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Mabry-Hazen House

The Mabry-Hazen House is a key resource for Knoxville’s Civil War and Reconstruction history. The home was built around 1858 by Joseph Alexander Mabry Jr., one of Knoxville’s most influential citizens and largest slaveholders. Born in Knox County in 1826, Mabry owned extensive land holdings, was a trustee for East Tennessee University, and served as president of the Kentucky and Knoxville Railroad from 1858 to 1864 and 1868 to 1869, until it went into receivership. Mabry’s sense of civic duty is still visible; in 1853, he and brother-in-law William G. Swann donated land in downtown Knoxville to build a community marketplace, which today is part of Market Square.

Mabry married Laura Evelyn Hazen in 1852 and built this home for her in the late 1850s. Primarily Italianate in design, the wood-frame, two-story rectangular dwelling has a bracketed porch, center-arched Palladian window, and two wing additions from around 1860. Greek Revival influences are seen in the home’s symmetry and double-leaf central entry flanked by sidelights and Doric pilasters.

Initially a vocal Confederate, Mabry in 1861 personally equipped a company of soldiers and established a depot and clearinghouse for clothing and tents. As the war progressed, soldiers from both armies occupied his home at various times during Knoxville’s occupation. In late 1863, Union troops under Colonel William Lunt occupied the home and grounds, adding fortifications and earthworks; “Mabry’s Hill” became part of the Union’s defensive network in Knoxville.

By 1864, Mabry’s support for the Confederacy had diminished, and he took the oath of allegiance to the United States that February. After the war ended, Mabry and his family continued to live in the house, although financial difficulties forced him to sell several properties. From 1869 to 1870, Mabry owned and published the Knoxville Whig and was appointed to the State Constitutional Convention in 1870. Through these and other ventures during and after Reconstruction, Mabry worked to rebuild relationships with the Union and advance East Tennessee’s political and economic interests.

Mabry’s life was cut short in a shocking incident in 1882. In broad daylight in downtown Knoxville, Mabry and local banker Thomas O’Conner shot and killed each other over a land dispute. The gunfight, which also killed Mabry’s son and wounded seven bystanders, was later recounted in Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi. After Mabry’s death, daughter Alice Evelyn Mabry married local businessman Rush Strong Hazen. Their daughter Evelyn represented the last generation of the family to live in the home.

A graduate of the University of Tennessee, Evelyn Mabry worked as a New York Times staff writer, research assistant, and teacher at Knoxville High School. Mabry scandalized Knoxville society in 1932 when she sued former fiancé Ralph Scharringhaus for breach of promise, citing his relationship with another woman and refusal to marry her. Although she won her case, the salacious and explicit details of their relationship so shocked residents that Evelyn Mabry was socially ostracized. Forced to resign her teaching position, she remained in the home as a recluse until her death at age eighty-eight.

Recognizing her home’s historical significance, she provided for the house’s survival by creating an endowment for it in her will. After standing vacant for several years after her death in 1987, the dwelling, surrounded by five wooded acres, was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. The Hazen Historical Foundation, which owns and operates the property, opened it as a historic house museum in 1992. The site also includes Bethel Cemetery, a four-acre Civil War cemetery.

Published » January 05, 2010