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Namesake: Dixie Lee Junction in Loudon County

8:50 AM, Feb 25, 2011   |    comments
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Head west on Kingston Pike in Knox County and the merged highways of 11 and 70 split as you enter Loudon County.   Since the early 20th century, this area has been known as Dixie Lee Junction.

Today the two-lane highways are back roads compared to the nearby interstates.  In the days before there was an Interstate 40 or Interstate 75, Dixie Lee Junction was a crossroads for the entire country.

"The name Dixie Lee combines the names of a couple of highways.  The Dixie Highway and the Lee Highway were main thoroughfares," said Harvey Sproul, a Knoxville native who has lived and practiced law in Lenoir City for the last 60 years.

Sproul was elected Loudon County Judge from 1966 through 1974.  At that time, the office of "Judge" served the same role as what is now called the county executive or county mayor.

"When I was a student at the University of Tennessee, Dixie Lee Junction was really out in the country.  There was not much between it and the Bearden area.  Now most of the area is part of Farragut," said Sproul.  "Kingston Pike in downtown Knoxville is where the Dixie Highway and the Lee Highway merged.  Then the roads stayed merged until they reached Dixie Lee Junction in Loudon County.  It's a lot like I-40 and I-75 today because you have a 20-mile stretch of road where it is both interstates."

The Lee Highway was a connection of roads that allowed drivers from the east coast to drive to California.  The highway is named for Robert E. Lee. 

The Dixie Highway was a network of roads that gave drivers a path to navigate from from areas in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana down to Florida.

Much like Interstates 40 and 75, these main cross-country thoroughfares met and merged in Knoxville.

"The area in Knoxville along Kingston Pike and Dixie Lee Junction had a lot of businesses such as motels, restaurants, and service stations for tourist-related traffic.  This was a popular spot to stop and stay overnight a half-way point for a lot of travelers on long trips," said Sproul.

Businesses used eye-catching neon signs and oddly shaped buildings to attract the attention of tourists.  Business owners along Dixie Lee Junction also warned tourists that this was the "last chance" to enjoy civilization before an abyss of rural countryside.

"Dixie Lee Junction advertised as the 'last chance' to find a different way of getting the attention of the traveling public.  Of course, it was not really the last chance.  When you have two main thoroughfares like the Lee Highway and the Dixie Highway, there are businesses in all of the small towns along the route," said Sproul.

While you will not see any hotels at the split today, remnants of the prosperity that existed before the interstates were constructed remain part of the foundation at Dixie Lee Junction.  Some of the concrete foundations of razed buildings still reveal green floor tiles associated with a bygone era when the Dixie Lee Junction drove U.S. travel in the early 20th century.

"There was a large amount of traffic," said Sproul.  "It was a thriving little corner when automobile travel became more popular."

Hollywood Homage

Bing Crosby's first wife was an actress from Harriman named Wilma Wyatt.  When her career began, Hollywood studios apparently did not like the name Wilma Wyatt.  Wyatt took the names of the highways in her home state of Tennessee and chose Dixie Lee as her stage name.

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If there is a place or landmark with a name you would like us to research, send your suggestions to 10News reporter Jim Matheny using the "Namesake Suggestions" form on this page. Be sure to include your name and a note on how to pronounce it in case we use your suggestion on-air. Likewise, please let us know if you do not want us to use your name on-air.

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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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