A group of East Tennessee preservationists are putting a special focus on the former Morristown College site, saying the historically black college campus near Morristown in Hamblen County is worth saving and rehabilitating because of its ties to the past.
The East Tennessee Preservation Alliance has issued a “This Place Matters” designation, a special campaign aimed at raising awareness of the campus’s historical significance and encouraging “people to celebrate the places that are meaningful to them,” according to a statement from the Alliance. The building has been included on the East Tennessee Endangered Heritage list since 2010.
“I think it’s worth preserving because it has such a great story to tell about a time when it was difficult for African-Americans to get an education,” says Todd Morgan, director of preservation field services for the Alliance and Knox Heritage. “Those stories have a tendency to fade from memory if you don’t keep them in front of folks, and at the very least we’d like to see those stories incorporated into the redevelopment of the place. And of course whatever buildings can be restored, we’d certainly like to see that happen.”
The 52-acre campus, founded in 1881 as one of only a handful of colleges where blacks could study before the Civil Rights movement, is recognized on the National Register District by the state of Tennessee and the National Park Service. But the years have not been kind to the cluster of crumbling brick buildings that define the heart of the former college.
The college operated under various owners for more than a century until 1994, when then-owner Knoxville College–which had been been operating it as a satellite campus since 1989–closed it due to financial difficulties. The site was later auctioned and fell into disrepair. In 2008 a cafeteria building burned, and in 2010 another core structure, this one a former administrative hub, caught fire.
The property was sold at auction again in 2014 to Knoxville-based development firm Henry and Wallace. When contacted this morning, company representative Rebecca Everheart said the firm had no comment about plans for the building or if it might be rehabilitated.
“We don’t really like press,” Everheart said. “Our official response to any inquiry is ‘no comment.'”
In 2014 Brant Enderle, another Henry and Wallace representative, told the Citizen Tribune that exact plans were still up in the air, but one component to the site’s redevelopment may involve senior housing, either independent living or assisted living. Enderle said at the time that he viewed it as a long-term development project.
“We’re excited about this piece of land,” Enderle said, according to the Citizen Tribune. “I like to own things. I don’t like to sell things. So if we own it 20 or 30 years, that’s perfectly fine. I don’t feel any need to make it all happen overnight.”
Photo: Courtesy East Tennessee Preservation Alliance
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