Blog post #7:
by Jane Van Ryan
When I visited the Mabry-Hazen House in December, one of the docents gave me a copy of an old Knoxville Journal article about Evelyn Hazen. It was published about 40 years ago when Evelyn was in her 70s. At the time, she still was considered one Knoxville’s most beautiful women.
In a photograph accompanying the article, Evelyn stands with Pollyanna Creekmore, former chief of the McClung Historical Collection, at the Mabry-Hazen House dining room table. It is set with Evelyn’s Havilland china, crystal stemware, and the silver candelabra passed down from her ancestors. Overhead a chandelier “dripping with crystal,” the article reports, offers a soft glow to Evelyn’s white hair.
Nearby is a Hepplewhite sideboard holding a silver coffee urn. “It belonged to my great-grandmother, who came here from Charleston, S.C.,” Evelyn tells the reporter. Taking off the lid, she points to the hollow cylinder inside. “Sticks of hot charcoal were put in here to keep the surrounding coffee hot.”
Evelyn gives reporter Pat Fields a tour of her home, pointing out the portraits of her great-grandparents and great-uncles whom were among Knoxville’s most respected and influential residents. Evelyn notes that her forebears donated the land for Market Square, and her mother provided the land for the Mountain View School. She points to a portrait of her relative George W. Churchwell, owner of Springdale Farm which eventually became north Knoxville.
At some point during the interview, Evelyn’s maid appears with homemade peach ice cream and sugar cookies, which are Mabry-Hazen House specialties. Evelyn’s maid was an African American woman named Laura, who cooked in the Mabry-Hazen House for several years.
Laura’s son Richard Lyons also worked for Evelyn. According to Knoxville shop-owner Mary Gill and her nephew Martin Hunt, Richard would go with Evelyn to the butcher to buy meat for her cats and dogs. Richard told them there were 16-20 cats in the house in those days, and the odor was overpowering. After 15 or 20 years of working for Evelyn, Richard quit because of the smell.
Gill and Hunt, who were long-time purveyors of expensive dresses and fine housewares in Knoxville, heard many stories about Evelyn over the course of several decades. And Gill was one of Evelyn’s childhood friends. When I visited their boutique on West Cumberland Avenue in July 1988, Gill was 93 and still working.
“She was beautiful,” Gill said, speaking of Evelyn. She had “beautiful hands, long fingers…Evelyn always admired her own hands.”
“She was in Sunday school class with me,” Gill recalled. She and Evelyn attended the First Presbyterian Church which was populated by Knoxville’s Southern aristocracy, while the Second Presbyterian Church was for Northerners. Ralph Scharringhaus, who was blamed for making Evelyn a “ruined” woman, was a deacon at the Second Presbyterian Church.
When Evelyn was a young girl, Gill said Evelyn’s mother always dressed her in beautiful clothes. As an adult, Evelyn would travel to Charleston, New York and Atlanta on shopping expeditions. On a few occasions, Gill went with her. In New York, they stayed at the Algonquin. When they traveled to Atlanta, they met at the bus station and Evelyn nearly missed the bus. “She was late for everything,” Gill said.
Gill also rode with Evelyn in her car to collect the rent from her rental properties. On one trip, Evelyn was driving a brand new car and nearly tipped it over. “I was about to fall out,” Gill said, but Evelyn climbed out and called the police. “She left me in there, half in and half out,” Gill reported. “She never thought of anyone but herself.” The police came and managed to “set it up straight,” Gill said.
Despite the accident, Gill apparently remained friends with Evelyn, and Evelyn frequently shopped at her store. Some of the items she purchased included English andirons, some glassware, and a set of 12 goblets that had come from New Orleans. Evelyn also bought furniture in Charleston and at auctions. A few items were reproductions, but others were authentic. Regarding Evelyn’s antique satinwood table with the piecrust edging, Hunt said, “People had good taste in those days.”
More about Evelyn and her life in the next blog post.