‘This founded a state’: Knoxville’s role in Tenn. history as state turns 225

Tennessee

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Tennessee is marking a milestone birthday: 225 years. On June 1, 1796, Tennessee officially became a state.

Maybe you’ve heard Knoxville called the birthplace of the state of Tennessee? That’s because the discussions and documents that paved the way to statehood happened in downtown Knoxville.

“Knoxville was the site of the, I think naturally, the site of the Constitutional Convention and then it became the capital of Tennessee,” said Jack Neely with the Knoxville History Project.

Before Tennessee became a state, a group of men brought the idea to the table in Knoxville. In fact, it predominately happened at what is now a parking lot on the corner of Gay Street and Church.

“That’s where the 55 delegates met and argued about the constitution, which was the founding document. That’s where all 55 guys, including James Robertson, and Andrew Jackson, and Claiborne and Anderson and Rhea and William Blount himself all got together and argued for 27 days and came up with a document and signed it,” Neely said.

One historical marker from the time does still stand: William Blount’s mansion.

“That’s the only house that was here at the time of the signing of the constitution,” said Neely.

It was a fitting backdrop for Tuesday’s celebration in Knoxville.

Though the founders decided on a state constitution in February of 1796, it was about four months later on June 1 that then-U.S. President George Washington signed the documents to make Tennessee a new state.

The documents were drawn up here in our backyard.

“This founded a state. This was the beginning of a state, the 16 of, who would have guessed, 50 states,” Neely said.

You can learn more about the Knoxville History Project, here.

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