Digital Collections — Knoxville Gardens: 100 Years Ago
May 3, 2023
Mrs. Hazz’s Dogwoods

Revisit enchanting gardens of yesteryear in the Knoxville Garden Slides. This digital collection of hand-colored lantern slides dating from the late 1920s and early 1930s is freely available for browsing on the UT Libraries website. Images in the collection depict ornamental gardens in the Knoxville area and feature a variety of garden styles, plants, flowers, and foliage.

Mrs. A. C. Bruner, an eminent member of the Knoxville Garden Club, donated the collection of glass slides to the UT Libraries in 1987.

Flame Azalea
Flame Azalea

The Knoxville Garden Club was organized in 1923. Members of the club not only created and showed their own residential gardens but also worked throughout the community to sponsor horticulture programs, host civic plantings, and support many other beautification efforts.

According to the Knoxville Garden Club’s website, Mrs. Bruner conducted a horticultural class for new club members for more than fifteen years, beginning in 1965. That was decades later than the creation dates of the photographs in the Knoxville Garden Slides. But quite possibly the lantern slides were used in the club’s horticultural classes or public lectures — in the days before the slide projector replaced the magic lantern, a type of image projector in wide use from the 18th to the mid-20th century.

The Knoxville Garden Slides collection includes several views of the Ijams homesite in South Knoxville. Alice Ijams was a charter member of the Knoxville Garden Club. H. P. (Harry) and Alice Ijams and their four daughters were all avid nature lovers. And the Ijams family welcomed garden clubs, birding groups, schoolchildren, and Girl Scouts to their 20-acre property bordering the Tennessee River and just three miles from downtown Knoxville. That property is today the heart of the Ijams Nature Center, the popular wildlife sanctuary and environmental learning center.

Spring-fed pond on the Ijams homesite

Some of the features that Harry and Alice Ijams added to the grounds — such as lily ponds — are pictured in the Knoxville Garden Slides and can still be seen today. Harry Ijams dammed up a spring-fed pond to create a pool where the girls could swim or canoe (pictured here in a wintery scene).

Paul James,* in his book Ijams Nature Center, noted: “In the 1930s, after the girls had grown, Alice planted Egyptian lotus (water lily) on the pond, which covered the entire surface. The fabulous sight was a local sensation, and people from across town would take the streetcar to the Ijams place just to see the gorgeous lotus blooms.”

Snowdrops in Lida (McClung) Ross’s garden

So what is a lantern slide?

In a 2009 article for the Smithsonian Institution Archives, Catherine Shteynberg** defined it thus: “Basically, a photographic lantern slide is a positive print of a photograph on a glass slide. Often times the photographic negatives were painstakingly hand-colored to make them even more visually enticing.… [A] second slide of glass was laid atop the glass slide with the positive print and these two pieces of glass were bound firmly together by pasting a strip of paper around the edges.… The final slide was then ready to be viewed in a lantern slide projector.…

“By the 1930s and 40s, lantern slides dropped off in use as overhead projectors and slide projectors took their place. However, for me, lantern slides continue to hold a certain charm. I imagine the speechless awe of an audience as an image rises up the wall and shimmers there.”

Indeed, the Knoxville Garden Slides have an almost ethereal quality. The viewer might well expect a fairy to peep from behind the wisteria.

Wisteria vines in Mrs. Mann’s garden

* Paul James is chair of the UT Libraries’ John C. Hodges Society Advisory Board. He is currently director of publishing and development for the Knoxville History Project. He formerly served as executive director for the Ijams Nature Center.

** Catherine Shteynberg is now assistant director and curator of arts and culture collections at UT’s McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture.