The university-owned Eugenia Williams House, located on the Tennessee River in the Lyons View Historic District, is commonly referred to as an “American castle.” The site was the home of Eugenia Williams, who was born in 1900 and died in 1998. In her will, she left the house to UT as a memorial to her father Dr. David Hitt Williams, who was a prominent Coca-Cola investor.
The house was built in 1940 on the land that David Williams had left his daughter after his death. The regency-styled house was built by Eugenia’s childhood friend and UT alumnus John Fanz Staub, who mainly built and designed homes for prominent families in the Houston, Texas area.
Williams also arranged to have the house designed in a manner to protect her privacy, with tall trees surrounding the house.
UT has owned the home since Williams’ death, and the home has since been abandoned; none of the previous UT presidents were able to come up with a use for it. UT is currently awaiting approval to sell the property to the Aslan Foundation, because the up-keeping of the house is extensive as well as expensive.
UT will use proceeds from the sale to fund scholarships for lower-income students through the UT Knoxville Promise Dr. David Hitt Williams Endowment. The funds will aid prospective UT students who have hopes of attending the university in the fall of 2020.
UT Interim President Randy Boyd said that the house needs to be restored, but it isn’t a project the university can undertake. However, UT plans to sell the house with requirements that the property be restored by the new owners, Boyd explained.
“We believe that requiring a preservation easement helps provide some safeguards to keep the property preserved. I remain hopeful this bidding process will bring forth an enthusiastic preservationist to restore this unique property in our community,” Boyd said.
Boyd emphasized his enthusiasm that the house will be well taken care of by its next owner.
“We are excited to have a buyer that will not only preserve, but restore the home and property,” Boyd said.
The Aslan Foundation, the potential buyer, was founded in 1994 by brothers Lindsay and Robert Young and Robert’s wife Rachael. The name of the foundation came from the name of a golden retriever who shared similarities to the prophetic lion in C.S. Lewis’ book series “The Chronicles of Narnia”. The foundation thrives on restoring and uplifting some of Knoxville’s most historic locations and preserving the history within them.
Andrea Bailey, the executive director of the Aslan Foundation, said in an interview with UT System News that the foundation is happy to potentially take over ownership of and preserve the historic site.
“The Eugenia Williams House is a regional and national treasure, containing important architectural elements and reflecting the role of one of Knoxville’s prominent families. We plan to immediately evaluate and stabilize the house, in addition to hiring an architect to develop a historic preservations plan. Over the long term, we will work closely with the community to determine its highest and best uses,” Bailey said.
Todd Morgan is the Executive Director of Knox Heritage, a non-profit historic preservation organization. Morgan stated that he is happy to see that the Aslan Foundation is potentially taking ownership of the house. Knox Heritage supports the sale and the Aslan Foundation; the foundation previously purchased Historic John, Knox Heritage’s headquarters and restored it.
Morgan also added that the Aslan Foundation’s ownership of the house will be beneficial for the future of the property as well.
“The University of Tennessee should be applauded for developing an effective solution that will honor Dr. Williams’ legacy through a scholarship program while protecting his daughter’s iconic home,” Morgan said.