Blount Mansion would hardly qualify as a mansion today, but when it was built in 1792, it was quite the thing. Compared to the log homes that were standard on the frontier, this wood frame house with real glass windows was a mansion indeed.
William Blount built the house in Knoxville after George Washington appointed him the first (and only) governor of the newly created Territory of the United States South of the River Ohio (called the Southwest Territory by folks who weren't quite so verbose).
The story was that Blount's wife, Mary, insisted that he build her a proper civilized house if she was expected to leave their comfortable abode in North Carolina for the wild Southwest Territory. However, Governor Blount was the kind of man who knew the value of making a good impression, so he probably didn't need much convincing. The mansion, after all, served not only as home for his family (which included 6 children and a mother-in-law), but as the territorial capital as well.
The United States at that time was a new and rather weak nation, so anything to impress both the settlers and the native Cherokee with the government's seriousness and power would be very welcome indeed. Governor Blount needed all the help he could get to create order out of the chaos of the frontier.
Governor Blount's office was a separate building in the back garden, so that the Governor could conduct business without disturbing his family.
The cooling room in the back of the house was used to store perishables. This was during the little ice age, and the Tennessee River back then would freeze over every year. They'd cut ice blocks from the river and haul them up here to keep things cool.
A portrait of Louis Philippe of France. He visited Blount Mansion before becoming king.
A spinner's weasel used for measuring the spun yarn. It would "pop" when the correct measure was achieved. Could this be the origin of the song "Pop Goes the Weasel"?
This commode was placed in a bedroom in order to avoid nighttime visits to the outhouse (or privy, if you prefer). It's bound to get a reaction from any children along on the tour.
This handy and compact writing desk is located in the front parlor.
Some artifacts from the Blount Mansion: a traveling liquor chest, and a butter press.
The tea service shows a cone of sugar commonly used during the period.
The Governor's desk, with cups made of horn, and writing quills.
When you arrive at Blount Mansion, you'll find the parking area (free) and Visitor Center situated behind the Mansion. You can wander around the gardens on your own, but to get a proper feel for the place you'll want to take a tour.
Start at the Visitor Center, where you can watch an entertaining and informative video. Then an interpreter will show you around the buildings. You'll learn all sorts of fascinating historical tidbits, like why June became the traditional month for weddings, the meaning of the nursery song "Pop Goes the Weasel" and the story of the important French visitor's unfortunate experience with bedbugs.
I arrived mid-day on a quiet Wednesday in July, so I had an interpreter all to myself. She was quite happy to show me around and answer all my questions. Didn't seem to bother her a bit that she had only an audience of one.
Blount Mansion is located at 200 West Hill Avenue in downtown Knoxville. Visit the Blount Mansion web site for hours and tour information. Make a day of it and visit James White Fort while you're in the neighborhood.