For 50 years, the Rock—a 97.5-ton hunk of Knox dolomite stone—has served as an iconic campus symbol.
Most every day, and sometimes multiple times a day, individuals and groups paint the surface of the Rock, which sits at the corner of Volunteer Boulevard and Pat Head Summitt Street, to express opinions or congratulations as well as other messages. These messages are seen by thousands each day who come to campus for classes or to visit.
From a memorial for Pat Head Summitt to a patriotic tribute after September 11, 2001, to messages for football game rivals and even wedding proposals and baby announcements, significant moments have been reflected on the Rock for decades.
A Look Back at the History of the Rock
In its earliest days, a very small portion of the top of the Rock was visible in the lawn of Calvary Baptist Church, which sat in the area where Fraternity Park is now located.
In 1966, after the land had been acquired by the university, the Rock was unearthed by the A.B. Long Company while grading for the streets, roads, and buildings that were planned for the area.
Later that year, the university began the process of selecting a name. The Daily Beacon reported that names had been advanced, including Kissing Rock, the Fellowship Stone, the Volunteer Image, and the Rock. The simplest of those names, the Rock, was chosen.
While it is unclear exactly when the tradition of painting the Rock started, it probably dates back to around 1980, according to an alumnus who was quoted in a story by the Daily Beacon. Since then, tens of thousands of students, employees, community members, and visitors have had the chance leave their temporary mark on the Rock.
In 2009, when construction plans for the new Student Health Center were announced, university officials decided to move the Rock diagonally across the intersection. During a 13-hour process on July 15, 2009, the Rock was moved 275 feet to its current location near the Natalie L. Haslam Music Center.
The move was made cautiously amid concerns about damaging or breaking the iconic campus symbol. As workers used a massive crane to hoist the Rock out of the ground, they determined that the largest available truck in Knox County was simply not large enough to hold it and a specialized heavy-hauling flatbed was brought in. Once the Rock was settled the truck began an incredibly slow, harrowing ride down Pat Head Summitt Street straddling an asphalt-filled utility trench that had been dug in the middle of the road.
The Rock was finally settled into a freshly dug pit in its new location at about 9 p.m., in the midst of a strong thunderstorm. Dozens of students, faculty, staff, alumni and others watched throughout the day. The Rock was reopened for expression at a dedication ceremony in August 2009.
In summer 2015, layers upon layers of paint slid off the Rock due to the summer heat. For the first time in nearly five decades, the Rock became a blank canvas once again.
Katherine Saxon (firstname.lastname@example.org, 865-974-8365)