Tag Archives: homes

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.

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!