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Kingsport, Tennessee

Kingsport, Tennessee: A Planned American City

Copyright Date: 1987
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Kingsport, Tennessee
    Book Description:

    Kingsport, Tennessee, was the first thoroughly diversified, professionally planned, and privately financed city in twentieth-century America. The advent of this so-called model city, a glittering new industrial jewel in the green mountains, offered area residents an alternative to rural life and staid small-town existence as the new century dawned. Neither an Appalachian hamlet nor a company town, Kingsport developed as a self-proclaimed "All-American City."

    Produced by the marriage of New South philosophy and Progressivism, born of a passing historical moment when capitalists turned their attention to Southern Appalachia, and nurtured by the Protestant work ethic, Kingsport today reflects its heritage. From flaunting its patriotism with grandiose Fourth of July parades to being defensive about its pollution, the city exhibits values almost stereotypically those of middle-class America. But loss of vision and a decline in the quality of leadership plague contemporary Kingsport, and, like other American industrial strongholds, it is buffeted by the winds of the high-tech revolution and the changing world economy.

    This first full-length biography of Kingsport challenges interpretations of regional history that promote the colonial and poverty models. Margaret Ripley Wolfe brings to it the advantage of an insider's perspective. In considering the special roles of capital, labor, industry, and government over seven decades, she neither patronizes Appalachian workers nor treats developers and industrialists as villains. Her book will interest scholars of urbanization, city planning, landscape architecture, and industrialization, as well as local history enthusiasts.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5634-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Maps
    (pp. viii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    Kingsport, Tennessee, is the first thoroughly diversified, professionally planned, and privately financed city in twentieth-century America. Located in the northeastern corner of the Volunteer State, just south of the Virginia border, bounded to the east by Interstate 81, and cut east to west by northbound I-181, the city sprawls for more than ten miles along highway 11W in Sullivan and Hawkins counties. Lying at 1,200 feet above sea level, the contemporary incorporation physically exceeds John Nolen’s 1919 plan; but plumes of smoke and vapor that routinely rise from the floor of the Holston River valley testify to the presence of...

  6. 2 Foundations of an American Dream
    (pp. 11-30)

    Kingsport’s underpinnings were based on a potpourri of American ideology. The founders drew heavily on the ideals of a rural, agrarian society and sampled innovative thoughts of their own era that helped to shape the twentieth-century urban, industrial world. It has been suggested that the first Utopia was “not a Hellenic speculative fantasy but a derivation from a historical event…the city itself.”¹ Whatever the classical connection between Utopias and cities, John B. Dennis, the financier for the Kingsport project, denied any effort to fantasize, claiming that the experiment had “simply been carried out on modern lines of business sense.”² The...

  7. 3 Artifacts of the Planned City
    (pp. 31-57)

    Deeply embedded in the mythology of Kingsport is the story of the town’s conception. A popular version relates that around 1910 John B. Dennis was traveling with J. Fred Johnson, his freight agent, when their train stopped in Kingsport to pick up the mail. Leaning against an old boxcar mounted on posts in a muddy cow pasture that served as a depot, they pushed back their derbies, and at that moment, Dennis made the fateful observation: “You know, this would make a fine site for an industrial city.”¹ This tale enjoyed such popularity that industrialists and railroad officials subsequently embellished...

  8. 4 Building an Industrial Community
    (pp. 58-83)

    A first-time visitor to Kingsport from another East Tennessee town in 1927 described his approach to the model city in near-mystical terms: “When several miles outside the city I saw rising up to the heavens great volumes of smoke. It was necessary to ask no questions. I knew I was nearing an industrial city and having heard of Kingsport and its marvels, I was greatly impatient to reach this site of human endeavor which has caught the attention of the industrial wizards of the world.”¹ Although the new town hardly measured up to what he anticipated, it was a fascinating...

  9. 5 The Human Factor
    (pp. 84-115)

    In 1927, on the tenth anniversary of Kingsport’s incorporation, an editor of the local newspaper wrote that outsiders considered the town “just an industrial city …. However, it is a mistake to believe that a city can be builded of industrial plants alone, just as it is a mistake to believe that brick and concrete and steel constitute a city. It is not buildings that make a city—it is people.” Another writer for theKingsport Times, John M. Oliver, pointed to the city’s growth during 1926, noting that “marvelous events” had taken place: “Buildings went up over night, new...

  10. 6 The Model City in Depression and War
    (pp. 116-148)

    “Few manufacturing centers have suffered less from the four years of business depression than Kingsport, the planned industrial city of the East Tennessee hills,” boasted local journalist Howard Long in a 1933 issue ofManufacturer’s Record.¹ Weathering economic distress better than many American cities became a mixed blessing as Kingsport beckoned the unemployed and homeless. The Great Depression, the New Deal, and the world war that loomed over these years before unleashing its full fury in the 1940s—all profoundly affected the model city. Although the town continued to enjoy a great deal of favorable publicity, all of the promotional...

  11. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  12. 7 Kingsport in Transition
    (pp. 149-180)

    War-weary residents of Kingsport and the surrounding area “turned out by thousands upon thousands to throng Broad Street” shortly after the Japanese surrender.¹ They were relieved to have an end to the deadliest, costliest, and most devastating struggle known to recorded civilization. The confidence with which they faced postwar adjustment was laced with some degree of uncertainty. The model city was about to embark upon an era marked by previously unprecedented growth through annexation; significant residential, business, and public-service-oriented construction; some developments that would irrevocably alter the downtown; and others that would bring social tensions that would help to undermine...

  13. 8 Dismantling the Model City
    (pp. 181-208)

    Around 1966 the City of Kingsport, at an approximate cost of $129,908, engaged Eric Hill Associates of Atlanta to prepare a long-range planning study. Leon S. Eplan, vice-president of the firm, observed two years later that “with or without proper planning, the Kingsport of 1990 will be at least as different as the Kingsport of today is from that of 1946—22 years ago.”¹ n What in retrospect seems a profound expression of the obvious ran counter to the town’s innate conservatism. For some of the residents, the millennium had arrived; they looked on their individual circumstances with personal satisfaction...

  14. 9 Epilogue
    (pp. 209-213)

    The planned industrial city of Kingsport has weathered seven decades as an incorporated municipality. Although it has changed a great deal in appearance and size since 1917 and has lost the vision that launched it, the old model city retains much of its heritage. Several factors have coalesced to spare this city the fate of less successful ventures in Appalachia: an aspiring population that is anxious to take advantage of steady employment and regular cash income; natural resources; the advent of the railroad; northern capital; the concept of interlocking industries; and above all, fortuitous leadership in the person of J....

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 214-244)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 245-260)