Ayres Hall, Tyson House Added to National Register of Historic Places

Two of the university’s most well-known buildings, Ayres Hall and Tyson House, are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

They join the Hopecote guest house as the three UT buildings listed among the 113 Knoxville-area properties on the register.

Ayres Hall

Ayres HallAyres Hall is a four-story, brick and limestone building, long recognized as a campus icon. Completed in 1921, the building has 88,256 square feet and sits atop The Hill, just south of Cumberland Avenue. Ayres Hall is one of Knoxville’s oldest and best examples of the Collegiate Gothic style, which is derived from the architecture used at Oxford and Cambridge universities in England, but updated and combined with elements of the local landscape.

The building is named for Brown Ayres, UT’s twelfth president, who served from 1904 until his death in 1919.

Due to lack of funds, some elements of the original design such as the clock faces on the bell tower, a plaza on the north side of the building, and a wing on the southeast side of the building were omitted. A few alterations to the interior of the building were made in the decades that followed, and an elevator was installed in 1983. Over time, however, the building gradually deteriorated, and eventually the fourth floor was closed due to safety concerns.

In 2008, Ayres Hall closed for a $23 million renovation project. The building reopened in 2010 with a north-side plaza, clock faces on the bell tower, updated flooring and fixtures, new energy efficient windows and lights, a new HVAC system, and additional elevators. Classroom upgrades included additional wireless Internet access points, classroom glassboards, and collaborative student work spaces. The renovated fourth floor features meeting rooms and a lecture hall for the mathematics department, extra attic storage, and mechanical space.

The renovation maintained the original grandeur of the building and preserved many original construction materials. It also enhanced the building’s energy efficiency, resulting in a LEED Silver certification by the US Green Building Council.

Tyson House

Tyson HouseTyson House is a three-story, brick, 16,338-square-foot building at the corner of Melrose Avenue and Volunteer Boulevard which houses the offices of Development and Alumni Affairs. It is one of Knoxville’s last examples of the Neoclassical “Colonial Classic” style developed by famed local architect George Barber.

The home was built in 1895 as a Queen Anne-style, two-story frame house for Knoxville businessman James M. Meek. Later that year, the Meek family was forced to auction the home and adjacent land. The top bidder at the auction was Bettie Tyson, wife of military veteran and entrepreneur Lawrence D. Tyson, who was serving as UT’s military commandant.

While at UT, Lawrence Tyson earned a law degree, and after passing the state bar exam in 1896, he joined a Knoxville law firm. In 1903, he was elected to the Tennessee state legislature and served one term as Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives.

Upon her father’s death in 1907, Bettie Tyson came into a large inheritance. She hired Barber to remodel the Meek House and landscape the grounds. According to the nomination, she “wanted something grand that would reflect the Tysons’ social position of Knoxville’s most affluent family.”

Barber expanded the outer walls, added a third-story ballroom and banquet room, and redesigned the exterior and the adjacent land to resemble the homes and gardens of Genoa, Italy.

News of the Tysons’ remodeling project was featured in the May 12, 1907, issue of the Knoxville Journal. “Tyson’s present home is undergoing vast improvements, which he is making at an unlimited expense,” it read.

The remodeled home, completed in 1909, featured a balustraded terrace with flower-filled urns along the northwest and northeast sides of the house, an expanded front entrance with full-height portico with Doric columns, and gardens to the west designed to “create a rich and impressive effect inviting visual exploration.” The gardens were the setting for pageants and other cultural and social events.

Lawrence and Bettie Tyson lived in the house until Lawrence died in 1929 and Bettie died in 1934. The next year, the Tysons’ daughter, Isabella Tyson Gilpin, donated the house and grounds to St. John’s Episcopal Church for use as a student center. The church sold the house to the university in 1954, and it was used as office space for the agricultural extension office and the art department. The old terraced gardens were converted into a parking area for employees. In 1982, the Office of Alumni Affairs moved into the house, and the university extensively renovated the structure, converting most of the rooms into offices and workspaces.

Ayres Hall and Tyson House were approved and listed on the National Register on August 1.

C O N T A C T :

Charles Primm (865-974-5180, charles.primm@tennessee.edu)

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