By Preston "Danger" Franklin, MHS Senior
I went to elementary school in Knoxville, and when my parents announced that we would be moving to Maryville for my middle and high school years, I didn’t really know what to think. I had heard people mention the city before, my younger self associated it with something like Knoxville’s younger sibling. When the day came that we moved to Blount County, you can only imagine my surprise at how unique and charming Maryville, Alcoa, and all their communities turned out to be! When something like that makes an impression on a fifth grader, you know it’s got to be special.
What I didn’t realize at that age was that Blount County is unique in more ways than meets the eye. The stories, people, and events that have shaped Maryville and Alcoa have been a long time in the making, and history is still being made here every day. Historical sites seem to hide behind local businesses, flourishing greenways, and busy street corners. The memories and scrapbooks of the older residents hold a wealth of information about businesses, people, and events that defined Blount County during the 20th century, like a living catalog of the way times have changed. The whole area is ripe with these pockets of magic and history that change our area from “just another suburb of Knoxville” into some of the most beloved cities in Tennessee, and they’re just waiting to be found. But that’s just the problem—Blount County’s history doesn’t quite throw itself at visitors or new residents, and it can take some digging to see in the light.
Which is what we, Off the Map, are taking steps—literally—to fix. By researching and documenting the finer points of history in Maryville and Alcoa, we hope to save pieces of our unique culture that might otherwise be lost. Talking to locals, tearing through documents preserved by the library, and hiking through the cities are just the first steps in making sure no story goes untold. That’s only half the battle. The main goal of Off the Map will be to make this information available to the public via web and app design, as well as through social media and blog posts like this one. By the end, we hope to have a running history of everything that makes Blount County special that can be passed down for generations to come.
The Steering Committee met this weekend to plan for the first Off the Map session with students on Saturday, February 16, 2019. Mayor Taylor led us on a community walk to downtown Maryville's Preservation Plaza. We also discussed essential histories of Alcoa-Maryville that should live in the first iteration of the mobile app. We hope to hear from participating students about the themes/narratives they want residents and visitors of their community to know about. The Blount County Public library staff will be pulling resources for students to do additional archival research on these essential histories. Steering Committee member Keri Prigmore is co-planning a panel discussion about the separation and development of Alcoa and Maryville. We continue to build upon the Off the Map Facilitator Guide so that educators can continue this work beyond this first year.
The Steering Committee and members of the Alcoa-Maryville community have been busy getting ready for student participation! We have space reserved at the Blount County Public Library, technology in hand, and local experts eager to chat with Alcoa High School, Maryville High School, and Maryville College students.
Our first information session will be Thursday, January 3rd. Please fill out the contact form to receive more details!