Can houses be related?

Blog Post

by Arin Streeter
Vice President
Hazen Historical Museum Foundation

George L. Ault House

Edwin Rowland Lutz and Edith Atkin were married on Valentine’s Day in 1917.  With this event, George Lafayette Ault, first cousin to Edith’s father C.B., and John Moses Goddard, second cousin of Ned’s grandfather Robert Houston Armstrong, were suddenly related, though they surely had no idea.  Why does it matter?  In 1907, after the death of his wife, John Goddard found a house to rent with his three grown daughters.  As it happened, the house they found was my house, which at that time had just been completed by George L. Ault in what is now the neighborhood of Fourth & Gill.  So these two men, who a decade later would become distant cousins by marriage, also were related by a house.

Is that possible?  Can you be related by a house?  Or can houses be related to each other?  That same Robert Houston Armstrong built Bleak House (now Confederate Memorial Hall) on Kingston Pike.  His father Drury P. Armstrong had built Crescent Bend, and his daughter Adelia and her husband John Edwin Lutz built Westwood, now the home of Knox Heritage.  All three houses are now museums, and their stories are familiar, or at least knowable – you can find people to tell them to you if you ask.  Fourth & Gill’s houses, nearly all still used as residences, don’t regularly have costumed docents to invite you in and tell you their stories.  That doesn’t mean, of course, that they don’t have some interesting ones; neither does it mean that they may not be related to stories we may already know.

"Bleak House" - Confederate Memorial Hall

"Westwood" - Adelia and John Lutz House

"Crescent Bend" - Armstrong - Lockett House

One such house still stands at 927 Luttrell Street.  If I were going to name it, I’d call it the Scharringhaus House, after Edward and Frances Scharringhaus, who built it in 1899.  It’s an impressive house today, if not totally architecturally consistent – a 1920s porch replaced the original Victorian version – and it was intended to be impressive.  Built in the newly fashionable suburb of North Knoxville, it represented the success of E.H. Sharringhaus’ wholesale clothing business, Gillespie Shields & Co., located on Gay Street just south of the rail yards.  Turreted and bay-windowed, painted in many colors, the Scharringhaus’ sizable abode was also home to their one son, Ralph.

Scharringhaus House

"Pine Hill Cottage" - Mabry-Hazen House

A mile and a half to the east still stands another house, proudly and stolidly occupying its hilltop since 1858.  Named “Pine Hill Cottage” by its builder, Joseph Alexander Mabry, it was occupied at the time by his daughter Alice Evelyn, her husband Rush Strong Hazen, and their children.  Rush Hazen ran a wholesale grocery only about a block from Edward Scharringhaus’ factory.  Both were entrepreneurs in a small city where someone could rise in this era of industrialization, like Scharringhaus, from the son of a German immigrant to become a prominent and wealthy businessman.  But they didn’t run in the same social circles.  As far as that could go in Knoxville, still barely 100 years old itself, the Mabrys and Hazens were old families, with wealth derived from their vast inherited landholdings.  It’s tempting to ascribe familial personalities to their houses – while the Scharringhaus House was bedecked in modern millwork and colored paints, the Mabry-Hazen House remained a relic from another era, substance over fashion, severe in its symmetry, painted as it always had been in a sedate shade of white.  Alice was the epitome of a Victorian lady, easily scandalized by worldly discussions, sheltering her daughters with the family’s past, raising them also to be ladies.  While the Scharringhauses were building their showy new house in the suburbs, the Hazen girls were served dinner on imported family china in the dining room built by their grandfather.

 A doting father, Rush Hazen showed especial preference to his youngest daughter, Evelyn.  Pictures of her apparently don’t do her justice.  While she seems to peer from portraits with a sense of vague disinterest, she was known in her youth as a striking beauty – porcelain skin, dark hair, and green eyes.  And as a female contemporary put it, “she was really built, if you know what I mean.”  Entering the University of Tennessee in 1914 at age 15, having spent her life until that point in a rigorously controlled environment, this was a recipe for trouble.  Her cousin Fleming Hazen was in Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, and they took her under their wing.  One brother, Russ Lindsay, star of the football team, showered Evelyn with attention, but another brother had become determined that she would be his girl, embarking on a concerted effort to undermine Lindsay; this man was Ralph Scharringhaus.

The story of how this led to Evelyn’s young life slowly unraveling is related in detail in Jane Van Ryan’s The Seduction of Miss Evelyn Hazen.

By the spring of 1917, Evelyn professed to be in love with him, and Ralph asked her to marry him as soon as he finished school and was established in business.  Evelyn assumed that meant that they were engaged.  Ralph left for the Army in 1918 and wrote her nearly every day.  He returned to Knoxville in 1919 and earned his degree, being quickly promoted to general manager at Gillespie Shields after his father suffered a severe nervous breakdown.  Ralph bough expensive clothes and cars, joined Cherokee Country Club, and bought $30,000 worth of stock in Gillespie Shields with his own personal profits.  Still, he told Evelyn he needed to “get his feet on the ground” before they could afford a home of their own.  Around this time, he began arguing to Evelyn that they already had a “secret marriage,” and seduced her into a physical relationship.  Wedding dates in 1924 and 1925 slipped by as Evelyn learned that Ralph never spoke to her father about it.  Years dragged on.  By 1932, realizing that she no longer had any illusions of a happy married life with Ralph, she determined that she would tell her father, in hopes that he would resolve the situation by forcing Ralph to marry her, and at least salvage her social standing.  Instead, Rush Hazen’s sudden death in June of that year threw Evelyn into hopelessness and desperation, plotting Ralph’s murder.  Her family, trying to mitigate potential scandal, had her committed to Eastern State Hospital for a month, and Ralph, warned by a friend, fled Knoxville for his mother’s hometown of Covington, Kentucky.  Evelyn followed him there.  If she couldn’t kill Ralph, she was going to ruin him.  With that goal, she filed a Breach of Promise lawsuit against him, leading to a protracted court saga where the intimate, salacious details of their relationship were hashed out.  All of Knoxville was scandalized.  Everyone took sides.  Most of Evelyn’s family shunned her for airing their dirty laundry so publicly. 

In the end, she was awarded $80,000, maybe $1 million by today’s accounting, but appears not to have collected any of it.  Gillespie Shields had gone under in 1930 in the wake of the Great Depression.  Ralph returned to Knoxville, to the house his parents had built on Kingston Pike in 1927, and became a used car salesman.  Evelyn returned to her old white house on the hill, soured on humanity, living out the rest of her life with her maid and her dogs.  She outlived Ralph by 16 years, dying in 1987 after a fall down the stairs, an eccentric old woman with a gun in her pocket.  The last surviving member of her family, there was no one left to live in their old house.  In her will, she decreed that it should either become a museum or be razed to the ground.

So in some convoluted sense, the fact that Mabry-Hazen now exists as a museum is directly traceable to the Scharringhaus’ Luttrell Street house.  If houses can be related, that is.

 

*****

 

See the Scharringhaus House and its part of the old suburb of North Knoxville at the Fourth & Gill Tour of Homes, Sunday April 24, from 1-6pm.  Today a vibrant and active neighborhood, the nearly 300 homes of Fourth & Gill were mostly built between the late 1880s and 1930, and are some of the best architectural examples from this period of Knoxville’s history.  Tickets are available at Three Rivers Market, Bliss, and Bliss Home, or online at www.fourthandgill.wordpress.com.

Learn more about the Historic Homes of Knoxville at www.hhknoxville.org.