Oakwood, the neighborhood along the east side of Central Street and between Churchwell and Morelia avenues to Harvey Street, was developed during the early 20th century and was Knoxville's first residential suburb, in the modern sense.
At the time Oakwood was developed, residential construction historically progressed as demand for housing progressed along thoroughfares, often along grid patterned streets, with utilities extending along the route. In Oakwood, not a single lot was sold until all the improvements were made. Those improvements in Oakwood included graded streets, electric lights, and gas. Oakwood also, beginning in 1903, included a street car line along Morelia Avenue, connecting to the Central Street line.
The developer of Oakwood was Clay Brown Atkin. C.B. Atkin was the son of Samuel Atkin, saw mill owner, tinner, and stove man. C.B. Atkin was born in the Atkin house on S. Gay Street, across from the Courthouse, in 1864.
Samuel Atkin supplied iron to the Confederacy during the Civil War. The senior Atkin also owned a sash, door, & blind manufacturing firm, which he converted to coffin manufacturing during the Civil War. After the Civil War, Samuel Atkin built houses, manufactured furniture, and operated brick yards. He handed his business to his sons; C.B. Atkin and his brother, Frank S. Atkin; in 1887.
C.B. Atkin eventually took charge of furniture manufacturing and converted the operation to mantle manufacturing. In 1908. This endeavor led to the company becoming the largest producer of hardwood mantles in the world.
C.B. Atkin purchased the land from which the 131 acres of Oakwood would be carved in 1901 from the Churchwell family. The forested area was known as Flatwoods. His Oakwood development included 531 residential lots and some industrial lots, including land for his operation, Oakwood Manufacturing Company.
Oakwood was known as the "Magic Suburb." Atkin developed it to suit industrial workers with proximity to industrial areas, including the Southern Railway shops and his own industrial lots. By 1905, Oakwood included almost 200 houses. Between 1902 and 1917, 330 houses were built in Oakwood. In 1917, seventy-seven percent of the area's heads of households were skilled working men.
Several streets in Oakwood were named for people associated with Atkin. For example, Harvey Street was named for Charles H. Harvey, President of the Knoxville Railway & Light Company. Also, Churchwell Avenue was, of course, named for the family from whom Atkin had purchased the land for Oakwood.
Homes in Oakwood were, and are, mostly small, simple clapboard houses. Many of the architectural plans were repeated throughout the neighborhood. While Morelia Avenue was the first street to be developed, Churchwell and Columbia avenues, along the highest geographical point of the neighborhood, were the most prominent streets.
Oakwood became chartered as a town in 1913. It was annexed by the City of Knoxville in 1917. Seventy-eight thousand dollars was appropriated for sewers for the neighborhood in 1923.
Atkin was a prominent businessman. His endeavors beyond the development of Oakwood included the building of the Bijou Theatre in 1908 with business partners; ownership of the Atkin Hotel, formerly at the corner of Depot Street and N. Gay Street (most recently the Regas restaurant parking lot); ownership of the Colonial Hotel, formerly across S. Gay Street from the Bijou Theatre; and ownership of the Burwell Building, renamed for his wife, Mary Burwell Atkin, following his purchase of the building from the Knoxville Bank & Trust Company. He bought and sold property from the Fountain City Company, including the rail line to Fountain City. Atkin was reported to be the single largest tax payer in Knox County in 1921. He also served as director of the First National Bank, the First Appalachian Exposition of 1910, and the School for the Deaf during his lifetime.
C.B. Atkin died in 1931 at his home at 518 W. Main Street, now the site of the Bank of America Building, across from the downtown post office.
Next month Local Lore will explore Village Green in Farragut, Knoxville's first planned community.