KNOXVILLE— The city of Knoxville is home to a rich history and places to visit. Among the historical places that make Knoxville unique, there is a tranquil park that has earned its place on the National Register of Historic Places.
In the heart of the city, Talahi Park is located along the west side of Cherokee Boulevard in the Sequoyah Hills neighborhood.
Sequoyah Hills was named after Sequoyah, the creator of the Cherokee alphabet.
Sequoyah Hills is known as one of the earliest neighborhoods in the city developed by E.V. Ferrell in 1925.
In 1926, Robert L. Foust purchased land adjacent to Ferrell’s Sequoyah Hills and began developing what is known today as Talahi Park.
The word, Talahi, a Cherokee expression for “In the Oaks.” The name of the park was originally “Old Papoose Park” to honor the Cherokee tribes that once inhabited the land. Each monumental structure contained some reminder of the legend of the Cherokee Indians.
Foust’s plan included concrete streets, two fountains, Sunhouse and Panther and Papoose park. According to Foust’s promotional brochure, it was the “Most aesthetically designed subdivision that Knoxville had ever seen.”
Through the years the park has fell victim to time and nature. The park is currently undergoing restoration.
Chairwoman of the Beautification and Preservation Committee, Melinda Ethier, said that the first phase of the restoration project has already been completed.
“There are really three phases of the restoration,” she said.”The first phase has been completed and that would be Papoose park. It was becoming dangerous—giant trees had fallen on the fence and destroyed the iron work and concrete columns.
Ethier described the second and third phase as being more complex and costly because it involves the restoration of Sunhouse and Panther Fountains, along with other landscaping projects.
“The plumbing system for both fountains has never been replaced, so it is virtually 90 years old,” she said. “Because it is on city property,we have to go by all the codes, which is good because we will have up to date, top of the line equipment.
” We will have all the stuff that will hopefully keep it running another 100 years,” Ethier added.
The Kingston Pike-Sequoyah Hills Association, Beautification and Preservation Committee was awarded a $30,000 state grant for the restoration of Sunhouse Fountain. In addition, a generous Sequoyah Hills resident pledged $50,000 for the project.
The original design of Sunhouse Fountain included 12 brass frogs, of a Cherokee design, that were placed around the rim of the fountain through which water was directed toward the center. The location of the frogs today, is a mystery.
Clark Stewart, a Sequoyah Hills resident and retired professor from the School of Art at UT, designed a new mold for the frogs.
Stewart was able to examine an old photograph of the original frog and determined the exact dimensions. He then proceeded to make a model of the frog out of polymer clay.
“The hardest part was getting the model for the frog and it’s fabulous,” she said. “We don’t know what happened to any of the originals[brass frogs]. We think they may have been taken off during the war effort.”
As of now, the restoration of Panther fountain will be a more costly project due to the deterioration and structures that must be recreated. There is no funding currently set aside for this project.
There are a few Cherokee Myths that are unique to the theme of the park. Topping the entrance piers is a spider with its feet on the earth holding the fire it has received.
According to the brochure, the legend is that a long time ago there was no fire on earth and the world was cold. Men held a council to decide how to get fire from the “Man of Fire” who lived nearest the sun across great waters.
After many failed attempts from several creatures including a raven, owl and snake, the water spider was the only creature that could successfully run on top of water and reach the “Man of Fire.”
The legend says that the spider took a coal of fire from his hand and came back to earth. On the way the spider got attacked and the fire fell down into the earth where it remains to this day.
Because of this belief the Cherokees worshipped the water spider for the warmth and light she brought to the land.
The legend of the water spider is only one of many legends that can be uncovered in the design of the park. Other legends include “The Nest of the Tlanuwa” and “The Legend of the Underground Panther.”
There are plenty of symbols represented throughout the park that are genuine to the Cherokee theme and legends.
The park is located in close proximity to the University of Tennessee and UT Medical Center and features a scenic view of the Tennessee River. Foust’s vision for Talahi was an escape for the elite.
In the foreword of the brochure it states, “To those home lovers, then, who insist upon and can afford the best, Talahi is dedicated.”
Today that vision continues as the park is enjoyed by residents and non-residents as a place to escape the city life to relax in a more tranquil environment.