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Namesake: Vestal in South Knoxville

5:57 AM, Jun 17, 2011   |    comments
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The multitude of rail lines that roll through the Vestal neighborhood in South Knoxville helped carve the city's reputation as the Marble City in the 20th century.

"Candoro Marble Works was the largest producer of Tennessee pink marble.  That marble was used to build so many things around the country, like the Smithsonian Museum and the Nationally Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.," said Jean Vestal, a Knoxville artist.

Jean Vestal has never lived in Vestal, but she joined a community effort to restore the Candoro office and showroom building ten years ago.  The building is on the National Register of Historic Places and now hosts the community's annual "Vestival."

"The Candoro building was constructed in the 1920s and it is so beautiful.  The building is a work of art.  The famous Italian sculptor Albert Milani worked for Candoro for several decades," said Vestal.  "He carved the eagles in front of the post office in Knoxville."

The name Candoro is the amalgamation of the surnames of the company's founders.

"The 'c' is for the last name of one of the founders, John Craig.  The 'a-n' is from the last name Anderson.  The 'd-o' is from Donaldson and the 'r-o' is from the name Rodgers.  The company's name is definitely Candoro, but the road it is on is named Candora Avenue," said Vestal.  "It was pronounced Candora because of our southern tongues and someone spelled the avenue the way it sounds."

Candoro shut down its operation in the early 1980s.  Today there are still smaller businesses in Vestal like Custom Marble & Design that shape and finish the stone into pieces of art.

For all of the community's connections to the marble industry, the origins of the neighborhood's name were not set in stone.  The Vestal name is rooted in a company that worked with another raw material.

"My grandfather and his brothers started the Vestal Lumber Company," said Jean Vestal.  "The first office of the Vestal Lumber Company was in 1901 on Maryville Pike.  There was nothing out there at the time and it was a couple of miles outside of Knoxville."

Like the marble operation that would eventually come to the neighborhood, Vestal Lumber acquired raw materials from throughout the southeast, shipped it to Knoxville via rail, and processed the wood for its final destination.

"The heyday of the Vestal Lumber Company, when it was running around the clock, was during World War II," said Vestal.  "The Navy used the wood to build large ships.  Landing craft were made of wood so they would not attract mines.  The company made gun stocks and crates.  Everything had to be crated up to be shipped overseas.  The company was awarded the Army-Navy E Flag for all of its contributions to the war effort."

Workers eventually built homes around the large lumber operation.  The new neighborhood's identity was rooted in the company's name.

"Because the Vestal Lumber Company was there, it just became known as 'Vestal.'  People would ask where you were going and it was, 'Out to Vestal.'  That is how it got its name," said Vestal.

The large lumber and marble companies are gone today.  Many of the old buildings remain and there is a large lake from a leftover quarry at Fort Dickerson.  The community continues its efforts to restore the historic components of the neighborhood.  Jean Vestal hopes the revitalization will provide a canvas for residents to add future success to the area's rich past.

"They had some hard times with companies closing down, but I think that Vestal has great potential. I think it is a wonderful place that can be really affordable for members of the art community," said Vestal. "Good things are happening now."

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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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