In the 18th century, the town of Knoxville was established. In the 19th century, it became a railroad town, among other things. In the 20th century, TVA made its headquarters here, changing the economy forever. And now, in the 21st century, creative developers are re-imagining just what downtown Knoxville can be.
First Presbyterian Church is built on a turnip patch that was donated by James White. White also donated land for the establishment of what would later become the University of Tennessee.
Shortly, we headed across the street to The Glencoe where we had some refreshments such as those living in the 18th century may have had: ham and cheese biscuits, venison/blueberry sausage and moonshine punch.
Those tasty morsels I described were being served in the condo of Bruce and Monique Anderson. (Click here for a previous post about their fun condo.)
Soon, it was time to move to the 19th century. We walked the four or so blocks to the Masonic Temple, located at 505 Locust Street. The Temple was actually built literally around the home of railroad tycoon Charles McClung McGhee.
The original house, built in 1872 for a young and wealthy McGhee and his family, was a two-story Italianate and was one of the finest homes in Knoxville. Designed by Joseph F. Baumann, a rising architect at the time, it was host in 1877 to President Rutherford B. Hayes and his wife when Hayes was on a trip through the South to try to reunite the country after the Civil War. McGhee died in the house in 1907.
In 1915, the Masonic Temple Association bought the house for $25,000 and hired A.B. Baumann, the younger brother of the home’s original designer, to encase the home into the temple and add a third floor which today houses a large meeting area.
A word about freemasonry. Freemasonry is the world’s oldest, largest and best-known men’s fraternity. It is based on the medieval stonemasons’ guilds who built the great castles and cathedrals of Europe. Modern Freemasons use the tools, traditions and terminologies of those stonemasons as allegories to building “temples in the hearts of men.” They are said to be a secret society, but the folks we met last month acted as if they were trying to “open up” the organization. They answered questions when asked, but we were too polite to ask the things many of us really wanted to know after reading “The DaVinci Code.” Knox Heritage was told they could not serve alcohol in the Temple, which was a little puzzling to me because my father is a Shriner and a Mason and, well, never mind . . .
After that interesting interlude, we gathered outside to wait for instructions and directions to our next location – and dinner.
The Lindsay Young Downtown YMCA was built in 1929 and completely renovated in 2008.
The final stop of the Summer Supper was for dessert at photographer John Black‘s studio in the Daylight Building. This was significant for several reasons. The Daylight Building, built by developer Benjamin Sprankle, was one of four buildings to house the original offices of the Tennessee Valley Authority after it was established by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1933. Speculation is that Sprankle himself was instrumental in convincing TVA to make Knoxville its headquarters rather than Muscle Shoals, Alabama, as was originally planned.
According to historian Jack Neely, Sprankle, from Altoona, Pennsylvania, moved to Knoxville in the 1880s just “because it looked like a city about to bloom – and because it was full of Republicans!” He was a very busy developer, building subdivisions in South Knoxville and Bearden, as well as office buildings and residences downtown.
We were joined for this part of our evening by Sprankle’s granddaughter, Emily Rose and her husband, Morton. According to Mary Holbrook, Morton Rose, who grew up on the so-called Rose Property on the bluffs in South Knoxville across from downtown, noticed the flooring when we all arrived at John Black’s studio. “We milled this wood,” he said, referring to the lumber mill his family owned. It used to stand where Holston Gases is located today.
Thanks again to the evening’s hosts: Monique and Bruce Anderson, Ann Bennett, Ellen and Wayne Blasius, Hollie Cook, Karen Eberle, Ghada and Faris Eid, Marianne Greene, Diane Gross, Mary and Dan Holbrook, Kathryn and Breese Johnson, Sam Maynard, Donna and Chuck Morris, Sue and Bob Murrian and Sheri and William Pender.