KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Efforts are underway to restore the house located at 523 East Oklahoma Avenue in Old North Knoxville, and the story behind how the house came to be is just as interesting as the details inside.
In May, the home was purchased by Sean Bolen and Alison Hardy through the City of Knoxville’s Homemakers Program, which allows individuals, non-profit organizations and businesses to purchase vacant lots or lots with substandard structures acquired by the city. The two have a year to restore the home according to the program website, but Bolen has also been digging into the history behind the home.
Bolen says that while some might consider the beginning of the house’s history as when it was built in 1889, it really started with a gunfight on Gay Street that took under two minutes on October 19, 1882.
In his research to find out more about the home, Bolen found that Joseph Mabry Senior and his son, Joseph Mabry Junior, threatened to kill Thomas O’Connor because of an old feud over the purchase of some land on that October 1882 day. O’Connor, who was the president of Mechanics National Bank, was rumored to be the wealthiest man in Tennessee, Bolen said.
According to Bolen’s research, O’Connor was able to calm the situation, but later that day, Mabry sent a message to O’Connor threatening to kill him on sight. The next morning, O’Connor would shoot Mabry Sr. just outside the bank, killing him.
Mabry’s son, Joseph Mabry Jr, was nearby, and when he heard he ran toward the scene. As Mabry Jr. ran toward him, he and O’Connor shot each other at nearly at the same time, and both died, Bolen said.
“News of the incident spread far, even to Mark Twain, who even mentioned the events in a footnote of Chapter 40 of his 1883 novel “Life in the Mississippi,” Bolen said.
While the shooting did not directly relate to the address of the home, Bolen says two years after O’Connor died, his estate was settled and Thomas J. Peed received his inheritance. After marrying his wife Hellen in 1888, the Peeds purchased the lot at 404 West Glenwood, which had the prestigious name of “Doctors Row,” Bolen explained. The address would eventually change to 523 East Oklahoma Avenue as it is known now.
Bolen said the Peed’s hired the Baumann Brothers, highly respected builders in Knoxville, to construct the home. According to the Knoxville History Project, brothers Joseph Baumann and Albert B. Baumann worked on other Knoxville area buildings, such as Westwood, which was built in 1890, and the Knoxville High School, that was built in 1910.
Over 130 years later, the home still stands with much of it’s original features, like the stained glass windows, wooden doorknobs, ornate tiles, mantels, and woodwork. The home also has some unexpected details, like several walls with curved corners, ornate door hinges on some of the eight foot doors, original button light switches, and at least one highly ornate strike plate on a door latch.
The home was previously condemned and was acquired by the City of Knoxville. Despite having no electricity, the abundance of tall windows that adorn every side of the house let in enough natural light for the home to be brightly lit during the day.
While many online services list the house as a four bedroom, four bathroom home, that number is likely fluctuate some. Bolen explained that a bathroom had been added in a way that blocked off the original staircase and front door from the rest of the house. With how the walls were added, going down the original staircase led to a dead end. That bathroom and those walls have since been demolished to allow entry to all areas of the home.
Possibly one of the most peculiar features in the home is the three closet spaces under the entryway stairs. Two of the closets are nestled under smaller spaces of the staircase, but the tallest of the closets has a stained glass window that fills the small space with colorful light.
The two-story home also has a basement and an attic which could eventually give the home even more square footage.
WATE will be following along with updates on the home as it is restored over the next year. Bolen and Hardy share also more information and history about the home on the the Facebook page 523 E Oklahoma and on Instagram.