urban_renewal (2005-42)

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Farmhouse in the Country?

by Matt Edens

Urban Sprawl or Suburban Sprawl? Some people love to split hairs when it comes to those terms. But really it’s in the eye of the beholder. If you’re an inner-city sort and deplore the inexorable creep of split-levels across pristine cow-pastures in places like Powell or Farragut or some other suburb you try not to set foot in,  it’s suburban sprawl. But if you’re someone who lives on a half-acre in Halls, fighting to keep those terrible townhomes and their assorted riff-raff at bay, it’s urban sprawl.

Either way you look at it, it’s not exactly a new phenomenon. In many ways it’s only the pace that has accelerated. Knoxville, one could argue, has been sprawling since the first settler built a cabin beyond James White’s palisade. Although, for those first 50 years, houses spread slowly, compactly, reined in by the fact that most people commuted on foot.

Around 1855, when this house on Grainger Avenue in Old North Knoxville was first built, it was a good mile out of town. “North Knoxville,” at the time, was the area around the 100 block of S. Gay Street (not that any of the buildings on that block yet stood). Knoxville’s original railway station, located at about where the Southern Depot now stands, was on the edge of town.

The house, which looked little like it does now, was a quiet country farmhouse. Its owner, George Peters, ran a mill on First Creek (the mill pond covered much of what’s now the Broadway Shopping Center). I have no idea whether George’s son William, who owned the house in the 1880s, complained about “urban sprawl” as the city’s “additions” (as subdivisions were termed back then) crept ever closer.

But I do know that, sometime in the late 1880s, as big houses started being built nearby on Armstrong and Scott, he turned what had started as a modest farmhouse into a much showier, high-Victorian, upper-middle class home (a VicMansion, perhaps?). The transformation, a rare bit of commission work by mail-order architect George Barber, was certainly impressive. Despite the huge maple trees that shade the front yard, it’s hard not to notice this house with its massive double-decked front porch, framed by graceful fluted columns topped by Ionic Greek capitals. Inside, the house has a large central hallway leading to a full set of formal rooms—back-to-back parlors and a large dining room with the original built-in china cabinet. At the rear, the original staircase, its circa 1885 newel post in immaculate condition, leads to three large bedrooms and a smaller nursery/study on the second floor. There’s also a large deck in back, off the kitchen, overlooking a deep lot that slopes down to the First Creek Greenway.

1319 Grainger Ave.

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