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