Category Archives: History Notes

Documents and stories compiled by ONK historian and board member emeritus Andy Anderson

Mynders School

By Doug McDaniel
This article originally appeared in the Old North News in 2011.

Students listen to a Knoxville police officer in front of Mynders School on Pearl Place, circa 1940s.
Photo courtesy Mary Ireland.

The city of North Knoxville purchased lots for a school in 1889 near Alexander Street and Pearl Place, known at the time as Tennor Street. They finished the school building in the last six weeks of the 1889-1890 school year. Because of previous shortages in classroom space, the North Knoxville schools had followed the practice of half-day sessions. With the completion of this new school, a full-day schedule was followed, and additional teachers were hired. African American students of North Knoxville, about 20 at the time, were sent to the Austin School.

It was not until 1915 that this North Knoxville school would be named for Seymour Allen Mynders. He was born in Northfield, Minnesota in 1861, the son of Abraham and Sabra Simmons Mynderse. The family came to Knoxville in 1866, and Mynders graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1888. His brother Eugene was a carpenter and sashmaker who lived at 167 Woodland Avenue, at the corner of Laura Street, today Harvey Street in North Knoxville. Eugene’s home was a stop on the dummy line. Seymour Mynders, however, moved to Humboldt, Tennessee to become a professor of mathematics at I. O. O. F. College, where he became president the following year. In 1905, he was named Tennessee State Superintendent of Schools, at a time when Tennesseans found their public schools in poor condition. State law only required one hundred days per term, and publicly supported four year high schools were few. Mynders became an advocate for teacher education and the establishment of “Normal Schools” at Johnson City, Memphis, Murfreesboro, and Nashville, dedicated to stronger academic courses to train teachers. Mynders became the first president of the West Tennessee Normal School in.Memphis. Today, that school is known as Memphis State University. Suffering ill health, he died suddenly in 1913, after just starting his second year as president of the Memphis Normal School. Across the state, movements were made to honor him, and in Knoxville, the impressive school on Pearl Place was named “The S. A. Mynders School,” without the “e,” although the spelling of this name has been disputed for many years.

Knoxville City Schools Superintendent J. R. Lowry was quoted as saying, “And a fund is now being raised by the school children of the City of Knoxville and other parts of the state to erect some sort of monument to his memory. But Seymour Mynders does not need these marks of honor, nor any eulogy of ours. For those who have eyes to see, are there not engraved on the walls of every school house in the State the words of the Mantuan poet: ‘If you seek his monument, look about you.'”

Seymour Allen Mynders is buried at Old Gray Cemetery, right here in North Knoxville, not far from the site of the old Mynders School, which was torn down in the late 1950s to provide more parking for the expanding Sears store on North Central. Ironically, the Sears building is now a warehouse for the Knox County Schools.

Zoning History and National Register Designation

By Andy Anderson

Acquiring H-1 Historic Overlay Zoning

The Old North Knoxville neighborhood association first applied for H-1 overlay zoning (historic zoning) in November 1979. A few members of the H-1 committee canvassed the neighborhood (the original triangular boundaries of Woodland Avenue, Central Street, and Broadway). The canvassers were Paul Thornton, Sam Peake, and Jo Ann Anderson. They went to every home and business explaining what H-1 was and they had cards for them to sign showing whether they were for or against the overlay. Many of the homes had absentee landlords and ONK had to get their addresses to send them a card by registered mail.

A meeting was held in October 1980 with ONK members, Knoxville City Council members, and other city representatives to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the H-1 zoning. ONK then had meetings discussing the zoning and voted to go forward with trying to get the H-1 designation.

In October, 1981, after many months of work on fulfilling the requirements for the zoning, the application was completed. Neighborhood members could purchase a copy of the application that was to go to the Metropolitan Planning Commission (the organization that is now Knoxville–Knox County Planning). During the time leading up to the MPC meeting held on November 9, 1981, a lot of false information on what you could or could or not do with the H-1 zoning was being spread through the neighborhood. This resulted in several neighbors and absentee landlords contacting their City Council representative.

The first reading for H-1 was heard at City Council on November 24, 1981, and was approved; however, the second reading on December 8 was turned down. ONK’s first attempt at obtaining an H-1 overlay was not successful.

 In May of 1991, the H-1 historic overlay was addressed at an ONK meeting by Ann Bennett of the MPC and Historic Zoning Commission. A motion was made and passed for work to begin on another application for H-1 zoning.

In August a draft for an ONK design guidelines application was started. Drawings, diagrams, and photos were needed for this part of the project. These were completed  by several neighbors and nonprofits donating their time and efforts. The Historic Zoning Commission met with ONK members to discuss the H-1 overlay application. If it was approved, ONK would become a part of the Knoxville Landmarks Register.

In April and May of 1992, draft copies of the design guidelines were approved by the Historic Zoning Commission. With this accomplished, the first hurdle was cleared for ONK to receive the H-1 overlay zoning.

The next step was a meeting with MPC, and the final approval was granted by City Council on October 13, 1992.

It took a lot of time and effort by the neighborhood; however, ONK finally received the H-1historic overlay zoning. ONK was among the first neighborhoods in Knoxville to receive the designation.

ONK presented Ann Bennett with a certificate of appreciation for all her hard work in helping the  neighborhood receive the H-1 overlay.

National Register Designation

In September 1987,  the Metropolitan Planning Commission released survey results for areas of Knoxville that might be eligible for local, state, and national historic district designations.  A score of 45 meant an area would have a chance of success. Old North Knoxville had a score of 55.

Early in 1991, the East Tennessee Community Design Center was commissioned to help ONK on historic register research. In February and March, street streetscape photos were taken for National Register nomination. The homework for the Historic Register was finished in mid-April and turned in to Ann Bennett of the MPC. Once everything was accomplished, she turned in the application to the state for approval.

In November of 1991, the application for the National Register of Historic Places was to be voted on by the Tennessee Historical Commission. In early January 1992, the state advisory committee reviewed and approved the ONK nomination to the NRHP. On January 22, the state review committee of the Tennessee Historical Commission reviewed and approved the nomination, which was then sent to the National Park Service for review.

On May 14, 1992, ONK was approved to be a National Register Historical District.

This was another great effort accomplished by a lot of neighbors, Ann Bennett of the MPC, East Tennessee Community Design Center, and many local, state, and national committees.

1987 Zoning Changes

In 1987, Old North Knoxville asked City Council for a general neighborhood rezoning from R-2 to the more restrictive R-1A. The city started working with the Metropolitan Planning Commission to define the boundaries of the proposed new zoning.

The MPC met on February 12 and approved the boundaries. The City Council met on April 7 and passed the request on first reading. The measure did not require a second reading.

As part of the change, some ONK areas that were previously R-3 were changed to R-2. 

For background on zoning designations, see the city’s web page on land use classifications.

Finding Our Home

by Pamela Franklin Jones

Twenty-two years ago, on a gloomy fall UT game day, we began house hunting in Knoxville, Tennessee. We were looking for a family home in a neighborhood with sidewalks and a large garden.

Although the realtor had put some thought and effort into showing us some houses, it soon became apparent that they were not what we had in mind. After a long fruitless search that day, we retreated to the motel and talked about our options. Glancing through a local free paper, we found in the room which had a few classified listings, a For Sale notice spanning two columns caught our attention. It advertised a handyman’s dream, and there was a picture of the house which looked as if it had potential. An open house was set for 12 o’clock the next day, which was Sunday, when we would be returning to our hometown in South Carolina.

The next day, we drove to the open house hoping to be admitted early due to the fact that we had a long drive home that day. The morning drizzle had turned into a heavy cold rain, but we were anxious to check out the house before we left Knoxville. The mansion, for it was a mansion, was in a rather rundown area but close to I-40 and in a neighborhood with sidewalks. Knocking on the door, it was opened by the owner, but we were not admitted because she was still in the midst of staging the rooms. We had to cool our heels in the local McDonald’s for an hour or so, and then drove back to the property.

Having bought and sold several properties in the past, this was easily the most astonishing viewing ever. It was raining outside, but it was also raining inside! In almost every room, containers were placed to catch the leaks. A veritable waterfall was pouring from an upstairs bathroom through the dining room ceiling and making its way to the basement. It was very dim, and rather a rabbit warren, because the house had been subdivided to make a total of nine apartments. We tried not to exchange glances as the children ran excitedly upstairs already choosing their bedrooms. One had a balcony, one a huge wall mirror, one a roof deck and its own bathroom, but without exception, every room had holes in the roof with damp rotting plaster falling down to the floor. There were large gaps in the floorboards which had been attacked by termites, and we had to walk carefully. There were doors which had swollen shut and could not be opened, there were horrifying bathrooms and really disgusting kitchens . . . but we could all see the potential for this tired old place.

Later, we discovered that the city had tried to demolish it at least once, and had also attempted to sell it at auction but were unsuccessful. However, on that day of our viewing it for the first time, I stood at a kitchen window and gazed out at the jungle of undergrowth and trees that was the buffer between us and the back road and knew that I wanted to buy this house.

When we finally corralled the children and left to start our drive home, it soon appeared that we were all of one accord. We could see the potential, and although this would be our biggest renovation project yet, we were confident we could do it.

After some negotiation with the seller and against the advice of our lawyer, we eventually closed on the property and then spent three months in an apartment waiting for the house to be rewired and replumbed and brought up to code.

Twenty-two years and two roofs later, we have a history with the Dunn Mansion. It has excelled our expectations in every way. It is indeed a wonderful family home, and we have made it our own. It will always require work as any old house does.

Apparently, some previous tenants believed that we acquired some ghosts with the house and would return on our first Hallowe’en to request a tour of their previous apartment. We did certainly have some occupants in the guise of hundreds of pigeons living in the attic who would leave in the mornings and return with a rush of wings at night until we sealed the holes and evicted them. If the ghosts are here, they are friendly ghosts. For a long time the floors were impossible to get clean because of the coal dust that had filled all the cracks. Nothing was quite as bad as the rats that apparently lived in the rear bank and had the run of the place for years. They were quite used to humans and very bold, even sitting behind a plate on the dresser eating their supper whilst we were eating our supper at the table!

Regardless, we have faced every hurdle and solved it together and have not shirked the work that it took to save this house. It has been a labor of love. There are still many tasks to complete and some to begin over again but this is home. No regrets!