I went to see the Mabry-Hazen House in Knoxville, which was built around 1858 by Joseph Alexander Mabry II at the request of his wife, Laura Churchwell Mabry. They had lived in another residence west of town called Riverview, a large brick plantation home, that Laura felt was dark and depressing and wanted something brighter and more cheerful.
Joseph Mabry II was a prominent Knoxville merchant and importer, who supported the Confederacy and even donated $100,000 and set up a depot that supplied clothing to the Southern troops. However, in September 1863, when the Union army, led by Colonel William Lunt, arrived in Knoxville, “General” Mabry signed a loyalty oath and turned over the Mabry-Hazen house to be used as their headquarters.
The house is unique in that it was occupied by the family until the last member died in 1987. Evelyn Montgomery Hazen was 88 years old when she died and her last wishes were that the home with all of the furnishings be turned into a museum and any money left would be used to support that endeavor.
I climbed the cement steps leading to the expansive porch and approached the double doors. Even the double screened doors appeared original to the house with numerous coats of white paint that obscured the design in the frame. The wooden door on the right had a door bell in the center that had been disabled. I reached for the door knob and pushed it open. The foyer was wide with hall tables on both side and leading to the back of the house and a stairway going to the rooms on upper levels.
There was a tour guide who gave us information on the history of the family and the house, as well as, each room. The floors were original hardwoods, wide-planked, and worn. There were several sitting rooms which included a formal living room on the left with black horse hair upholstered furniture, beautiful ornate tables, and a large fireplace made of Tennessee marble. Across the hall on the right was a library with sitting areas, desks, and books. This room also had a large beautiful fireplace. Throughout the rooms, foyer, and hallway were photographs and portraits of various family members of both the Mabry’s and the Hazen’s.
Down the hall on the left was a music room with an enormous piano that was so unique and stunning. It was easy to imagine it being played on a regular basis for family and friends. There was also a small child’s working piano and stool in the floor in front of a white sofa that had indentions from the weight it had supported. More portraits, pictures, and even a family Bible were found here.
On the right of the hall and beneath the stairs was a door that probably led to the basement where the winter kitchen was housed. No one was allowed down there for safety reasons. Also on the right was an elaborate dining room with lovely china and silver tea service and many serving pieces. In fact there was so much it was hard to take it all in. Closets had been turned into to storage for the overflow with shelf after shelf of additional pieces.
This was the area where the original house ended. However there were rooms that had been added at some point including a bedroom and full bath on the left and what would have been a butler’s pantry on the right. Off of the main hall was a smaller hall that led to the bedroom and all along the walls of both were pictures, documents, maps, and drawings displayed.
The stairs leading to the upper floors were solid and well maintained. At the first landing there was the option of turning to the right and going up a few steps that led to another hall and bedrooms on both ends. The bedroom to the right was the master and strewn across the bed was a beautiful dress that looked like a bridal gown. The floors here were wooden with a large oriental area rug covering about two-thirds of the floor surface. As with the rooms below, the furniture was original and there were personal items from previous residents that had died long ago still left on dressing tables.
After seeing another bedroom which was converted to a sitting room for use with the master bedroom, we then went down the four or five steps to the landing and headed up the other stairs to additional rooms. To the right was the children’s play room which had a crib and various dressers, tables, chairs and many toys that were very old. Since the last resident, Evelyn Montgomery Hazen, had passed away in 1987 at the age of 88, and no children were living there in a very long time, many of the toys may have been from her childhood.
The next room was called a fainting room, where women visitors would be allowed to go if they needed to rest or were overheated. Finally, to the left was Evelyn Hazen’s bedroom. One of the first things visible was a dresser’s dummy with a very delicate lace and white linen dress that belonged to Ms. Hazen. The most striking observation was the small frame that the dress would have fitted.
I had read the book, “The Seduction of Miss Evelyn Hazen,” and had read the court case documents that went into great detail about her being tragically deceived and as a result being abandoned by friends and family. One could understand how as she got older she would find it near impossible to trust anyone and that is why she lived alone, never allowing visitors, causing the house and grounds to fall into disrepair.
We are grateful that she knew the value of her home as it related to the history of Knoxville and made arrangements for its upkeep after she passed away. I know only part of her story and yet I believe she would have been a fascinating woman to know and I would have loved to have heard her stories of life on Mabry Hill growing up and growing old.