One hundred years ago last month, George and Laura Barber died within nine days of each other while living in a small home in Parkridge. A snow-delayed dinner party was held in that home last week to mark the anniversary. That 1701 Glenwood (then Coleman) was actually their home was a part of local lore. It had not been proven and some had doubts. Long neglected, the residence on an overgrown hillside is much smaller than other Barber residences and less ornate than the Victorians for which he is best known. Enter Greta Schmoyer.
Greta grew up in Claxton, attended Duke University and returned to Knoxville to attend UT, which is where she earned her doctorate in Veterinary Science. She purchased a home in Parkridge and lived there during her graduate work. When she graduated she kept the home despite the fact that she worked out of state for 2 1/2 years. She returned to her home on weekends and was aware of the small house that was persistently thought to be the final Barber home. By this time it was abandoned and condemned.
Finally, she secured employment back in the Knoxville area and moved into Parkridge full-time once more. The home, which she’d now been watching for about eight years, was on the market and the owners were aggressively trying to find a buyer. Having eyed it for years and now living locally and able to take on the project it would present, she purchased the home. I first wrote about it last fall when it was on the Parkridge Home Tour.
Sorting through various layers added to the home through the years has been the primary task thus far. Years of carpet, vinyl flooring and aluminum siding had virtually obscured the jewel beneath it all. As with many such properties, it had been owner occupied and rental. Condemned in 1999, it sat empty and unattended for fifteen years.
Structurally, the home is in surprisingly good condition. The bones are good, as it were. One of the early discoveries that tied it to a very specific era of construction was that the lighting was fitted for both electricity and gas, which places it in the transitional point between the two light sources. Deeds indicated the Barbers purchased the lots in 1906 on which the home was built. A letter indicated his intention to move to a smaller home from Rosemont their elegant residence on Washington Ave. (It has since been destroyed.) Despite the mounting circumstantial evidence, it was only when the word “Barber” was found on a piece of door trim that all doubt was removed as to the origins of the home. The name was likely written there to indicate the customer to whom it should be shipped.
George Barber is likely Knoxville’s most famous and celebrated architect. He lived in only four homes in Knoxville (all in Parkridge) and two remain including this small, final home. The other is also maintained and sits within sight of 1701 Glenwood. Greta’s goal is to restore the home as closely as possible to its original appearance, albeit with a modern electrical, plumbing and HVAC system. There are no known photographs of the home from its early years. She’s contacted Barber relatives and experts hoping to find photographs of the Barbers at the home, but none appear to exist.
She’s leaning on local preservationists, Barber experts and friends who’ve renovated historic homes to guide her efforts. Her intention is to retain as much of the original work as possible. She’s discovered some oddities such as an upstairs fireplace that seems to have been started, but not finished. The timeline on such projects is always tricky, but she’s hoping to finish electrical and other systems this spring, work on the external restoration this summer and fall, and hopefully complete the project in 2016. Her plans are to move into the home when it is completed. She’ll seek historic designation of some sort in order to assure the home is cared for appropriately in subsequent generations.
I asked her why she’s doing this and why she is so interested in older homes. She said there isn’t much in her family she can point to as a precursor to her passion. But she did note that from an early age, “I always loved architecture, history and old houses.” She built scaled homes 1:144, if I remember correctly, from paper, cardboard and modeling clay as a very young child. She did note that her grandfather was interested in design and that the family did visit historic sites. She considered majoring in architecture in college.