Why do they call it that? Mascot in northeast Knox County

1:36 PM, Oct 15, 2010   |    comments
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For more than 100 years, the community of Mascot in northeast Knox County has been known primarily for its mining operations.  Companies have mined zinc, limestone, and aggregate rock in the area for generations.

"I grew up here. My father worked for the American Zinc Company," said Ralph McGhee, branch manager for the Mascot Public Library.

Through the years, McGhee said he has hit the mother lode when it comes to questions about the name Mascot.

"Hundreds of times people have asked me about where the name came from and what it means," said McGhee.  "There are a lot of stories and legends, but mostly it was a railroad thing."

At the turn of the 19th century, the area now known as Mascot was called Saylor's Ford.  The site earned its name because it was a place where wagons could ford across the Holston River.

In 1884 when the Southern Railroad built its tracks through the area, the post office was originally given the name "Meek," which is an old family surname in the community.

"The railroad didn't like the original term Meek for some reason, so they decided to change it," said McGhee.  "How they decided on Mascot is not entirely clear."

"The name itself was given to the post office at Mascot in 1888, probably by the new Postmaster George Riggs," wrote Steve Cotham with the East Tennessee Historical Society. 


One of the most frequently repeated stories regarding the name Mascot is that it comes from the local mining industry.

"People said it is an acronym or an acrostic for Mining And Smelting Company Of Tennessee. That's what my dad told me when he worked here, that it was a government acronym and it became Mascot."

There are some conflicts regarding the acronym story.  Specifically, the name Mascot came several years before the Holston Zinc Company acquired the land and built its first mines in 1906.

"If you look at the Southern Railroad time-tables for historical events like the New Market train crash in 1904, it clearly shows that this stop on the tracks was called Mascot," said McGhee.  "However, there was some mining going on in this area before then, so it is hard to say one way or the other."

Feline Moniker

A research article titled "Early History of Mascot and Zinc Mining In The Area" by a UT student in 1987 indicates what the author said is the most authentic version of how Mascot received its name. 

The article indicates local resident and member of the McMillan family "lost her little mascot, a cat, in the area."  The article adds, "The cat was found and Mrs. McMillan is said to have given the name Mascot to the area because of this event."

Officials of the new East Tennessee, Virginia, and Georgia Railroad did not like the name Meek, so they asked for a new name.  "Mrs. McMillan suggested Mascot and it was accepted," states the article.

"Her cat was her mascot, apparently," laughed McGhee.

Barbed Comedic Version

Ask residents about where the name Mascot came from and you're likely to have someone respond with a smirk as they are tempted to tell a long-time joke.

"There are some legends about where the name came from that we probably don't want to say on television," laughed McGhee.

The aforementioned research article directly references this legend and states the following:

One story is that in the early 1900s, as mine officials were surveying the land for possible purchase, one gentleman caught the seat of his pants on a barbed wire fence.  He yelled to his comrades, "Wait, my a** is caught!"  This was shortened to M-as-cot. 

While many of the mining companies that gave life to this community have come and gone, today residents still feel a strong connection to the heritage of a bustling town that virtually formed overnight in the early 1900s.

"There is an industrial park in Mascot and one mine still in operation.  We also have the rock quarry," said McGhee.  "We're still considered a mining town by history, but the community is now mostly a residential town or a bedroom community.  We have our post office, our library, and a couple of churches.  We're not nearly the industrial power that once existed here, but it is still a great place with a lot of beauty and history."

Suggestions for "Why Do They Call It That?"

"Why do they call it that?" airs Friday mornings during 10 News Today. We want to hear your suggestions for future segments.

If there is a place or thing that you would like to see us dig into, send your suggestions to 10 News reporter Jim Matheny using the form on this page. Be sure to include a note on how to pronounce your name in case we use your suggestion. Likewise, please let us know if you do not want us to use your name on-air.

Previous "Why Do They Call It That?" Segments

Oct. 8, 2010: Allardt
Oct. 1, 2010: Greenback
Sep. 24, 2010: Boogertown
Sep. 17, 2010: Chapman Highway
Sep. 10, 2010: Niota
Sep. 3, 2010: Neyland Stadium
Aug. 27, 2010: Ten Mile 
Aug. 20, 2010: Heritage High School
Aug. 13, 2010: Old Gray Cemetery
July 29, 2010: Sweetwater
July 23, 2010: I.C. King Park
July 16, 2010: Stinking Creek
July 9, 2010: Bean Station
July 2, 2010: Loudoun and Loudon
June 25, 2010: X-10, Y-12, K-25 Oak Ridge Plants
June 18, 2010: Frozen Head State Park
June 11, 2010: Buck Karnes Bridge


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