The Mabry-Hazen House offers a rare glimpse into another time, and the stories of a particularly passionate family.
Although the house and tree-shaded grounds makes it seem a different place and time, it’s less than a mile east of the Old City. It’s one of a very small number of Knoxville’s antebellum homes that have survived intact.
Its last resident, “Miss Evelyn” Hazen, was the granddaughter of the builder, whose name was Joseph Mabry. A well-known businessman involved in railroads and real estate before and after the Civil War, Mabry (1826-1882) had a reputation as a dealmaker.
Mabry was born on a farm in West Knox County, where his family was prominent for many years. Mabry-Hood Road, near Webb School, is named for them. However, Joe was interested in the city, and industry, and settled in Knoxville, where he entered into a partnership with his brother-in-law William Swan, a businessman and aspiring politician. In 1854, the two of them established Market Square, and made it a gift to the city, with the agreement that it be maintained forever as a farmers’ market. Mabry and Swan had business motives. They had bought most of the land around Market Square, a previously neglected part of town that suddenly became much more valuable.
Soon afterward, when he was about 32, Mabry built this handsome mid-Victorian home, on a hilltop in what was then considered a separate town called East Knoxville.
He was a Confederate partisan in 1861. He didn’t enlist, but offered to equip Confederate soldiers with uniforms, a gesture that may be the reason he was known afterward as “General” Mabry. However, when the Union army occupied Knoxville in September, 1863, Mabry didn’t resist, and offered his cooperation.
One of his sons, Will Mabry, who grew up in the house, was killed in a saloon gunfight on the 100 block of Gay Street in 1881. Historians suspect that killing was a motive for Mabry’s threatening to kill wealthy banker Thomas O’Conner. However, it was O’Conner who surprised Mabry with a shotgun blast on Gay Street on Oct. 19, 1882. Mabry’s son, an attorney whose name was also Joseph, returned fire as O’Conner shot back. All three men died within moments of each other, in front of the Mechanics Bank & Trust building. The extraordinary gunfight made national headlines, and was highlighted by Mark Twain in his book, Life on the Mississippi.
Mabry’s daughter, Evelyn (1856-1953), married businessman Rush Strong Hazen (1854-1932), and raised a daughter named Evelyn, like her mother. In the 1920s, the elderly Mr. Hazen served two terms on Knoxville City Council.
Their daughter, Evelyn Hazen (1899-1987), never married, but was involved in a scandal involving her former lover, a breach-of-promise lawsuit that made national headlines in 1934.
Two Evelyn Hazens lived in the house for about 20 years. After her mother’s death, the younger Miss Evelyn worked for UT’s English department, but became more and more eccentric. When she died in 1987, she left the house to be preserved as a historic site. Most of the house is a museum, appearing just as it would have in the 1800s, with much of its original furniture, and unusual marble mantels, intact.
The staff relates the whole colorful story of the three generations of a dramatically interesting family who lived there, from gunfights to love affairs to their enduring contributions to the city they made so interesting.
This Sunday, Oct. 18, at 2 p.m., the Mabry Hazen House is hosting a free “Lineage and Legacy” event, with book signings, light refreshments, music, tours, and a short play by historian Doug McDaniel about Mabry’s part in the creation of Market Square. Descendants of the Mabry family are expected. The event will serve as the annual membership meeting for the association that oversees the house, but it’s open to the public.
For more, see mabryhazen.com.
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