Conceived in 1853 as a canny real-estate scheme by two young investors expecting to get rich off the idea, Market Square came to be Knoxville's most public spot, a marketplace familiar to every man, woman, and child in the area. By the 1860s, it was the busiest place in a burgeoning city, a place to shop, work, play, eat, drink, and live. In a town that became bitterly divided by politics, race, and background, Market Square became a rare common ground: a place to buy all sorts of local produce, but also a place to experience new things, including the grandiose Market House itself, considered a model in a progressive era.
Beset by urban blight by the mid-1900s, Market Square had become more of a curiosity than a point of municipal pride, and the neighborhood declined. After years of fevered controversy, the city razed the Market House and struggled to modernize the old Square itself. Through a combination of public and private efforts in the 21st century, Market Square seems to be returning to its original diverse spirit.
Market Square details the colorful history of this wonderfully eccentric place, a place that is once again familiar to the whole community, suggesting why, on a good day, Market Square can resemble--as a reporter described it in 1900--"the most democratic place on earth."