Meet Your Guide
Laura Still: writer, teacher, and Knoxville history buff
What started your interest in Knoxville history?
That should start with who—for me, it’s always about the people, because that’s what connects us to history. I’ve always been interested in who walked here before me, and that’s what made me start following Jack Neely’s “Secret History” column in Metropulse. The people in Jack’s stories were sometimes famous but many of them were just ordinary people. Ordinary people fascinate me, because they do such extraordinary things sometimes. I started reading and collecting stories about Knoxville, and found out there’s practically an endless supply, just as Jack is always saying.
What is your background?
I’m a native East Tennessean, and writing and storytelling is in my blood. I’ve always had a need to write, and since I had three English teachers—my mother and her sisters—looking over my shoulder, I learned to write well. My long career as a dental professional and active volunteer in the various local organizations honed my listening skills and gave me a unique perspective on the people of Knoxville. I’ve been lucky to meet many of Knoxville’s most extraordinary talents and hidden heroes. Some of them became friends and mentors, generously sharing their expertise and knowledge about Knoxville’s heritage and history.
What gave you the idea to start Knoxville Walking Tours?
I worked downtown for five years, part of that time at the Visitor’s Center, and people were always asking if someone was available to take them on a guided tour and tell them about Knoxville. I would give them directions and tell them some of the stories, but usually couldn’t go with them. I’d walked along on literary tours with Jack and home tours with Knox Heritage and thought it would be great fun to share stories about Knoxville with more people. It really is great place to be.
What makes Knoxville unique?
It’s not Tennessee’s oldest city, but it has a long and colorful history. Some of it is well-known and some of it is hidden unless you know where to look. So many writers and musicians got their start here, and Knoxville is still full of all kinds of artists and performers. It’s the third largest city in the state, but somehow it keeps a small-town feeling, especially when sitting on Market Square on a sunny afternoon. Everyone you know turns up sooner or later, and stops to talk. .
What is your favorite season in Knoxville?
That is really hard to choose—spring is full of blossoming trees and all kinds of flowers because we have more species of plants than almost anywhere else in the country. Summer is hot, but the Farmer’s Market is full of delicious local produce and there are free festivals and events all the time. Fall brings cool clear nights and gorgeous foliage, and the most exquisite golden light in the evening. Even winter is pretty mild and there are plenty of days you can enjoy a walk, then go sip a hot drink at a Gay Street cafe or pub.
Do you have a favorite spot in the city?
I have lots—and I’m always discovering more. We visit most of them on the tours and my favorite restaurants and shops are listed on the recommendations tab on the web site. The river has a special pull for me, because Knoxville wouldn’t be here or be so beautiful without it. Most of my favorite spots are in view of the water, so I like biking on the the Third Creek Greenway and also through Island Home to Ijams. I also love the peace of the graveyard on State Street with the bustle and excitement of Gay Street just a block away, and picnicking with friends in Krutch Park during the Farmer’s Market on Saturdays. When you really love a place, you’re always re-discovering it.