Just as it was 150 years ago, Knoxville's historic Market Square remains at the center of the city's life, with an eclectic blend of dining, shopping, entertainment, living, and special events. There's a charming ambiance of tree-shaded spaces, restored historic structures, play fountains for children, outside dining, and street musicians. Restaurants include everything from fresh sushi, Chicago-style hot dogs, pizza, Mexican food, French cuisine, brown bag lunch delivery and fine dining. Market Square was established in 1854 and within a decade, was the busiest place in the growing city. Local farmers and those from surrounding counties crowded the square with wagons of produce and wares to sell to the city population.
A local newspaper once referred to Market Square as "the most democratic place on earth," where "the rich and the poor, the white and the black, jostle each other in perfect equality." The Square is referenced in prominent literary works, such as that of Pulitzer Prize winning author James Agee. It was a center of political activity, witnessing speeches by Booker T. Washington, William Jennings Bryan, and Ronald Reagan. Knoxville's population was divided in sympathies during the Civil War, with many events playing out on Market Square. The old Market House was used by Union troops as a barracks and magazine.
Over the past decade, Market Square has undergone a transformation, restoring its former vibrancy as a city center, yet retaining its historic charm and purpose. Fresh, locally grown produce, seasonal items, foods, and crafts are available at the twice-weekly Farmers Market. A host of other public festivals and events take place here throughout the year, including an ice rink and various other activities during the holidays.