KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Thanksgiving began in Knoxville as a religious holiday but after the Civil War, it grew into a festival that often included fireworks, hunting parties, roller-skating parties, and shows in theaters on Gay Street according to the Knoxville History Project.
Thanksgiving celebrations date back to the 1600s and it was mostly celebrated in the New England area. Slowly, many days of thanksgiving were celebrated throughout the country. In fact, in 1847, Gov. Aaron Brown decreed a Thanksgiving Day.
In Knoxville, there was at least some awareness of the holiday by 1847 when the newspaper The Knoxville Register urged the national adoption of the holiday. A few years later, Gov. Andrew Johnson declared a Thanksgiving Day to be held on Thursday, Dec. 6, 1855.
The Knoxville History Project said it was celebrated with nondenominational service at First Presbyterian Church, at the corner of Church Avenue and State Street, and most area churches participated.
When Thanksgiving was declared a national holiday on Nov. 26, 1863, it’s unlikely that many in Knoxville were celebrating with a feast as the city was under siege by Confederate Gen. James Longstreet.
However, Union soldiers defending the city observed the holiday thanks to Gen. Ambrose Burnside giving General Field Order No. 32. Though the men were living on half rations at the time.
By the early 1900s, the Knoxville History Project said many were making a point to feed the less fortunate on Thanksgiving. The YMCA, the Salvation Army, and the Children’s Mission Home served free dinners for the holiday.
In 1906, reformer Carrie Nation, a prohibitionist famous for smashing saloons with her hatchet, spent Thanksgiving in Knoxville. According to the Knoxville History Project, saloonkeepers put up signs saying “All Nations Welcome Except Carrie.” It is reported that Nation celebrated the holiday quietly with a dinner at the Cumberland Hotel’s dining room at the corner of Gay and Cumberland.
Today, Thanksgiving is celebrated throughout the country with family get-togethers, parades and often lots of food.