Tyson Alumni House

Tyson House serves as the home of the Knoxville campus Office of Alumni Affairs as well as the University of Tennessee Alumni Association. This beautiful house is a unique setting for the home of an alumni association, and is a special treasure to be enjoyed by all alumni who visit. Tyson House is open Monday through Friday from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm (eastern time).

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Julius Lewis of New York built the house on its present site in the late nineteenth century. Its first owner was James M. Meek, a Knoxville businessman, who sold the home to General Lawrence D. Tyson. General Tyson, who graduated from West Point, was appointed Professor of Military Tactics at the University of Tennessee in 1891. While at UT he studied law, and subsequently went on to lead several successful business ventures in the city. He also pursued a political career, culminated by his election to the United States Senate.

General Tyson and his wife, Bettie, bought the house in 1885. In 1907 they engaged the popular architect, George F. Barber, to remodel the home in the Beaux Arts style. The Barber remodeling added many new features, including a brick facing on the entire exterior, added a huge portico with Corinthian columns on the front (east façade), and a porte-cochere on the south side facing what is now Melrose Avenue.

The three-story home had eleven main rooms. The first floor contained a parlor, living room, library, dining room, breakfast room, reception hall, entry and stair hall. On the second floor were five bedrooms and baths, along with separate sleeping quarters for the staff. The main features of the third floor were a ballroom and banquet room, used for social functions hosted by the Tyson family. Fortunately the interior today retains the same basic floor plan; the main rooms have not been subdivided. The house also retains the original oak flooring, library cabinetry, and the staircase with newel post. The fireplaces also remain untouched.

Isabella Tyson Gilpin, daughter of Lawrence and Bettie Tyson, left the house as a memorial to her parents. She donated it to the St. John’s Episcopal Church in 1935, with it to be used as a student center for those attending the University of Tennessee. The home served in that capacity until 1954, when the church sold the building to the university. Since then Tyson House has served as the office for Agriculture Extension, has been the home of the Art Department, and now serves as the home of the UT Alumni Association as well as the Office of Alumni Affairs for the Knoxville campus.

For more information on Mr. Lawrence Tyson and the history of Tyson House, visit Milton M. Klein's website to view a vignette from Volunteer Moments, a history of the university, published in 1994 as part of the university’s bicentennial anniversary.