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Cal Johnson Park and Recreation Center History

Caldonia F. Johnson was born in Knoxville on October 14, 1844. Upon gaining freedom from slavery, he worked and saved enough money to start a small business. After the Civil War, Johnson got a contract with the federal government to exhume soldiers in temporary graves and later rebury them in proper cemeteries. He later worked as a cook and bartender. Johnson saved enough money to lease a building, where he opened a grocery store. He later expanded his business to include a saloon. Johnson would own several saloons and the City’s only horse race track in Burlington. As early as 1883, he was estimated to be worth $75,000 in assets. Cal Johnson went on to become Knoxville’s first millionaire.

Johnson gave generously to his community. He donated a house, in honor of his wife, on the corner of Vine Avenue and Patton Street for the first black YMCA in Knoxville. Johnson served on the City’s Board of Aldermen from 1883-1885.

The City named the park after Johnson in 1922. In 1957, the Cal Johnson Recreation Center was built.



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