Baker-Peters houses haints from past wars

Betsy PickleOur Town Stories, West Knox

When people try to think of historic places among the repeatedly developed plots in West Knoxville, one of the first that comes to mind is the Baker-Peters House near the intersection of Kingston Pike and South Peters Road.

Built a couple of decades prior to the Civil War, the Greek Revival-style building spent the bulk of its life as a home to a few families before being converted into a series of popular restaurants and nightspots. It also served at some points as offices. It’s now Finn’s Restaurant and Tavern, an upscale Irish eatery, at 9000 Kingston Pike.

Baker-Peters doesn’t capture the eye as much as it did when its sweeping lawn spread all the way from its front porch to Kingston Pike. The front of the property was sold many years ago and the valuable real estate became a gas station, then an oil-change place. But the antebellum structure is still a beacon of architectural grace and a reminder of the West Knoxville of yesteryear.

Finn’s has taken advantage of the history with late-night dinners and guided ghost tours on the last Thursday of each month, including Oct. 29. (On Halloween, it will hold a costume contest.)

None of that would be likely without the legacy of the original inhabitants.

Dr. James Harvey Baker, a local physician, built the house for his family around 1849, according to historic zoning commission archives. Baker was a Confederate sympathizer, and some (disputed) accounts claim that he treated wounded Confederate soldiers at his home. His son Abner served with Confederate forces and was away when raiding Union troops in 1863 marched down Kingston Pike and entered the home, mortally wounding Dr. Baker by shooting through the barricaded door of his bedroom.

When Abner returned to Knox County in 1865, he shot and killed William Hall, a Union veteran who worked for the clerk of court in downtown Knoxville. Conflicting accounts say the motive was either an old grudge between the two men or revenge for his father’s death. Abner was jailed, but an angry mob broke him out, hanged him from a tree and shot him.

As if Baker spirits weren’t enough to haunt the house, there are also reports that Dr. Baker was a slave owner who housed his slaves in his basement and had a staircase that led from his bedroom directly to the slave quarters so that he could check on – and punish – his slaves at any hour of the night.

In the late 1800s, the house was sold to George Peters, who may have had haint-inspiring experiences as well, but nothing on the order of the home’s original owners.

Since the house’s conversion to a commercial site, it has promulgated good times and happy memories. Baby boomers and Gen Xers hold a special fondness for its incarnations as Hawkeye’s Corner Too and the Baker-Peters Jazz Club. In its nearly two years of existence, Finn’s has built a loyal following as well. So, unless folks are purposely seeking a paranormal adventure, they’ll probably leave with nothing more than a satisfied stomach.

Betsy Pickle is a veteran freelance writer and editor whose ancestral spirits inhabit parts of North Knoxville and South Knoxville.

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