Park Place: Col. J.C. Woodward’s mansion

Dr. Jim TumblinFountain City

Park Place, Col. J.C. Woodward’s Mansion, later became the home of Matthew S. McClellan (1900-1909), Thomas Pruden (1909-1917) and J.C. Williams (1917-1980). It was demolished in 1980 to make way for the Target store, and the site is now occupied by a Kroger store.

Who was this Col. Woodward?

James C. Woodward was born on Dec. 4, 1841, in Lee County in the southwest corner of Virginia.  He was the son of Henry and Elizabeth Woodward who owned a large farm.

Lee County, named for “Light Horse Harry” Lee, Gen. Robert E. Lee’s father, is still one of the poorest counties in Virginia with an economy once based largely on tobacco and coal. Today’s Lee County slogan, “Where Virginia Begins,” touts a tourist industry emphasizing its role as the route used by early settlers going west through the Cumberland Gap at Virginia’s western tip.

Col. J.C. Woodward (1841-1913). Col. Woodward moved from Lexington, Kentucky, to Fountain Head in 1890. He purchased the Fountain Head Hotel and Resort, enhanced the park and impounded the heart-shaped lake. (Courtesy of the Calvin M. McClung Collection)

Woodward moved to Lexington, Kentucky, where he would become very successful as the owner of a large horse farm in nearby Versailles and the developer of Woodward Heights subdivision.

He bought historic Botherum Mansion, built in 1850 for Madison C. Johnson, a prominent Kentuckian. Johnson built the house as a memorial to his beloved wife who died giving birth to their first child. Its historic importance and its unusual combination of Greek, Roman and Gothic architecture made Botherum a candidate for the National Registry of Historic Places. It was so honored in 1973.

In 1887, Johnson’s heirs sold the estate to J. C. Woodward, who subdivided much of it into Woodward Heights, selling the lots individually. When advertised for sale in 1890, there were some 25 building sites with 10 houses already built.

The subdivision sold quickly and Colonel Woodward moved to Fountain Head in 1890 and founded the Fountain Head Land Company. The company purchased 431-acres at a cost of $159,600 (today’s equivalent of more than $4 million) and an additional 14 acres and the Fountain Head Hotel and Resort itself for $27,500.

The romantic heart-shaped lake was added in 1894 to provide swimming and boating opportunities for the guests. Fountain Head had been renamed Fountain City in 1890 and by the mid-1890s, the resort had become a destination place for day tourists as well as for families who would stay a week or more.

Soon after his arrival, Col. Woodward began construction on his mansion, Park Place.  Robert A. McGinnis’ Tidbits of the Past, Vol. II (2007) reminds us of this quote from the Knoxville Daily Journal, Dec. 15, 1890: “W.H. Dawn has the contract for Col. J.C. Woodward’s elegant residence, now being erected in Fountain City. This will be one of the finest and most complete residencies in the country and will cost about $20,000. The Baumann Brothers are the architects. Colonel Woodward is also erecting two substantial business houses on Asylum Street.”

The late William J. MacArthur, then head of the C.M. McClung Historical Collection described the house in a memorandum in 1975, “Park Place is built of dark red brick with great stone arches and columns decorated with remarkably delicate carvings. The quality of these stone carvings, together with that of several terra cotta inserts, make the structure a notable example of late 19th Century craftsmanship. The restrained and dignified spirit of the exterior is repeated within the house where wooden mantels and a paneled staircase have a classic simplicity. Only the second room on the left of the central hall on the first floor has a typically ‘Victorian’ look. Here the mantelpiece and the bay window with built-in wooden benches remind one of the Victorian passion for the Gothic.”

The Fountain Head Hotel and Resort prospered and Woodward also succeeded in other business investments. After acquiring the majority of the stock in the State National Bank, Col. Woodward became president of the bank until 1893. In 1899, he and his son Hu bought the Knoxville Business College which had been founded in 1882. J.C. served as president and Hu as treasurer of the college.

When the Woodwards sold Park View to the McClellans, they moved to 741 N. 3rd Avenue and then to 305 E. 5th Avenue.  Life on 5th Avenue in the early 1900s must have been interesting with neighbors like Miss Lee’s School at 308, David Getaz (the co-contractor for the 1885-86 Knox County Court House, Shannondale Presbyterian Church and many other landmark structures), at 315 and Stella Knaffl at 400.  Col. Woodward lived there for his remaining years.

After a fall on the pavement in front of his home, he was confined for his final six months and passed on to his reward on Jan. 5, 1913, at 71 years of age. Active in Church Street Methodist Church for many years, he was also a past Sunday school superintendent. On several occasions he represented the church at its annual conference. A lifetime philanthropist, he aided many causes but especially the Methodist Orphanage at Greeneville, Tennessee. He was a Mason and a Democrat.

He left his three children and his wife of 52 years who survived another 14 years. After services at his home, conducted by Dr. George R. Stuart, he was interred at Old Gray Cemetery originally.  Both he and his wife were reinterred in Montclair, New Jersey, in 1935 where their sons Hu and Walter would later join them.

Col. J.C. Woodward had awakened a small, sleepy village at the head of First Creek at the turn of the 20th Century and made it a “destination place.” He left an exceptional legacy. Aside from the many material benefits, he also left a greater value in his example of a worthy and noble life.

Author’s Note: Robert A. McGinnis, Steve Cotham of the Calvin M. McClung Historical Collection and Dr. Jefferson Chapman of the Frank H. McClung Museum Collection were most helpful with the text and photographs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.