The Daily Pulse:

Sophronia Strong Demolition, etc.

Sophronia Strong Hall has been torn down. The whole thing, more or less. All that remained today was a narrow column that included the original entrance, with the name of the building in gothic letters and a bit of clay-tile roof above it.

The 1925 women's dormitory was one of UT's most distinctive dormitories. It had long been UT's plan to demolish the newer (ca. 1939) additions, which made up more than three-quarters of the space. The university's "Strong Hall Renovation and Expansion Program" in fall, 2012, outlined a proposal to demolish most of the building, namely the big brick part visible from Cumberland Avenue--but, speculatively at least, save the older, smaller-scale clay-roof Tudor-style dormitory that faced White Avenue.

That plan outlined some specific uses for that older building within the context of a multidisciplinary science complex. However, current plans call for the whole to be replaced with a fairly enormous tabernacle-style building, eight stories tall, to cover most of the block. According to UT spokesman Charles Primm, "the front archways from Strong Hall have been removed and placed in storage, and will be used again in the building as the new construction takes place. Also being saved are wooden lintels above the windows of some of the residence hall rooms. In addition, plans call for saving the northeast side of the building, which will be incorporated into an atrium for the new building."

The much-larger part of the dorm, built later, was brick with limestone arches. It was a pretty building, better-looking than most dormitories. If you look for pictures of Sophronia Strong Hall online, that's what you'll see. The unusual part was that original 1925 Tudor building of exposed beams and stucco. It was too short to see from Cumberland. But if you were back on White Avenue, it was an eye-catching building that worked well with the neighboring 1870s "Cowan Gardener's Cottage" which is one of the very oldest buildings associated with the university, and even with historic Fort Sanders. That one 1600 block of White Avenue made an unexpected little patch of Englishness between the parking garage and the Strip. 

Sophronia Strong was often on Knox Heritage's Fragile 15 list, but was not included in their recently announced group of threatened buildings.

I didn't mention Strong Hall, by the way, in my recent column about several other large-scale demolitions that hadn't been subject to preservationist protest. Sophronia Strong has indeed been of interest to preservationists for some decades. Knoxville businessman Benjamin Rush Strong endowed it with a will probated in 1915. "I wish this building to stand as a lasting memorial to my mother," Sophronia Strong, he wrote, "and adjoining or near it I ask the board of trustees of the University of Tennessee forever to set aside and maintain a plot of ground as a flower garden in recognition of my mother's lifelong love of flowers."

Primm says the 1870s Gardener's Cottage at the corner of 16th and White will stay, and even be renovated, though it looks as if it will be dwarfed by the new construction.

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