Historic Fourth & Gill is an excellent example of the neighborhoods that flourished in Knoxville during the last quarter of the 19th Century (see map). This was the period of the city's greatest economic boom, which was fueled by manufacturing and the railroads. The railroads also helped Knoxville become one of the leading wholesale centers in the South. These economic successes were based primarily on the notions of unrestrained capitalism and urban growth. Known as New South Urbanization, this ideology encouraged such things as urban transit, better public facilities, and the concept of suburbia.
The City of North Knoxville, which historically contained the Fourth and Gill neighborhood, thrived under these new urban ideals. The Fourth and Gill area evolved into a tree lined streetcar suburb, made up of a series of separate subdivisions. These subdivisions were designed in a grid pattern with either narrow lots for greater density, or larger tracts more befitting the desires of the city's middle and upper classes. As the subdivision streets met each other, sometimes at odd angles, they formed an almost medieval street pattern. Although the size of the houses was fairly consistent within each area, the lot shapes often were not.
Its unique architecture and distinctive urban design are significant in understanding Knoxville's historical and architectural evolution. The architectural styles present in the Fourth and Gill Historic Overlay District are a good representation of the residential architecture popular in America between the 1880's and the 1940's. The southern portion of the district was primarily developed in the late 19th Century and the north section in the 20th Century. The district is irregularly shaped, covering approximately 72 acres. The area included in the Fourth and Gill Historic Overlay District includes buildings centered on the 700 block of Morgan Street, Deery Street, Luttrell Street to three parcels south of the old Brownlow Elementary School, Eleanor Street (beginning at East Fourth Avenue), and the cross streets of Third Avenue, Lovenia Avenue, Gill Avenue, Caswell Avenue, Haynes Place, Wells Avenue and Camp Avenue. There is also a cluster of seven buildings north of Gill Avenue on North Fourth Avenue.
The Fourth and Gill Historic Overlay District features over 280 residential structures, including single family houses, duplexes, and apartment buildings. The district also contains one school and three churches. The houses are primarily of frame construction, with large porches and complex rooflines. Most of the masonry veneer and load bearing construction occurred in the 20th Century. Although a number of different styles exist in the Fourth and Gill Historic Overlay District, the majority are Queen Anne and Craftsmen styles.
Many of the houses were designed by some of Knoxville's most notable architects, including George F. Barber and Joseph Bauman. Bauman designed several houses for his extended family, and Lovenia Street is named for one of his sisters. Several Queen Anne houses in the Fourth and Gill Historic Overlay District are attributed to Barber, who gained national fame through his mail-order designs. Other houses reflect the influence of the area's Appalachian culture, as well as new design ideas from the post World War I era. Overall, the size, styles, and lot placement of the houses within the district reflect the diversity of the neighborhood. Historically the area was made up of a varied group of people. Professionals and laborers, families and transients, blacks and whites all lived in close proximity to one another. The neighborhood was home to merchants, mayors and a governor, Robert L. Taylor.
Knoxville annexed the City of North Knoxville in 1897, around the time the automobile was invented. With the decline of the American economy, and Knoxville’s economy, in the late 1920'sd and 1930’s, many of the larger single family residences were converted to duplexes to supplement the income of the property's owners. The real decline of the neighborhood began in force after World War II, when returning soldiers and their families sought new lifestyles in the brand new auto-oriented suburbs. More single family residences were converted into multiple units or small apartments, in part to meet the demands of the growing student body of the University of Tennessee.
Within the last two decades the neighborhood has begun to reclaim much of its former glory. The district's name reflects this effort, being derived from the location of a converted house that serves as the neighborhood center. Owners who could foresee the positive social value of cooperative inner city living have attractively restored many distressed properties to comfortable, modern standards. The Historic Fourth and Gill Neighborhood has a proud past and an equally illustrious future.