The Clay Jug

An unusual heirloom, and a saloonkeeper's surprising legacy

Jeff Reed, who's a local videographer, sent me a pretty fascinating photo of a family heirloom. I have to admit I don't always fully appreciate heirlooms. Show me a Chippendale cabinet or your great grandmother's diamond ring, and I'll say, "Huh." And probably won't even mean it. A family heirloom is often a pretty girl with nothing to say.

Jeff's family heirloom is different. It's a clay jug, a little chipped around the edges. It's brown, just like in the song, though not little. It looks like it might hold about a gallon's worth. Stamped on the side is "Dan and Pat's Saloon / Dan Dewine, Prop. / 124 South Central Street."

Jeff has deep Knoxville roots, and thinks it came by way of his great-grandfather, who worked for the railroad. He's curious about its story, or, as Antiques Roadshow has taught me to say, its provenance.

I've run across Dan Dewine's name in contexts so different I had to check to be sure they referred to the same fellow. His acquaintances called him a "rollin' Irishman." He'd been born to Irish parents, sure enough, but on Third Creek, just west of town, during the Civil War. In old movies, an American Irishman who wasn't a priest was either a cop or a saloonkeeper, and in fact Dewine was both. He was a cop during the early era of the Central Street "Bowery." Cops, who in the course of a night visit more bars than barflies do, may have a better idea of the bar industry's vigor than anybody else in town. It was hard to keep wearing the blue when you saw so many silver dollars passing across the bar.

Dewine was a still young man around 1890 when he opened his own place on old Asylum Street, on the west side of downtown. It was right across the street from the Knoxville Iron Co.'s factory, part of which is what's now known as the Foundry. I bet Dewine's Saloon was popular. After a 12-hour day working near blast furnaces, ironworkers tend to appreciate a beer.

But the big all-day, all-night saloon business was over on Central. Patrick Sullivan, the Irish immigrant who was a generation older than Dewine, was the Abraham of Knoxville saloonkeepers. Patrick Sullivan is famous today for the fact that he left his name on the Old City's landmark corner building, at Central and Jackson. Sullivan's was probably the most respectable saloon in the Bowery, during the end of the time when it was also known as part of Irish Town.

It may say something about Dewine's saloonkeeping reputation that Sullivan took him on as a partner, around 1900.

When I saw the "Dan & Pat's," I figured the Pat was Pat Sullivan, but I think there's a more likely explanation. For whatever reason, the Sullivan-Dewine partnership didn't last long, and Sullivan retired about then.

As it turns out, Dan Dewine's younger brother was named Patrick, too. Pat Dewine had helped him as a barkeep at the Asylum Avenue saloon. When Dewine moved downtown, he left Pat to be the proprietor of his original joint.

The address was puzzling, at first. There's no 124 South Central today. The last number for several empty blocks is 122, which is that of Big Don's Costumery, at the corner of Willow. Beyond that, to the south, there are no buildings for several blocks.

Willow Street didn't exist until about 1904. When it did, suddenly, as an atypical mid-block street between the addresses 122 and 124, the new saloon on the southeast corner, at 124, was Dan Dewine's. It stood on the site that's now the parking lot of a latter-day saloon called the Crown & Goose.

During Dan's time as proprietor here, his little brother Pat Dewine was still in charge of the place on Asylum, but maybe Dan made him a partner of some sort in the Central Street location. That arrangement would explain the order of the names, with Dan's first: "Dan & Pat's." Reed's family tradition is that it's a whiskey jug, and it may be. But you may know saloons also dealt in "growlers," beer containers for home, the saloon version of take-out. (The Downtown Grill & Brewery still offers that option.) In most saloons, women were banned from drinking at the bar, but they were welcome to buy a growler.

After a city referendum banned saloons in 1907, Dewine sold "soft drinks" for a while, as did many stunned saloonkeepers. Then he ran a real-estate office, part of the time in an old saloon space on Central. Pat Dewine gave up on city life altogether, and moved to a farm on Lowes Ferry Pike in West Knox County. He came down with some illness and died in 1912, at the age of 41.

Dan Dewine prospered and raised a family with two daughters. Before Dewine was very old, he had saved plenty from both the old saloon business and the real-estate business to retire. He lived in a modest house on Armstrong, where he kept a flower garden. But his daughter Mamie suffered from a crippling disease, and Dewine was obliged to send her to a Catholic hospital in Asheville. Dewine was so impressed with the nuns' care of his daughter that he was heard to regret his hometown's lack of a Catholic hospital. Knoxville General was not too far from his house, but he apparently wasn't impressed with it.

When he was about 60, the former saloonkeeper used his savings to buy a melancholy old brick hilltop mansion in North Knoxville, with seven acres of what was known as Oak Hill. When Dewine died at age 62, Knoxville learned that he had been in discussions with the Catholic bishop to donate Oak Hill to the diocese for one particular use. In 1930, thanks in large part to the late saloonkeeper's bequest, Oak Hill became the site of the new St. Mary's Hospital. The medical center will be leaving Dewine's old hill soon, but the last 80 years there have been an astonishing legacy.

Don't forget to tip the barkeep.