One of Knoxville’s historic homes turns 25 years old this year, well sort of.
Mabry-Hazen House, or Pine Hill Cottage as it was known by the family, was built in 1858 by Joseph A. Mabry II. It was occupied by three generations of the same family until 1987, when Mabry’s granddaughter, Evelyn Montgomery Hazen, willed it to become a museum. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the home operating as a museum and the 159th anniversary of its construction.
There was a lot of work to be done before the home could be opened to the public. In Evelyn’s later years, the house had steadily fallen into a state of disrepair, leaving behind a considerable challenge for her two trustees, Judge Howard Bozeman and Lucille LaBonte. They formed the Hazen Historical Museum Foundation in 1989, and in the same year the home was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. After several years of work, the museum opened with a preview reception in June of 1992. It would officially open to the public in December of the same year.
Mabry-Hazen House is Knoxville’s only historic house museum with the full original family collection and one of very few in the United States. Four generations of family objects are on display including books, furniture, photographs, glassware, and silver. The home is a rare look into the lives of one of Knoxville’s most fascinating families. While the family home and collection are indeed something to admire, it is the family’s history and its ties to Knoxville that make it truly intriguing.
For example, Joseph A. Mabry II and his brother-in-law William Swan donated the land for Knoxville’s Market Square. Established in 1853, the land has always been used as an open market. In the 1960s the Mabry descendants sued for possible reuse of the property after the second market house was torn down. Today, Market Square still hosts a farmer’s market, as well as outdoor plays, concerts, and other special events.
The Mabry’s home and family were also witness to Knoxville’s divided loyalties during the Civil War. Mabry, ever the opportunist, just played both sides. An outspoken Confederate supporter at the start of the war, he quickly offered his services to the Union forces after they arrived in the Fall of 1863. Both armies would occupy his hilltop, still referred to as Mabry’s Hill today.
Mabry’s luck would catch up to him by October 19, 1882. Mabry, his son Joseph A. Mabry III, and Thomas O’Connor were all killed in a gunfight on Gay Street that was later referenced in Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi. It would not be the first or last of the family’s tragedies, and it has become a popular story included in a few of Knoxville walking tours.
Evelyn Hazen’s story has become better known by Knoxvillians over the years, in part to Jane Van Ryan’s book, The Seduction of Miss Evelyn Hazen. In the 1930s Evelyn sued her fiancé for Breach of Promise. A scandalous affair at the time, the lawsuit would ultimately cost Evelyn her reputation. Evelyn and her family are much more complex however, and a visit to the museum offers an in-depth tour of the family history and their home.
The Foundation will celebrate the museum’s 25th anniversary on Thursday, June 1, 2017 with an afternoon luncheon with special guest Jack Neely. If you are interested, please contact the museum. Additional information may be found by visiting www.mabryhazen.com.