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First Creek Greenway cleanup September 25

Let’s celebrate fall by cleaning up our beautiful greenway!

Join us Saturday, September 25, from 9 am to noon, rain or shine. Come for the whole time or as much as you can.We’ll meet at the intersection of Sixth Avenue and Cottage Place, at the Cottage Place parking lot. The Beautification Committee will provide water and snacks, gloves, trash bags, rakes, grappling hooks, ropes and hand sanitizer. We will follow CDC guidelines. Children are welcome if accompanied by a guardian.

Twenty Homes Participate in First Neighborhood Porch Tour

By David Booker
This article originally appeared in the Old North News in 2000.

Sunday, September 30th, was an almost perfect fall day. The temperature was in the seventies and the sky was dotted by only small white clouds. From 2–4 p.m. that day, Old North Knoxville hosted its first Porch Tour.

Lynne & Dave Palmer chat with guests on their porch.

Called “Sunday on the Porch: A Celebration of the Porches of Old North Knoxville,” this event invited residents from inside and outside the historic neighborhood to stroll down the sidewalks and appreciate an element of homes that doesn’t exist much on newer styles.

Twenty homeowners in the neighborhood swept off their porches, set up their porch furniture, and put out snacks and refreshments for anybody who wanted to say hello. The tour was free and a flyer describing the homes and the neighborhood, including a map, was provided to anybody stopping by. The average number of people to visit each porch was between 10 and 15.

Beth Booker welcomes visitors to her porch.

Porches ranged from Queen Anne Victorian to Bungalow to American Four Square, representing almost every style in Old North Knoxville, a neighborhood with homes built mainly between the 1880s and the 1940s. There were porches on Grainger and Glenwood Avenues, East Oklahoma and East Scott Avenues, and other streets and avenues that make up Old North Knoxville. There were porches attached to homes that had been restored and porches attached to homes being restored.

Those whose porches were on tour said they enjoyed the tour and looked forward to the event continuing next year. If nothing else, Beth Booker said, “it gave me a good excuse to sit out on my porch, which I haven’t done enough of.”

Greg & Rena Webb explain future changes to their porch.

See a preview article on the tour from the Knoxville News Sentinel.

A Celebration of the Front Porches of Old North Knoxville

This article was originally published in the Knoxville News Sentinel on July 4, 2000, and was
republished in the
Old North News.

The dictionary says a porch is “a covered entrance to a building, usually with a separate roof.”

But whoever penned such a description must have never enjoyed a lazy, hazy Sunday afternoon from grandmother’s front porch. Because such a description doesn’t give a porch any credit at all.

A porch isn’t a deck, and it isn’t a stoop. People who have stoops may wish those smaller spaces could magically grow into a wide porch. And they sometimes treat them like porches, adding a rocking chair and potted plants to the space. And people who have decks sometimes end up putting a roof over the decks and turning them into open porches or even screened porches.

A porch is a place for a swing with a flattened pillow for your head or for your behind.

Add a few comfortable chairs, a small table for a plant, drinks or magazines and even a glider, and that porch becomes an extended room in the outdoors. A set or two of wind chimes and you have natural music. Bring out the portable telephone and you won’t have to worry about missing anything.

A porch’s railings make the perfect place to collect rocks, plants and jars for lightning bugs. Its eaves and hanging baskets are a place for birds’ nests, and its front steps invite a parade of potted plants along their sides.

A porch’s corners are great places for children to pitch tents from old bedspreads and blankets from the hall closet without worrying about getting underfoot in the house or having their tent flooded in a sudden summer storm.

A porch is a place to watch the world go by, not worrying if you need to get up and join it. It’s a place to gather and talk on a Sunday afternoon after a chicken and dumpling dinner at grandmother’s or late in the evening with the neighbors after the dishes are done, watching the children play flashlight tag.

Everyone gets lazier and everything gets a little slower on a front porch. Iced tea, with lots of sugar, goes well with a porch. So does a good homegrown tomato sandwich. So does a good book borrowed from the library.

Pretty useful thing for just “a covered entrance.”

Sunday, September 30, [2000], 2–4 p.m.
Spend an afternoon on a free walking tour of Historic Old North Knoxville. Front porches are one of the most distinctive features of American houses of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. See Victorian, Craftsman, Neoclassical, and Greek Revival examples of porches dating from the late 1800s. Selected homes will offer refreshments on the porch (these homes will be marked with colored flags in the parkway). You may obtain a map of homes by stopping by any home marked with colored flags. Please respect private property by not walking onto porches that are not so designated. These homes may be admired from the street.

See a later article from the Old North News describing the tour.

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.

Neighborhood Cleanup March 4!

We’re collaborating with Keep Knoxville Beautiful for the annual North Knoxville Community Cleanup the morning of Saturday, March 4, from 9:30am to noon! We’ll have supplies available for pickup in Booker Park (aka Old North Knoxville Park, at 416 East Oklahoma Ave.) along with a map showing where you can drop off bags when you’re done.

Families and individuals are welcome to participate, and no advance signup is required. Let’s get together and help prepare the neighborhood and North Knoxville for spring!

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.

Happy new year! Meetings start back January 23

After a couple of months off for the holidays—and the return of home tour!—we’re back to meeting in person this month, with a Zoom link for those who can’t attend in person. The meeting will begin at 6:30 on Monday, January 23. Because of renovations at St. James we’ll be in the main sanctuary—which sadly means no potluck until we can return to the usual meeting space. Check the Facebook group for details or email donnspen@gmail.com to be added to the email list.

Save the Dates for Fall ONK Cleanups!

It takes lots of hands to help keep our green spaces looking their best! No experience required and both adults and families are welcome—even if you can’t stay for the whole time, come for as long as you can. Bring tools if you have them.

ONK Park—Tuesday, August 30, 6–8pm
Rain date Thursday, September 1

First Creek Greenway—Saturday, October 1, 9am–noon
Meet up near Cottage Place

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.

Remembering Beth Booker

Beloved longtime neighbor Beth Booker died January 23 after a long and hard-fought battle against cancer.

Beth spent more than 20 years in ONK, and her contributions to our neighborhood are enormous. She served on the board and chaired the beautification committee for many years. With her husband, David, she launched the First Creek Greenway cleanups and led them for two decades, contributed recipes and stories to the newsletter, and shared countless cuttings and photos from her spectacular garden. She was instrumental in creating, beautifying, and maintaining the Old North Knoxville Park on Oklahoma Avenue. She even started the ONK tradition of the Easter Egg hunt for children, first held in her yard on East Scott Avenue and then moved to ONK Park. A dietitian by profession, she gave the world the Rule of 95: if the temperature reaches 95, it’s OK to have ice cream for dinner.

Beth was a gifted and prolific cook, baker, and knitter, wildly generous with her talents, her time, and her thoughtful care. The influence of her kindness, intelligence, strength, energy, and humor will continue making our neighborhood—and the world—a better place for many years to come.

A memorial event is in the planning stages for spring. Meanwhile, we hold David and their daughter, Lauren, in our hearts.

“Beth and David have lived in the neighborhood for almost 22 years and begin, almost immediately, working to create beauty in the community; gardening in our parks, partnering with KKB for cleanups, and twice a year 1st Creek cleanups (21 years!).  She also contributed her time and energy being a board member and committee chair for Old North. Besides that, she was selfless in her individual support of neighbors and others.”
—Susie Laise Smith

“When I moved to Knoxville three years back I became involved in the ONK community. I live right in the middle of the First Creek Greenway, and wondered how it could be made safer and cleaner, a better place. Beth was the Beautification Chair at the time, and was very welcoming and supportive of my ideas. She was behind my efforts of connecting me with the right people in Knoxville. Now we have a better swing set, a planting with a park sign, and have plans to improve the whole park. Without Beth’s encouragement and guidance it would not have been possible.

 “As time passed, I became a good friend of Beth’s. Though she had increasing health struggles, she would always care for my well-being. She has given me many seeds and plant seedlings from her garden, and we met there often when Covid started. Beth was a friend until the very end. She packed a wellness gift bag, which was delivered to me the day before she passed away. It was heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time.

 “It is an honor for me to have taken on her former ONK position. I will do my best to continue Beth’s love and care of nature in ONK.”
—Margareth Olsson

Please leave a comment with your own memories of Beth.

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!