Monday, January 3, 2011

Henley Street Bridge

According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, the Henley Street Bridge closed at one minute after midnight last night for repairs that will take from 24 to 30 months, which means one of the major thoroughfares into downtown Knoxville from Blount County will be closed for at least two years. When I have business in Knoxville I usually take Highway 129 (also called Airport Highway, or Alcoa Highway or Knoxville Highway depending on which end you live on) into town, and travel out of town on Henley Street and then Old Maryville Pike, which becomes Old Knoxville Highway and East Broadway Avenue in Blount County. It will make a trip to and from Knoxville from Maryville a bit less interesting, but that's about it.

There is a controversy of which I was previously unaware regarding the bridge's name. My family moved to Knoxville when I was in second grade, and I have always called it the Henley Street Bridge. In fact, I do not believe I have ever heard anyone refer to the bridge as the Henley Bridge; however, there is a plaque on the bridge that calls it Henley Bridge.

The bridge was named for Colonel David Henley, a Continental Army officer during the Revolutionary War, and George Washington's chief spy, which is rather cool. He became an officer in the War Department under President Washington's administration, and he was assigned to Knoxville from 1793-1801 to deal with Indian affairs. As a frontier settlement, Knoxville did everything it could to curry favor with officials of the federal government, and it is no surprise that the town named a street in Henley's honor. The town was named for his boss, Secretary of War Henry Knox.

I found an interesting Tennessee Department of Transportation report on the history of the bridge. My father was a planner, and my sister Laura followed in his footsteps. The report is much more within their discipline than mine. Indeed, in many ways the story of the building of the Henley Street Bridge is also the story of the beginning of planning in the South. The report is also rich in Knoxville history.