Boxwood Hall: showplace of educators-turned-attorneys

Dr. Jim TumblinFountain City, Our Town Stories

Boxwood Hall, Judd Acuff’s mansion on Black Oak Ridge, must be one of the most visible homes in Fountain City. It commands the approach to Halls at 3613 Black Oak Ridge Lane at the intersection of the lane with Maynardville Highway.

Thomas Judson “Judd” Acuff was born on Jan. 22, 1888, in Grainger County, the son of James Thomas Acuff (1856-1915) and Fannie Kidwell Acuff (1848-1931). After completing grade and high school in Union County, he graduated from both the East Tennessee Teachers College and Carson-Newman College.

T. Judson “Judd” Acuff

He served as principal of high schools in Jefferson City, Mountain City and Tellico Plains but decided to become an attorney and enrolled in the John R. Neal College of Law (established by a dismissed but highly regarded University of Tennessee law professor). He was admitted to the bar in 1926 and began a practice that would endure for 45 years.

Acuff took his place in the colorful legal community of his day. Wearing his white wide-brimmed planter’s hat, he could often be seen walking down Gay Street to the S&W Cafeteria for lunch, where John R. Neal, Ray H. Jenkins and other lawyers often joined the diners.

Early land grants made Acuff’s ancestors, including his father, owners of large portions of Union and Grainger counties, centered around Grainger County’s Puncheon Camp. As a result, money was never a problem for him, but the lure of public office captivated him, and he ran for and was elected to the state House of Representatives in 1925. Although he was a candidate for the state house and senate periodically, representing the Guy Smith genre of the Republican Party, he was not elected again until 1953. He prided himself on his excellent attendance and held the record for several years. He was also elected a delegate to the State Constitutional Convention in 1959.

Judd Acuff married Birdie G. Reece (1892-1966) of Johnson County on June 16, 1917. She was a second cousin to B. Carroll Reece, longtime member of the U.S. House of Representatives (1st Congressional District).

The Acuffs’ only child, Reece K. Acuff (1920-1993), was born on March 1, 1920. He graduated from UT with degrees from both the School of Business and the College of Law. He taught at both Knoxville College and UT and was something of a Renaissance man. He painted in oils, was a master woodcarver, was a talented amateur architect and played viola in the Knoxville Symphony. He also studied meteorology and served as a meteorologist for the Air Transport Command during World War II.

Reece Acuff won the Award of Merit from the Early American Society for his design and assistance in building the Acuffs’ Boxwood Hall, their home on Black Oak Ridge. The mansion, built in the architectural style of President George Washington’s Mount Vernon, was constructed during the fall and winter months of 1948 and occupied around Christmas of that year.

Birdie Acuff was a perennial leader and past president of the Fountain City Garden Club, the president of the Central High School PTA while her son was in school there, president of the Women’s Auxiliary to the Knox County Bar Association, a member of the Bonny Kate Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and active in First Baptist Church of Knoxville. She was an enthusiastic participant in the family’s frequent travels to historic homes and battle sites. Their goal was to visit all the state capitols and, by the 1950s, they had visited more than 30 of them. Birdie Reece Acuff passed away on Feb. 23, 1966, and is buried in Lynnhurst Cemetery.

Judd Acuff’s major avocation was his longtime pursuit of and research on the Acuff family genealogy. After a final intensive four years, including research in Nashville, Philadelphia, Denver and Washington, he presented his volume to the McClung Collection of the Lawson McGhee Library in 1949. In addition to the ancestor who received Revolutionary War land grants and owned large tracts of land in Union and Grainger County, he proved that he was a second cousin to both Roy C. Acuff, King of Country Music, and Herbert Acuff, internationally famous Knoxville surgeon who became president of the International College of Surgeons.

Judd Acuff remained active in his law practice until July 1972, when he suffered a stroke. He had a second stroke in October and passed away on Oct. 15, 1972. After graveside services, he was buried in Lynnhurst Cemetery. He was survived by his son, Reece K. Acuff, a Knoxville attorney and professor, and a granddaughter.

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