KFD Memorial Unearthed

Communications Director

Kristin Farley
(865) 215-2589

400 Main St., Room 691
Knoxville, TN 37902

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KFD Memorial Unearthed

Posted: 06/01/2009
A granite panel honoring the first two Knoxville Fire Department firefighters who died in the line of duty is back with the KFD after being unearthed during a construction project at Chilhowee Park. 

It had apparently been buried there for more than six decades according to Capt. D.J. Corcoran, the KFD's spokesman.

The roughly 30x15-inch rectangular stone remembers Firefighters William F. Maxey and John J. Dunn, who died on the night of February 2, 1904, during a blaze that destroyed several buildings on the east side of Gay Street.

The stone was part of the original base of the monument that now memorializes all KFD firefighters who have died in action. The statue - of a firefighter carrying a child to safety - currently stands in front of Headquarters Station near the corner of Henley Street and Summit Hill Drive and contains the names of 18 firefighters, including Maxey and Dunn.

Originally, however, it was erected in 1904 to honor Maxey and Dunn and stood in front of the Knox County Courthouse.

It was later moved in 1914 to Emory Park on the north end of Gay Street where it stood until a drunk driver slammed into it in 1943.

At that point Corcoran said the eight-sided base was rebuilt and apparently the original inscription, as well as some names that had been added to it, were disposed of at Chilhowee Park.

Dunn, listed as a lieutenant in the KFD's roster in 1900, was the brother of Corcoran's great grandmother.

The tablet was uncovered on May 28, during work on the site of a new storage building in Chilhowee Park.

Billy Wood, an equipment operator with Creative Structures, was doing some excavation work for footers for the new building when he ran into what he described as some "bad dirt." 

"I just ran into a lot of debris," he said, "wood and light poles, some concrete and rocks and I just happened to look and see this stone with what appeared to be writing on it." 

Wood subsequently used the blade to gently remove the tablet and laid it off to the side where he discovered that it had been inscribed.

It states: 
"To the Memory of Firemen Wm. F. Maxey And John J. Dunn Perished While In Brave Discharge Of Duty FEB 2, 1904 Erected By Public Subscription"

It's unclear if the other seven sides of the stone are buried in Chilhowee Park.

The stone is being displayed at KFD headquarters and Chief Bob Key said it will always have a place of honor. 
"It's a memorial to some fallen comrades," Key said. "I don't think they should ever be forgotten. It's a way of remembering them and their sacrifice." 
According to reports Maxey and Dunn died fighting a fire that started in the Phoenix Building on Gay Street and spread to buildings on both sides before it was finally brought under control.

The six-story Phoenix Building was the tallest building in the city in 1900 and was one of the structures that had replaced buildings burned just a few years earlier during the April 8, 1897, blaze, known as the "Million Dollar Fire" that destroyed much of the east side of Gay Street.