While Urban Woman and I missed a few parts of the East Tennessee History Fair. I’ve already mentioned the Roy Acuff fiddle, which I believe has come home to live, so I’ll see it later. We also missed the David Crockett birthday party, due to the fact that Urban Girl needed a nap and, well, when Urban Girl naps, it seems the rest of us need to do the same just so she knows she’s not alone.
The one thing Urban Woman and I agreed to stall our nap for was the tour of the James Park house. On moving into the city three years ago we noticed the house we had, no doubt, passed by many times in a car. Traveling on foot reveals so many details otherwise missed. Urban Woman declared that would be the next place she wanted to live. Mental math told me it would never be in our future, but I’ve been married too long to disagree.
We’d never had an opportunity to go inside until Saturday and we weren’t about to miss the chance. Urban Woman enjoyed sitting in the rocking chairs on the front porch. While the house was built in 1812, a number of features, such as the porch, had been removed by the time the home was purchased in 2002 by the Gulf and Ohio Railways. They’ve restored as much of the home to its original state as possible, while making it usable as a headquarters for the company.
The home, originally owned by Knoxville merchant, and two-time mayor, James Park, remained in the possession of the Park family for one hundred years. On the death in 1912 of his son, also named James Park, forty-year minister at First Presbyterian, the home had a series of owners and uses. Interestingly, the list of owners included the First Baptist Church who also owned WNOX early in its history. What I find most delightful about First Baptist’s ownership is what they did not do: tear it down. Just thought I’d mention it.
The inside is necessarily different from the original design in that the rooms are now used as office space. Care was taken, however, to return as many original features as possible to the structure: The front stairwell was rebuilt as it had been originally, including the Sunburst design on its side. The design is repeated in the door.
Some of the original flooring remains on the ground floor and I assume the foundation brick is also original. The foundation actually pre-dates the house by several years and was laid by John Sevier who apparently ran out of money and had to sell the property before the house could be built. An actor playing the role of John Sevier regaled the visitors in stories of early times in the city. I sometimes get chills walking in these old homes and imagining the people who walked those same floors.
The rear of the building is a later addition and features cement floors with designs replicating maps of Knoxville from earlier eras. Unfortunately, our home fell just outside the window, so we couldn’t find ourselves on the map.
It’s a special place and I’d encourage you to take a tour whenever possible. There are very few single-family homes standing in the center city and this is probably the second oldest behind Blount Mansion. The only one currently used as a private residence, and being lovingly renovated by Brian Pittman, is the Mary Boyce Temple Home. The city of Knoxville should definitely take pride in the preservation of this fine building. And we owe a debt of gratitude to the people responsible for its stewardship over the years. We can only wish that some of the current downtown owners would do the same.
One final, semi-related word: Want to feel good about what we’ve accomplished so far in downtown Knoxville? Read this link!