The sign on East Governor
John Sevier Highway for the Historic Ramsey House indicates a home from another era, but many people pass it without realizing
Located about seven miles
from downtown Knoxville, it was once one of the finest homes in Tennessee, but more than that, it was the home to Ramsey,
a man who provided leadership and direction for a young Knoxville and a man who fought alongside Gen. George Washington in the Revolutionary War.
In the late summer of 1783, Ramsey came to what would become East Tennessee. It remained his home for the rest of
Ramsey, who received both civic and
military appointments, helped develop Knoxville in the areas of education, medicine, business and banking, the railways and
religion, says Judy LaRose, executive director of the Historic Ramsey House. He was an original trustee of Blount College,
the precursor to the University of Tennessee.
of Scotch-Irish descent, came to the area when less than 400 settlers lived here, LaRose says. Ramsey, who held the honorary
title of colonel, arrived along with James White, Robert Love and others to survey the area.
later, the 33-year-old moved his young family into Ramsey House in 1797, the year after Tennessee became a state. The house
was built from a log cabin on the property that had provided a temporary home while the mansion was being built.
Ramsey’s land stretched all the way to the forks of the Holston and French
Broad rivers. The piece of land where the Ramsey House sits was once called Swan Pond because it was a peninsula and was the
home to a diversified wildlife population, including beavers and swans.
Due to the dangers of malaria and other concerns, Ramsey had the beavers’ dams that created the lake taken
apart, draining the water away. Ironically, Ramsey died years of malaria in 1820.
Ramsey and his sons’ contributions to the area are many. The elder Ramsey donated several acres of his land
to the Presbyterian Church, where the Lebanon-in-the-Fork Presbyterian Church was built.
Ramsey helped guide the beginnings of Blount College, which was created in 1794,
along with White, founder of Knoxville, and Samuel Carrick, who was the first college president. Blount College later became the University of Tennessee, one of the oldest
universities in the nation.
Several of Ramsey’s
children died before reaching adulthood. All of Ramsey’s surviving children were college educated including his daughter,
Eliza Jane, LaRose says.
Dr. J.G.M. Ramsey and William Baine Alexander Ramsey, followed in their father’s footsteps of public leadership. Dr.
Ramsey, a physician, wrote “The Annals of Tennessee,” a historical documentation of the state’s early years,
and founded the East Tennessee Historical Society.
explains he was ready to publish a second volume of the annals when the Union Army came through and burned his house to the
ground. Along with the house, 4,000 books in Dr. Ramsey’s library that included his journals of Europe and historical
documents about the state were destroyed.
don’t think that he ever recovered from that,” LaRose adds. “I think he was a beaten man after that.”
William Baine Alexander Ramsey, who was given the name of his older brother who
died at the age of eight, became the first elected mayor of Knoxville and later Secretary of State.
Ramsey was the publisher of the Knoxville Register and also served as a trustee at East Tennessee College, the second name
The elder Ramsey was survived by his
third wife. She gave birth to Ramsey’s youngest child five months after his death. Francis Alexander Ramsey Jr., known
as Frank, also became a physician like his older half-brother.
The historic mansion was purchased in 1952 for the purposes of preservation. Although the home had remained in the
Ramsey family for 80 years, a grandson of the elder Ramsey sold it in 1866. Prior to the mansion’s purchase, it had
been rental property.
were used to help restore the home and provide authentic period furnishings for the period of Ramsey senior’s residence,
1797-1820. The property is owned by the Association for the Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities but is run independently
by a board of directors, LaRose says.
is the oldest statewide nonprofit historic preservation organization in Tennessee and is the fourth oldest in the nation.
The association has developed the property into 101.5 acres that includes gardens and green space, which along with the house,
are available for rental for private events and weddings.
The house does have some furnishings that belonged to the original family including a pair of Chippendale chairs
that were a wedding present from the parents of Ramsey’s first wife and a cross-stitch sampler made by his daughter,
Ramsey House is said to have a documented
ghost, the first son named William who died when he was eight. A paranormal investigator and a psychic came to check the house
out in 2013. The psychic said at the time that the spirit was “a young boy.’’
LaRose says the investigators say the ghost is apprehensive and hides in the attic.
Eliza’s sampler includes William’s name and death year.
During a tour of the home, LaRose shares some of the unique qualities of the Ramsey House.
It was built by English architect Thomas Hope and features pink marble, quarried from the property, and blue limestone. It was the first home in Tennessee with
an attached kitchen, which was added in 1806. Thirty-five people lived on the property, including house slaves who lived in
an upstairs loft. Indentured servants from the north helped work the land.
LaRose says the nonprofit continues to make improvements to the property and to expand the offerings of the museum.
“At the time, it was known as the finest house in Tennessee,” LaRose
says. “We would love to turn this into a living history museum."