Knox Heritage announces 2009 'Fragile 15' list of endagered historic places

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (SUBMITTED) -- Every May during National Preservation Month, Knox Heritage releases its list of the most endangered historic buildings and places in Knox County to educate the public and local leaders about the plight of significant historic resources. Often, the endangered buildings and places are representative of issues that endanger similar parts of our heritage across the community.

The historic places included on the list are selected by the Knox Heritage Board of Directors from nominations received from members of Knox Heritage and the general public. The list provides a work plan for the organization over the next 12 months. Preservation strategies are developed for each site on the list and can include working with current property owners, government officials, citizens and/or potential new owners to preserve these important parts of Knox County’s heritage. Knox Heritage is committed to acting as an advocate for the endangered properties we identify each year. We invite the community to join us in our efforts to save our endangered heritage through advocacy and action. To volunteer, please contact Knox Heritage at 523-8008 or

Knox Heritage advocates for the preservation of places and structures with historic or cultural significance. Founded in 1974, Knox Heritage is the non-profit historic preservation organization for Knoxville and Knox County. It is governed by a board of directors with representatives from across our community. Knox Heritage carries out its mission through a variety of programs and encourages community support through education and advocacy.


Knox County’s Most Endangered Historic Places

1. Standard Knitting Mill -1400 Washington Avenue.

2. The Eugenia Williams House – 4848 Lyons View Pike.

3. Historic Park City.

4. Scenic Vistas and Ridgetops.

5. Vacant Historic Knox County School Buildings:

• Oakwood Elementary (232 E. Churchwell Avenue)

• South High (801 Tipton Avenue)

• Eastport Elementary (2036 Bethel Avenue)

• Flenniken Elementary (115 Flenniken Avenue)

• Rule High (1901 Vermont Avenue)

6. Park City Presbyterian Church - 2204 Linden Avenue.

7. Cal Johnson Building – 301 State Street.

8. Odd Fellows Cemetery – 2001 Bethel Avenue.

9. The McClung Warehouses – 501-525 W. Jackson Avenue.

10. Fort Sanders Houses & Grocery – 307 18th Street & 1802, 1804, 1810 Highland Avenue.

11. Knoxville College National Register District – 901 College Street.

12. French Broad River Corridor.

13. The Pickle Mansion – 1633 Clinch Avenue.

14. Maplehurst Neighborhood.

15. Edelmar – 3624 Topside Road.

Descriptions of the 2009 Fragile 15 Endangered Historic Places

1. Standard Knitting Mill.

This circa 1945 building is the only remaining structure associated with Standard Knitting Mill. During the 1930’s Standard was the largest textile and knitting mill in Knoxville. It was founded in 1900 with 50 employees and over the years grew to employ over 4,000 Knoxvillians. Standard eventually produced over one million garments a week and inspired Knoxville’s title as “Underwear Capital of the World.”

The future is uncertain for Standard Knitting Mill. Located in the industrial swath of land between the historic Parkridge and Fourth and Gill Neighborhoods, the original portion of the mill was in place along Washington Avenue by 1903. Later additions almost doubled the size of the complex, but the earliest portion was destroyed in the early 1990s. The current footprint still comes in at over 400,000 square feet and was the home of Delta Apparel until 2007. As Delta made plans to relocate, The Landmark Group out of North Carolina appeared on the scene. The developer was interested in the Knoxville mill and proposed that Delta donate the mill, appraised at just over $2 million, to a non-profit organization in exchange for a charitable deduction equal to the value of the property. The non-profit could then sell the building to a developer. The Landmark Group planned to be that developer and reportedly planned to spend up to $50 million creating a mixed-use development.

In June of 2007 Delta Apparel donated the mill and surrounding land to The Mid-Atlantic Foundation in Goldsboro, North Carolina. Since that transfer, the mill, a highly visible landmark along I-40 on the east side of downtown, has stood dark and empty. Back in the summer of 2007, when the transfer was being finalized, there were no plans for the new owners to maintain the sprinkler system and the roof had already developed several leaks. Recent reports indicate homeless people have taken up residence in the lower level. The Landmark Group never purchased it.

It's time for the owner and the community to insure the future existence of Standard Knitting Mill. The Mid-Atlantic Foundation must secure the building immediately and make the sprinkler system operational. It is irresponsible to do otherwise. Another loss of a historic industrial building due to neglect and arson can be avoided. The Foundation should work aggressively with the City of Knoxville, KCDC and the Knoxville Area Chamber Partnership to market the site for redevelopment that preserves the building and compliments the renaissance underway in the surrounding historic neighborhoods. The site is adjacent to the new Hall of Fame Drive, close to downtown and highly visible from the interstate. This makes for an attractive location and incentives already exist that can be utilized to spur its redevelopment.

2. The Eugenia Williams House.

Eugenia Williams was born to Dr. David H. Williams and Ella Cornick Williams in January 1900. Dr. Williams was a prominent physician and one of the original financial backers who introduced Coca-Cola to East Tennessee. In 1940, Eugenia commissioned her childhood friend, John Staub, to design her new residence. Staub, a native Knoxvillian, is best known for designing homes for many of the wealthiest and most influential Texans, with a little over half of his design work located in Houston. He was also the architect for the well-loved Hopecote on the UT Knoxville campus.

Miss Williams’ Regency-style home sits on 24 acres bordering Lake Loudoun and Lyons View Pike and features a three-car garage with automatic garage door openers, which was a novelty in 1940. In 1998, the house was willed to the University of Tennessee as a memorial to Eugenia’s father.

Since Miss Williams’ death the house has been plagued by vandals, but its character-defining details remain and the house is still solid. It has the potential to be a true asset to the University and its future should be decided soon in order to avoid further deterioration. There are many possible uses and local philanthropists have already expressed an interest in rallying around its restoration. We strongly encourage UT to move forward with plans for this signature property and maximize its benefit to the University and the Knoxville area before it is too late.

3. Historic Park City.

Park City was an incorporated town on the outskirts of Knoxville from the 1880s until 1917 when the area was annexed and incorporated into the City of Knoxville. Park City represents the central part of East Knoxville today and is home to a wide range of historic architectural styles. From Victorians and Bungalows to the later Revival styles, the area has a rich history that tells the story of Knoxvillians across the socio-economic and racial spectrum.

Park City also contains several low-to-moderate income neighborhoods where the creation of affordable owner-occupied and rental housing has been a goal of residents and community leaders for years. This noble objective has had unintended consequences over the last 20 years as non-profit, government and for-profit developers have built incompatible new housing in the midst of established neighborhoods filled with historic housing stock. In most cases that new housing was not designed to blend in with the existing architecture and has served to diminish the overall appeal and value of the areas of Park City not protected by local historic zoning. This harms those neighborhoods and in some cases makes them ineligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. That excludes them from the federal financial incentives and protections that could help in the revitalization of the neighborhoods.

Recently, non-profit housing organizations like Knox Housing Partnership have realized the positive impact of good design on the communities they serve. They have made the transition to affordable housing that incorporates historic characteristics into the exterior design of their homes in a way that benefits the neighborhood and increases the likelihood the houses will appreciate in value over time and positively impact the values of surrounding properties.

It is time for affordable housing providers – non-profit, for-profit and government alike – to follow Knox Housing Partnership’s lead and create new housing in Park City that is respectful of its history and benefits all residents. It is also time for the City of Knoxville to protect the area with overlay zoning – Historic, Neighborhood Conservation or Infill Housing - that insures new construction blends with the fabric of existing neighborhoods. These tools should also be applied to the current efforts to revitalize commercial areas throughout Park City.

4. Scenic Vistas and Ridgetops.

While Knox Heritage is best known for the preservation of historic structures, our mission includes the protection of historic spaces as well. In recent years East Tennesseans have become aware of the threats to some of our most precious assets: our Scenic Vistas and Ridgetops.

Part of the significance of these areas is that they almost always include archaeological sites that may, as in the case of Fort Higley, Fort Dickerson and Fort Stanley, have been built along the ridgetops. They may also include pre-historic archaeological deposits located in valleys, along streams and rivers and visible from Knox County’s scenic roads.

Writers often describe Knoxville as being “nestled in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains.” More than most cities, Knoxville is defined by the ridges and rivers that surround it. The views we enjoy today are similar to the views the first inhabitants took in and cherished. But those views are threatened by development that is not asked to address the costs imposed on the community for its associated infrastructure and quality of life.

Our local governments should act with haste to approve ordinances and plans designed to preserve the signature views that distinguish our community from most others in the country. Plans for future development should minimize the impact on view sheds and ridgetops in order to preserve the stunning scenes that attract visitors and connect people to the place where they live.

5. Vacant Historic Knox County School Buildings.

Oakwood Elementary School - 232 E. Churchwell Avenue

This Oakwood neighborhood icon is currently owned by the Knox County School System and is used for storage. The later addition is occupied by the Teacher Supply Depot. The Knox County School System has moved most of its activities out of the building and has discussed plans to sell it for private development. This year the Knox County School Board voted to allow the East Tennessee Community Design Center to work with residents to create a plan for the building. Due to the rapid deterioration of the building, Knox Heritage calls upon the School Board to act immediately to make the repairs necessary to stabilize the historic portion of the building. If this is not done soon, little will be left after the planning process to attract private redevelopment of the structure. Time is rapidly running out for Oakwood School due to the school system’s neglect and the resulting water damage occurring in the building.

South High School – 801 Tipton Avenue.

South High was designed by noted local architect Charles Barber and was built in 1935-1936 as South Knoxville Junior High School. The school opened in 1937. Barber was the primary architect of 14 schools in Knoxville and Knox County prior to 1940. It served as a junior high school and a high school until the last graduating class in 1976. The building sustained serious roof damage over the last few years and that water infiltration has harmed the structural integrity of the building.

Preservationists and residents of South Knoxville began their efforts to save historic South High in 2002. In 2004 the Knox County School Board surplused the building to Knox County so it could be redeveloped as a community asset. County Commission voted to auction the building to the highest bidder last year. The high bidder at the June 2008 auction was Bahman Kasraei. Mr. Kasraei expressed his intent to preserve the building, but construction was delayed until this spring. The roof of the building is being replaced, but it is just the beginning of the construction process. Knox Heritage strongly encourages Mr. Kasraei to proceed as quickly as possible to complete the stabilization of the building and identify a use that will insure the long term preservation of this South Knoxville landmark.

Eastport Elementary – 2036 Bethel Avenue

The original Eastport School was founded circa 1870 and is believed to be the first school established for African Americans in the Eastport community. The current building, built in 1932, was designed by Ryno and Brackney Architects. The school was expanded with additions in 1948, 1956 and 1958. The historic part of the structure is currently vacant while the mid-century additions are used by the school system.

KCDC recently announced plans to restore the school for senior housing and City Council approved federal Neighborhood Stabilization Funds for that purpose. Since that time questions have been raised about the building’s compatibility with KCDC’s proposed use and the option of demolition has been put on the table. Knox Heritage calls upon KCDC to diligently review its plans for the school building and explore all options for its preservation. If the building is not suitable for senior housing, KCDC should work with the City of Knoxville, Knox Heritage and residents to identify another use that will preserve one of the most significant buildings related to African American history in Knoxville.

Flenniken Elementary - 115 Flenniken Avenue

In 1850 the first Flenniken School building stood at the corner of Maryville Highway and what would later be called Sims Road. In 1917 the City of Knoxville annexed the area around the school and it became a part of the city school system. The current building on Flenniken Avenue was built in 1919 and contained only seven rooms. Additions made in 1926 and 1956 expanded it to its current footprint. The school has been vacant and vulnerable since it closed in the mid-1990’s and is currently owned by Terminus Real Estate Inc.

Several potential private developers considered the school for redevelopment in recent years, but no one stepped up to take on the project and put together the financing required. The building is now the focus of a plan by Southeastern Housing Foundation to develop 48 units of permanent, supportive housing as a part of the city and county’s Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness. The project will require several sources of funding, including a grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank, historic preservation tax credits and affordable housing tax credits from the Tennessee Housing Development Agency, in order to come to fruition. Knox Heritage will continue to advocate for the preservation and reuse of the building and provide technical assistance to any potential developer, non-profit or for-profit, determined to save the school building.

Rule High - 1901 Vermont Avenue

Rule High School was named after Captain William Rule a former Union Army Captain who went on to become the mayor of Knoxville, as well as publisher and editor of the Knoxville Journal from 1885 until his death in 1928. Rule High School was built in circa 1926-1927 and opened in the fall of 1927. The school closed in 1991 and is currently owned by the Knox County School Board which leases it to a non-profit organization. The school continues to languish in a deteriorated state and the resources for its preservation are lacking. Knox Heritage encourages the Knox County School to review the existing lease arrangement and identify potential users with the financial ability to preserve and reuse the structure.

6. Former Park City Presbyterian Church at 2204 Linden Avenue.

This Gothic Revival style church was built circa 1891 and extensively remodeled in 1924. It has been vacant for several years, but still retains its architectural details, including beautiful stained glass windows. This church represents what can happen as populations shift over time and church congregations dwindle. Buildings that are institutions in the communities they occupy are endangered as fewer dollars are available for maintenance and programming. In some cases church buildings are “recycled” when new congregations move in or community organizations put them to good use. In other cases churches are converted to residential or commercial uses.

Knox Heritage encourages the current owners to repair the building for a use that will benefit the surrounding area or make it available for purchase so it can survive with a new purpose while still gracing its community with its presence.

7. Cal Johnson Building.

This State Street building (circa 1898) was built in the Vernacular Commercial style and was originally used as a factory for sewing overalls. It was constructed by Knoxville’s first African American millionaire and is most likely the largest commercial structure remaining in Knoxville built by a former slave. Cal Johnson also served as a city alderman during his extensive career, which included the operation of several area saloons and one of Knoxville’s most popular and durable horse racing tracks. It could be a featured site in current efforts to encourage heritage tourism related to Knox County’s African American residents and their ancestors.

The building is threatened by long term, ongoing deterioration and a lack of maintenance by the current owners. Knox Heritage calls upon those property owners to make long-overdue repairs and hopes the current level of downtown redevelopment will spur the repair and reuse of this important structure before it is too late.

8. Odd Fellows Cemetery – 2001 Bethel Avenue.

The Odd Fellows Cemetery was established between 1880 and 1885 when four separate African American social organizations bought the land to create the cemetery. It is named after the Banner Lodge Chapter of the Odd Fellows Fraternal Order that was established in February 1882. Many prominent African Americans are buried there, including Calvin “Cal” Johnson, Knoxville’s first African American millionaire, and William Yardley, a former City Alderman and 1876 candidate for governor of Tennessee.

The organization that created Odd Fellows Cemetery no longer exists and this has left it in limbo for decades. Various efforts by local governments and citizens groups have prevented the complete destruction of the cemetery, but the financial resources required to restore and maintain the many grave markers and interpret the site for a new generation of Knoxvillians have never been secured. This leaves the site vulnerable to vandalism and decay. It is a problem plaguing historic cemeteries across the region. Knox Heritage will seek to work with groups and citizens interested in establishing a “friends” organization for the cemetery, similar to group that maintains Old Gray Cemetery on Broadway. Until a sustainable source of funding can be found, the cemetery will remain endangered.

9. The McClung Warehouses – 501-525 W. Jackson Avenue.

Two years after an inferno destroyed half of the McClung Warehouse complex on Jackson Avenue, there has been no progress made to rescue Knoxville’s most visible endangered buildings. The fire illustrated the worst case scenario for vacant and blighted historic buildings. Three historic buildings were lost and one thriving business owner lost everything and was displaced. The opportunity still exists to redevelop the remaining buildings into loft and retail space, thus improving the tax base for all Knox County residents.

A structural analysis of the remaining buildings conducted at the request of the City of Knoxville revealed they are sound and suitable for redevelopment. We call upon KCDC and the City of Knoxville to act immediately to secure a viable developer for the remaining buildings. Continued delays only encourage the behavior the current owner has displayed for over a decade – behavior which has not resulted in redevelopment of the buildings.

These highly visible buildings on Jackson Avenue were originally built as wholesale warehouses and are a reminder of the era when Knoxville was one of the leading wholesale centers in the Southeast. The buildings at 517-521 were built in 1911, and 525 was added in 1927. The buildings were originally built as wholesale warehouses for the C.M. McClung & Company, a wholesale and hardware supply company.

10. Fort Sanders Houses & Grocery – 307 18th Street & 1802, 1804, 1810 Highland Avenue.

These historic structures on the southwest corner of the 1800 block of Highland Avenue comprise one of the few remaining dividing lines between the concentration of residential and medical uses in the Historic Fort Sanders Neighborhood. They all were purchased by Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center in February of 2008. The residential structures are now surrounded by barbed-wire-topped chain link fencing and the 18th Street IGA’s continued operation is in doubt. The fate of all four buildings is uncertain.

A recent revival of long range neighborhood planning efforts requested by neighborhood residents and facilitated by the City of Knoxville, is a step in the right direction. All the stakeholders are at the table and there is an opportunity to turn the Fort around for the benefit of all.

Any long range planning should promote preservation of the historic structures that have managed to dodge the wrecking ball over the last 50 years. These four properties offer the opportunity for a new era of cooperation between Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center and neighborhood residents. The newly formed, resident-led Fort Sanders Community Development Corporation is the perfect vehicle for a solution. The hospital should partner with residents to preserve the buildings or donate them to the Fort Sanders CDC if it has no plans to preserve them. The group’s mission will guide its efforts to retain the neighborhood grocery while restoring the residential properties for single family occupancy. That outcome would further stabilize the neighborhood, as opposed to the permanent damage that will result from the demolition these four highly visible historic buildings.

307 18th Street

This Commercial Vernacular style building was constructed circa 1923 as the W.T. Roberts Grocery Store, but over the years Fort Sanders' residents have known it as the 18th Street IGA. Roberts owned and operated the store from 1923 until 1950. During that time he had a short commute from his home at 1802 Highland Avenue just around the corner. In 1950 the store became the Fred McMahan Grocery Store and the owner had an even shorter commute. He lived on the second floor of the building.

1802 Highland Avenue

This Victorian style house was built circa 1891 for Ranson D. Whittle who was a well known manufacturer and founder of the Whittle Trunk and Bag Company. Whittle was also a prominent member of the family for which the Whittle Springs community in North Knoxville is named. From 1914 until 1950 William T. Roberts, owner of the neighborhood grocery store around the corner, lived in the house.

1804 Highland Avenue

This Victorian Cottage was built circa 1898 and the first owner was Reverend Isaac Van Dewater.

1810 Highland Avenue

This Victorian style home was built circa 1895 for Dr. Henry Patton Coile, a prominent turn of the century surgeon and physician. Coile lived in the house from 1895 until 1900. In 1900 his son Samuel A. Coile, the first pastor at Fort Sanders Presbyterian Church, became the owner of the family home. It shares many architectural features with homes designed by George Barber and could be the work of Knoxville’s most famous Victorian-era architect.

11. Knoxville College National Register District – 901 College Street.

Knoxville College was founded in 1875 as part of the missionary effort of the United Presbyterian Church of North America to promote religious, moral and educational leadership among freed men and women. The National Register District is composed of 10 buildings, eight of which are contributing, and two which are non-contributing. Knoxville College has significantly contributed to the educational and spiritual welfare of the African American population in Tennessee since 1875, particularly in the fields of industrial and normal education.

The buildings at Knoxville College are a tribute to the creativity and resourcefulness of the student body. While pursuing their education, students designed and constructed these historic buildings using bricks they manufactured at the campus. This spirit of involvement continues today, even as Knoxville College struggles to continue its mission. The historic buildings, with their fine craftsmanship and solid design, are deserving of support from the entire community and their preservation is a critical part of the rebirth of the college. Knox Heritage and its members stand ready to assist the college in its efforts to preserve its architectural heritage and encourage Knox County residents and their elected representatives to support the college’s efforts.

12. French Broad River Corridor.

The French Broad River was one of the earliest settlement paths in Knox County. By the mid 1780s, early homes and industries were located on both sides of the river. It was the settlers’ highway; ferries crossed it linking communities on both of its banks. Francis Alexander Ramsey settled in this corridor and the stone Ramsey House still stands today. There is evidence to suggest that James White built his first house in the area. In The Annals of Tennessee by Dr. J.G.M. Ramsey, the French Broad Corridor is described as the home of Alexander Campbell; the large Georgian style house he built still stands. On both sides of the French Broad some of the best architectural examples of early Knox County - pre-historic settlements, a mill, churches and early cemeteries and ferry landings - tell the story of a river that acted as a highway for commerce and social interaction. The French Broad River corridor, because of its relative isolation and lack of urban infrastructure, retained its historic places, scenery, breathtaking views and vistas and it is a portrait of Knox County in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

Knox County Commission’s approval of rezonings that allow industrial and commercial development at the Midway Road interchange with I-40, combined with increasing development pressure from Sevier County, threaten the survival of one of Knox County’s signature places. We call on Knox County government leaders to act with haste to develop innovative measures that protect this endangered treasure in east Knox County from being destroyed by the rampant development looming on the horizon.

13. The Pickle Mansion. – 1633 Clinch Avenue.

The Pickle Mansion was built in 1889 in the Queen Anne style. It was built of solid masonry construction with a brick veneer wall covering on that masonry. Typical of grand houses of the Queen Anne era, it boasted a hip roof with lower cross gables, a turret, elaborate attic vent windows, window arches, transoms and a large front and side wrap around porch.

The house was burned in a disastrous fire that occurred in August of 2002, and suffered extensive damage. The current owner was able to purchase the house from its previous owners, who were denied in their request to demolish the building. After the purchase the current owner navigated an extensive and necessary subdivision process and took steps to finance the restoration. Fire debris has been removed and roof trusses have been designed with the intent of completing a rehabilitation of the house and restoring its architectural presence on Clinch Avenue. However, although interior work to prevent additional deterioration has been completed, the house is still unroofed. Rehabilitation work has begun, but the slow pace of that work leaves the house in a precarious position.

Knox Heritage encourages the owner to move swiftly to get the house under roof and begin the long-awaited restoration of this Fort Sanders Neighborhood landmark.

14. The Maplehurst Neighborhood.

Maplehurst was developed in its present form in the early twentieth century, and contains Mission, Tudor Revival, Craftsman, Bungalow and Spanish Colonial Revival buildings that were popular architectural styles of that era. Maplehurst was first the site of an earlier residence known as Maplehurst, from which the area took its name, and is typical of residential areas developed near downtown. The buildings have furnished rental housing for downtown workers, students, and others over the years; many are now in poor condition, and threatened by neglect.

The area has become known as an enclave for local artists and musicians who enjoy the location surrounded by downtown, the river and the university. Most of the buildings were purchased by Atlanta-based Gameday, a developer of luxury sports condominiums, several years ago. Since that time promised plans for the restoration of the buildings have not come to fruition and a split between the firm’s partners has left the future of their properties in limbo. They are now owned by Mountain River Associates.

The lack of maintenance and a riverfront location increase the potential peril for the well-loved neighborhood. Knox Heritage calls upon the owners to bring the vacant and deteriorating buildings up to code and improve the general conditions of the historic buildings they own in order to protect the buildings and the residents who live in and around them.

15. C.B Atkin's Edelmar – 3624 Topside Road.

This house built in 1914 was the summer home of prominent Knoxvillian C.B. Atkin. It is named after Atkin’s three daughters – Edith, Eleanor and Marion. Atkin was an important figure in Knoxville's history, the proprietor of several businesses, including the Fountain City Railway Company. He founded a furniture company that crafted furnishings for some of Knoxville's finest homes, and a business that manufactured fireplace mantles for elegant mansions nationwide. Atkin developed a large portion of Knoxville's Oakwood and Fountain City suburbs, and built two hotels and two theatres in downtown Knoxville.

The 30-acre-estate overlooking the Little River portion of Lake Loudon was subdivided into smaller lots and auctioned to the highest bidder. The new owner had requested a rezoning in order to develop the site but later withdrew the application. The MPC staff report, prepared in conjunction with the proposed rezoning of this property, called for historic zoning (HZ) to be placed on the 6600 square foot Atkin family home known as Edelmar and the surrounding parcel in order to guarantee preservation of this significant building.

Knox Heritage encourages the current owners to secure the house against vandalism and arson while they are planning for the future of the site. We also recommend the house be protected with historic zoning as part of any development plan for the larger site.

(This information was submitted by Knox Heritage, inc.)

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