Namesake: Kimberlin Heights in Knox County

5:49 PM, Sep 30, 2011   |    comments
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The twists and turns of Kimberlin Heights Road will take you past a small post office, a lot of farm land, and a university.

"It is the best kept secret in Knox County.  A lot of folks don't know what a beautiful campus we have here," said Tom Smith, history professor at Johnson University.

Johnson University is the newest name for the school previously known as Johnson Bible College.  When the school was originally founded in the 1890s by Ashley S. Johnson, it went by a different name.

"It was called the School of the Evangelists," said Smith.  "It was an educational institution to train preachers. From the beginning, the educational program was not just the Bible. It also contained a portion of what we would call liberal arts courses.  Ashley Johnson's vision of building church leadership included a broader education."

Johnson was inspired to start the school after coming across a multitude of poor churches without any trained leaders.  He set up the school on his old family farm along the French Broad River.

"There was a working farm here and the students were able to work off their education on the farm," said Smith.  "The river itself has played a really important part in the history of the school.  A large number of people from Knoxville came up to the heights by river on steamboats. The reason it's called Kimberlin Heights is because we're really on a bluff above the French Broad River."

The Kimberlin portion of the name comes from the man who started the farm more than a century before it was transformed into a school.  Ashley Johnson's great-grandfather was a Revolutionary War veteran named Jacob Kimberlin.

"Jacob Kimberlin was my fifth great-grandfather," said Tim Holt, a direct descendant of Jacob Kimberlin.  "He was from Pennsylvania and the family was originally from Germany.  He got a land grant from fighting in the Revolutionary War.  The United States didn't have any money but it had plenty of land so veterans were paid in land."

Kimberlin's land grant was not for the pristine spot overlooking the French Broad River that now bears his name. 

"He got a land grant in Davidson County.  Jacob Kimberlin and his brother Mike signed the first Cumberland Compact, which was an early version of the state constitution.  The Indians were still pretty hostile out in the Nashville area.  After a few years a lot of the people who signed the Cumberland Compact were killed by Native Americans.  I think he said he needed to go somewhere else and moved to what is now Kimberlin Heights."

Kimberlin sold his land in Davidson County and purchased the farm in Knox County in 1787.  Kimberlin was a gunsmith and mined lead on the property for production of bullets, according to Holt.  Kimberlin died in 1802 and is now buried about a mile from his estate at the Seven Islands Church cemetery. 

Today Kimberlin's name lives on with the community's moniker and his family legacy continues with Johnson University.

"This is where my ancestors lived. They walked here and they lived here and they farmed this country and this is a part of me," said Holt. 

"Jacob Kimberlin would probably be surprised that his great-grandson's impact has gone far beyond this little family farm," said Smith.  "From this spot there is now a full university with international programs that reach students across the globe all the way to China.  It is a remarkable place."

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