Ask Doc Knox:

The Wonderful 18th Century House of Alexander Bishop

Dr. Knox:

I'm currently taking photographs of historic houses in Knoxville and Knox County. When looking for the Alexander Bishop House, listed on the National Register at 7924 Bishop Rd. (in Powell), the closest I could find to a historic house at this address was the house in the attached photograph. Can you tell me if this is, indeed, the Alexander Bishop House, and perhaps provide a few tidbits of the Bishop house's history?

Thanks in advance,

- B. Archilochus S., ZBA

My Dear Archie:

My pallid staff is sequestered in the subterranean recesses of the History Center, and has little instant expertise on residences in the outlying areas. But we are too polite to respond with an honest, "Hell if I know." For this interesting question we conferred with our friend Ann Bennett, a specialist in architectural obscurities on whom the Metropolitan Planning Commission depends for historical assessments, for some guidance.

Though little-known except to connoisseurs of old houses, this domicile, a little ways north of Emory Road, is one of the dozen or so oldest structures in Knox County, and documented better than some others on that list. Absolute proof is oft elusive, but according to local lore, it was built in 1793, before Tennessee was a state, and there's no reason to dispute that. It's almost as old as Blount Mansion.

Mme. Bennett calls is "a notable example of late 18th-century double-pen long residence." She examined it some years ago, and noted "full dovetail joints and wooden pegs" in the oldest part of the building, stone foundations for the brick fireplaces, boxed stairs, and broad floorboards, all characteristic of frontier houses of the era. "I remember it as a wonderful house," she recalls.

She notes that it's so old, it's oriented toward different road patterns than those that exist today. She said the house was originally approached from what's now Pedigo Road, formerly Jacksboro Pike.

She adds that its location, this far from the river, is very unusual for a house so old. Not only was it less convenient, but this area wasn't necessarily protected for whites by treaties with the Indians, and were subject to attacks.

The builder of the original log house was Mr. Stockley Donelson (1753-1804), son of the famous Middle-Tennessee settler John Donelson, and brother of Rachel Donelson, who became better known to history as Rachel Jackson.

Donelson lived there only three years, but it was long enough to convince folks that his brother in law, Andrew Jackson, then in his 20s, was a frequent visitor. Which is not impossible. We know that Jackson was in Knoxville for several weeks in early 1796, attending the statehood convention on Gay Street.

In that signal year of statehood, the house was sold to Charles McClung, another of the delegates to the statehood convention, and one of the most prominent Knoxvillians of the era. He was plenty busy in town with his various county posts, and probably didn't spend a lot of time out here personally.

McClung owned it until 1825, when it was bought by a Mrs. Charles Curd, who expanded it by connecting two separate log houses. She's buried on the property. Her family sold the house around 1856 to former Virginian Alexander Bishop, born in 1813. He modernized the already-old house by covering it with clapboard. After 23 years here, he moved to Texas in 1879--it's a little surprising to see a 66-year-old man heed the call of the Wild West--and a son took over the property. The same family seems to have controlled this veritable Bishopric for most of the period since then.

The house became known to preservationists as the Donelson-Bishop House, but when state authorities considered it, they chose to call it the Bishop House, after the house's longest-tenured family.

We regret that, judging by your photograph, the current residents seem to have storage issues. Perhaps they would be grateful for suggestions from the community.

Yr. Obt. Svt.

Z. Heraclitus Knox, B.A.

Come one, come all! Dr. Knox answers your questions regarding the history of the Knoxville metropolis. Send all your queries, big or small, to editorATmetropulseDOTcom.

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Come one, come all! Dr. Knox answers your questions regarding the history of the Knoxville metropolis.