Exploring the Wonder House

Help Doc Knox figure out the mystery building of Rocky Hill

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Dear Doc Knox:

There is an old huge skeleton of a wooden building in the Rocky Hill community on Northshore Drive that is situated on a hill up in the woods. It is on Currier Lane, across from Roosters. It has been there for years and nobody that I know seems to know what it is or was. Any idea?

peggy@comcast.net

My Dear Mme. Comcast:

The street you mention is among the most peculiar in West Knoxville. Hardly more than a lane wide, Currier Lane is marked as a public city road, but looks more like a rural driveway. It climbs steeply away from Northshore, up the hill at a grade we might not recommend for standard automobiles.

Well before the crest of the hill, Currier Lane becomes a “private toll road,” run by a pay machine with a camera attached. You can go farther, but you have to pay $1-5, depending on the vehicle. If you don’t pay, we presume, it will take your picture, and of course nobody wants that. We hear it’s a lovely view up there, which may be the reason for the added security. However, because the price sign and warning did not list a category for Phaeton, we did not participate.

Dr. Knox has never witnessed a Private Toll Road in his hometown, much less an automatically policed one, and is considering the prospect for his own driveway. But you don’t have to pay to view the edifice in question. It’s on the hill just before you get to the ominous camera.

The mysterious structure is on the right, not far from Northshore: From the road it looks like a strangely large building, larger than most barns but shaped sort of like one, without the customary actual walls. When we first espied it from the road, we wondered if it might be a UT grad student’s giant art piece: perhaps something called “Barndream 387.”

But look closer—and to do so may require some benign trespassing—and the structure grows less skeletal in appearance and much grander. It appears to be a giant almost-finished building, not for livestock but for people. Above a brick-wall core, with double doors, are what appear to be multiple roofs, and high in the back are some glass windows looking to the south, toward the river and the sun. It looks almost like an eccentric country convention center or retreat.

Its multiple roofs give it an almost pagoda quality, as if it’s something Frank Lloyd Wright designed on his sojourn in Japan, perhaps after an evening of especially stimulating sake.

On the Knoxville Geographic Information System (KGIS) website, it’s referred to, without further explanation, as “The Wonder House.” It’s well named, in that it obviously does inspire us to wonder. The property has apparently not been sold since 1955, and has been owned by a family named Wilson. We attempted to contact a member of the family, without success. It seems to have puzzled some of the neighbors we contacted.

But you’ve piqued our curiosity. We bet some reader out there can be of assistance in this matter.

Sincerely,

Z. Heraclitus Knox

***

Dear Doc Knox:

I have a Bible signed in front by Sarah Rickey 1826. Inside it says “Joseph Rickey born 1760 his wife Elizabeth born 1773.” — Inside, very hard to read. Knoxville folks?

Thanks,

Carl Brewer

Dear Mr. Brewer:

’Twould be hard to know without some census research, which is the sort of thing that owners of such artifacts sometimes find time for. The people at the McClung Collection in the East Tennessee History Center can help you with that.

All we can say is that we know of no one by that name who was especially well-known in Knoxville then. Dr. Knox does not recall them personally, and they don’t show up in our indexes. That’s not to say they weren’t nice people.

The odds are probably against Ms. Rickey’s being a Knoxvillian, because in 1826 Knoxvillians were very rare and endangered creatures indeed. There were only about 1,500 Knoxvillians in the whole world. Even if we know Ms. Rickey was in Tennessee in 1826, back then fewer than one-half of 1 percent of Tennesseans were Knoxvillians. Knoxville had lost its status as a capital city, the reason it had been founded. It had no railroad in 1826, and no prospects of getting one any time soon. It had no effective steamboat traffic. It was a leftover remnant of Jeffersonian days, stranded in a remote valley. Life in Knoxville in 1826 required strong spirits, or some faith—hence, a Bible—or both.

Therefore, our answer is a firm Maybe.

Yours truly,

Z. Heraclitus Knox

Send your historical mysteries for the consideration of Doc Knox to: editor@metropulse.com

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Comments » 3

joetom69 writes:

Here's one for you. Knoxville has 11th Street, and some of us remember 10th Street. Were there ever 1st - 9th Streets?

joetom69 writes:

There's a website www.reindeerman.com for all your reindeer needs. It's listed as Kyle & Donna Wilson on Currier Lane. They lease a herd of reindeer out for Christmas parties.

Tess writes:

It is my understanding that the Wonder House was an ongoing building project undertaken by the elder Mr. Wilson (since deceased)when he fell ill with dementia. The building project gave him something to do and kept him occupied.

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