Barber, the Mill, and the Peters–Kilgore House

By Chester Kilgore
This article originally appeared in the Old North News in 2003.

This is a story about a man I know quite well, but have never met, in the flesh at any rate. William E. Peters came from a long line of millers who immigrated from Wales before the American Revolution, and his great great uncle was injured at the battle of Camden. His great grandfather had a mill on the old Peters place in Union County.

The Peters came to Tennessee when it was still North Carolina. William Peters’s father, George W. Peters, was a Union army captain during the Civil War. He lived on Broadway just north of the soon to be Grainger Avenue and bought the old Goody Koontz mill nearby on First Creek and enlarged it. That mill burned in 1902. George Peters rebuilt it. It was later enlarged many times, until, over the years, it was about ten times its original size. Eventually, the mill was four floors in height, and during its lifetime, was powered by First Creek with diverted flow water over two waterwheels, by steam power, by diesel power, and finally in the1940s, by TVA electricity.

William E. Peters took over operations of the mill as his father’s health failed. Wm. E. Peters took in a partner at the mill, Mr. J. T. Bradley, and the name of the mill was changed from G. W. Peters Co., to Peters and Bradley Mill Co. The mill ground both wheat and corn. About this time, William E. Peters hired prominent Knoxville architect George Barber to enlarge the farm style house he was living in on Grainger Ave. Barber’s design changed the look of the house into a more Neoclassical style befitting Peters’s position in the community.

William E. Peters was elected to city council twice in the1920s, was prominent in the business community, and active in the congregation of Fourth Presbyterian Church, located just two blocks from his beloved home on Grainger Ave. At Fourth Presbyterian, he served as a deacon and as an elder.

Black-and-white photo of a large two-story house with porches on the first and second floors and several trees in front.
A photo of the Peters–Kilgore house on Grainger Ave. shortly after George Barber’s renovations were put in place. The house today has been restored by Chester Kilgore and looks like it does in this photograph. The only thing not on the house is the railing above the second floor porch.

George Barber’s design nearly doubled the size of the Peters’s house. To make the scale of the addition come out right, he built right over a major portion of the roof, adding about eight feet in height to that part of the roof line. The old roof line, structure, and roofing are still there, in the attic, hidden from view, like a ghost structure encased in its own protective housing. The new George Barber addition featured two generous porches on the front, one over the other, supported by twelve fluted columns, capped with composition capitals. The upstairs porch was mainly used for sleeping on hot summer nights, as there was no electricity to allow a fan to stir the air. The upper porch was designed to catch the west breeze, and was built to specification to be above the height most mosquitoes liked to fly. This mosquito deterrent system still works well to this day.

Mr. Peters put his original set of George Barber blueprints for his Grainger Ave. home in the built in china cabinet in the dining room, where they stayed until 2003, when they were donated to the McClung Historical Collection for conservation, restoration, and use for future generations studying George Barber’s architecture.

Black-and-white photo with 15 people posed on a front porch and its steps.
A photograph of the Peters family. George W. Peters is standing in the back at the left side of the photo. William E. Peters, his son, is seated, also at the left, and he is looking back toward his father.

William E. Peters youngest daughter, Miss Lillian Peters, stayed on in the Grainger Avenue house after her father died in January, 1959. The house was sold in 1961 to the A.P. Money family. The Money family sold the house in 1981 to its current owner and caretaker, Chester G. Kilgore. The house at 1319 Grainger Avenue was placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the United States Department of the Interior in 2001.

William E. Peters had four daughters, but no son to carry on in the milling business, so the business was sold to a concern in Elizabethton, closed in1961, and the mill was razed several years later. The part of the business property which was west of Broadway, and known to some as Mucktown, was the former mill pond. It sold in the 1950s to Henley Tate & Herman D. (Breeezy) Wynn. They spent $1,000,000 to develop the Broadway Shopping Center on the site.

Chester “Chet” Kilgore, ONK’s first board member emeritus, was a North Knoxville native who was well known throughout the city for his contributions to neighborhood and historic preservation. The pedestrian bridge on the First Creek Greenway is named in his memory.