Exhausted after hours in the city archives pouring through microfilm for records, I fought the beginning of headache and suddenly realized I hadn't stopped to eat all day. Earlier that day I had used my new smartphone and followed Google Maps for the first time. Using the data gleaned from death certificates I toured the city looking for family sites from the ancestry of one of my clients. What I needed was sustanance and some relaxation, so I did an online search for the best restaurant in Knoxville. I sat in a large padded circular booth with tea candles flickering in the darkened restaurant and ordered a surf and turf dinner with all the fixings. The quiet elegance set the mood for reflection on all my discoveries that day and I began to brainstorm on the paper napkin in front of me...
On the Northern heights of
Knoxville, looking down over the city and the Tennessee
River, is a neighborhood called Mechanicsville tucked in between and the interstate. The street names and some of the buildings
have changed over the years, homes razed for public parks and factories turned
into parking lots, but families still sit on the front porches and call out to
one another while boys play ball in the street.
It was into this working class neighborhood that the Clark family moved
in 1917 from Knoxville College . They made a new life getting work as laborers
and renting a home at Lancaster County,
South Carolina 300 Maria
Street just a block from the
grounds. Knoxville College
The extended Clark family all set about the chores of daily life, joining local churches, sending the children to school, and all the adults to labor in nearby factories. They struggled together through misfortunes that would test the fabric of any family. From 1918 until 1929 at least 3 of William Clark’s grandchildren died along with his wife and daughter in law. William never owned his own home, did not have enough personal property for a probate or will when he died, and suffered much loss, but he worked hard at his various jobs and lived throughout the years putting a roof over the heads of several generations of the Clark family often living in the Maria Street house at the same time.
From the Mechanicsville neighborhood,
turns south towards downtown
and then west through increasingly rural scenery. Turning west again onto Knoxville Keith Road the
houses move further apart and the road narrows.
On the right, a pair of tumbling down pillars marks an old entranceway
with no sign. A rutted, dirt road
covered with oyster shells that crunch under car tires winds uphill around
unkempt grounds and drooping trees through the neglected Longview
There is no record of a headstone, but one of William Clark’s grandchildren, Ruth, was buried there. She died soon after the family moved to
. The graveyard is in a quiet section of Tennessee Western Knoxville across from a small tree filled park
where children play on a new playground.
The voices of youngsters nearby reminds us that 3 year old Ruth Clark was
buried here in 1918 all alone several miles west of her neighborhood. During the decade after Ruth died, several
more Clark children died as did their mother, Ola, and they were buried to the
East of Knoxville in the
for Paupers without headstones to mark their graves. Then Grandmother, Mariah, died in 1929. The remaining Clark children looked to
extended family for mentors and care while their father and grandfather
continued to labor hard for their family. Knoxville
The setting sun sent shadows across the uneven ground which highlighted the tilt of many tombstones, broken tree branches, and pot holes in the driveway. But the birds sang sweet songs and the air was still, the crape myrtle bloomed in yards nearby, and God watches over Ruth, and we remember her…