple Sharpe, the headline reads, "Sharpe of Early Knox Family, Dies." The article states that Jack Sharpe was "a descendant of one of Knoxville's early families. ... Jack Sharpe was born in the old family house on Sharps Ridge. The ridge was named after the family."

The 1965 article also provides some historical background for Jack Sharpe's father, Alfred A. Sharpe. It said Alfred was "one of the youngest soldiers of the Confederacy and later was one of Knoxville's first real estate men." Alfred Sharpe died in 1916.

Today the ridge offers a clear path for broadcast signals and a clear view of the spectacular scenery in Knox County and the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains.

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Note: Namesake is the renamed title of the series formerly known as 'Why do they call it that?'

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