Fred McMahan was a prominent and successful African American brick mason and builder from Sevierville. McMahan learned the trade from his grandfather, Isaac Dockery. He attended Knoxville College where he met his future wife, Mary Bond (1896-1983), in the late 1910s. McMahan earned a master’s degree in architectural engineering from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Around 1920, he returned to Sevierville, and along with his brothers James and Newt McMahan, he established the J, F & N McMahan Construction Company.
One of the company’s first projects was the construction of the Pleasant View School on a section of McMahan’s farm just outside Sevierville. Completed in 1922 with financial assistance from the Julius Rosenwald Fund, this elementary school is the county’s only Rosenwald school and one of the few extant brick Rosenwald schools in Tennessee. McMahan’s wife was the county’s first female teacher to earn a master’s degree (in education from the University of Cincinnati in 1938) and was the sole teacher at Pleasant View until 1960. The school remained in use until 1965, when the county integrated its elementary schools.
McMahan Construction Company constructed several buildings in and around Sevierville including the Pigeon Forge Methodist Church (1921); the Murphy Collegiate Institute’s Administration Building (1923) and Female Dormitory (1925); the First Baptist Church of Sevierville (1926); the Watson Motor Company (1928); the Townsend Motor Company & John Sevier Service Station (1930); the Rawlings Funeral Home (1937); and the Sevierville Post Office, which was built with Work Progress Administration (WPA) funds in 1940.
The most important building that Fred McMahan built, however, may be the Dwight and Kate Wade House, which was completed at Sevierville in 1940. This house was based on plans provided by Verna Cooke-Salomonsky of New York City, one of the country’s leading female architects. The Wade House is a replica of an Art Moderne-style house featured at the “Town of Tomorrow” exhibit at the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair. The Wades visited the world’s fair on their honeymoon and brought the Town of Tomorrow’s brochure home with them, where they picked out Salomonsky’s “Garden Home” design and sent off for the architectural plans. The Wade House may be the first documented replica of a Town of Tomorrow house in America; it is certainly the first in Tennessee.
Other buildings constructed by Fred McMahan’s company include the Cash Hardware Store at Sevierville (1941); the Beech Springs School at Kodak (1952); and buildings at Morristown College and at Knoxville College. Fred McMahan’s own house still stands outside Sevierville.