The second oldest home in Knoxville is the James Park House, located downtown on Cumberland Ave. Google Street View doesn’t really do it justice, but it’s better than the photo I tried to take with my phone while stopped at a red light a couple of days ago.
I wanted to snap a picture of the Park House because it’s got an interesting connection to John Sevier. “Nolichucky Jack” didn’t live here, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.
Sevier purchased this downtown lot and started building a home there in the 1790s, around the same time he was serving as Tennessee’s first governor. Construction didn’t get very far. Nothing but a brick foundation and part of a wall had been completed before a financial setback forced Sevier to abandon the project. For a man so accustomed to winning, whether on the battlefield or in politics, it must have been an irksome disappointment. He sold the lot to his son G.W. Sevier in 1801, and it passed out of the family’s hands six years later.
James Park, an Irish immigrant and Knoxville mayor, bought the lot and built the current structure on Sevier’s foundation in 1812. The house stayed in the Park family for a century; after that, it served time as a Red Cross facility and a medical academy. Gulf & Ohio Railways acquired it to use as a headquarters building a few years ago and undertook an extensive restoration.
Although Sevier never got to build the home he wanted on the lot, it’s just a stone’s throw from the courthouse lawn where his remains were reinterred in the 1880s. One fellow who did get to spend some time in the Park House was Sevier’s mortal enemy Andrew Jackson, who stopped by for a visit in 1830.
In a sense, the story of the house lot on Cumberland Ave. mirrors the larger story of Sevier’s place in Tennessee’s history. In both cases, Sevier secured the land and laid the foundation, but it was left to others to build up the structure, which obscured and overshadowed the contributions of the man who made so much of it possible. And in both cases it happened around the same time. While James Park was building his house in 1812, Sevier’s great rival was on the brink of national fame and state preeminence, but Sevier himself was in the twilight of his long and very eventful life.