Smack in the middle of tall brick buildings and sounds of a busy downtown, sits a beautiful historic home on Locust St. in Knoxville. It's one you've probably wondered about before. The huge white columns quickly catch your eye and so do the words Masonic Temple.
They paid $25,000 for the house and lot, according to J.C. Wolfenbarger. He's been a member of the masons for a long time, since 1949. He says the Masonic Temple Association Incorporated moved into the historic home back in October of 1916. He still remembers his first meeting at the temple. He says they served a good meal that night.
"Frog legs, mashed potatoes, biscuits and gravy."
It seems the old house has always been a place for social gatherings. "In 1877 president Rutherford B. Hayes visited Knoxville on his famous trip through the south to try to reunite the country and heal the wounds of the Civil War," McClung Collection Director Steve Cotham says. "They had this huge party at Colonel McGhee's house, so the president and first lady were entertained in the house. They had this big garden party with paper lanterns lighting up the yard, it was really quite a to do."
It was one of the finest homes in Knoxville, built in 1872 for a young and rich Charles McClung McGhee and his family.
"It was an Italianate two story house designed by Joseph F. Bowman who was one of the rising young architects in the city. So, you have this man who is building a lot of wealth, picking a very young architect from Knoxville to do the designs of the house," Cotham says.
A leading figure in the development of railroads, McGhee spent a lot of time in New York, but Knoxville was his primary residence until he died in his home in 1907.
"What's interesting to me about that building is that the original building is still intact under the building that was built on top of it," Cotham says.
When the Masonic Temple Association bought the home, they added a third floor and large assembly hall, which interestingly enough was built by A.B. Bowman, the younger brother of the home's original designer.
"The porches were taken off but everything else is pretty much still there. So, you can go in and see the rooms as they were laid out. There's a parlor, there's a stairwell and a big hall and the room at the back on the downstairs on the southwest corner of the building is the room where Col. McGhee died," Cotham says.
The Masonic Temple is proud to call the old McGhee house their home for 95 years. Although the fraternity has a reputation as a secret society, they say they gladly welcome visitors.
"We did not invite people in, but now we do. They can come in here and see the building," Wolfenbarger says.
The Masonic temple plans to be a part of Knoxville's history for years to come.
"We're gonna try to keep the history going as long as we can, we'll have the masonic fraternity here."