I know it may seem as if we were pretty desperate for an excuse to go to a party earlier this month, but the birthday soiree for the state of Tennessee held at Blount Mansion was only a short walk from our downtown condo. So we just had to go.
Actually, our friend Dorothy Stair is the president of the Blount Mansion Association board of directors, and we wanted to support her and all the others who have worked so hard to see that the oldest museum in Knoxville – and the birthplace of the state of Tennessee — is preserved. William Blount, a North Carolina politician and land speculator, was appointed by President George Washington to be governor of what then was known as the Territory of the United States South of the River Ohio. He governed from Rocky Mount, North Carolina, until the Treaty of the Holston was signed in 1791, promising “peace and friendship” with the Cherokee Nation. After that, Blount announced that he was moving his capital to Knoxville and work on his new home, Blount Mansion, began in 1792. Tennessee became the 16th state on June 1, 1796 — and thus the cause for the late spring party.
Blount’s wife, Mary, seems to have been something of a handful. She had nothing but disdain for the log structures such as James White’s Fort and most other area houses of the time. She told her husband she wanted a “proper wooden house,” and townspeople watched in fascination as pine paneling, finished woodwork and weatherboards came over the mountains from North Carolina and were floated down the river to Knoxville. Glass for the windows came by horseback from Virginia. Nails were brought from the Blount family’s naillery near Tarboro, North Carolina. Bricks for the chimney and foundation were made on site.
The result certainly is a departure from the log cabins and homemade furniture prevalent in Knoxville at the time. I assume it is the large number of windows in the house that led the Cherokee to call it “the house with many eyes.” Blount Mansion today is a registered National Historic Landmark, and the board is in the midst of a renovation project that will guarantee the building is preserved for years to come. Right now, Blount Mansion is empty of all its furniture due to the construction. But that, in a way, adds even more interest to it because you can more easily see how the house was originally constructed.
Board members and staff plan to market Blount Mansion as an event venue. The party held there June 6 demonstrated what a good idea that is.