See inside Fountain City's most visible mansion, now for sale after two decades
Built in 1924, the Dempster Mansion in Fountain City has not been on the market since August 2001, when Joe Whaley and Libby Mills rescued it from Knox Heritage’s Fragile 15 list.
“They are looking to downsize. It is time for a new family to love it and take care of it,” said agent Kim Trent, a former longtime director of Knox Heritage. The home is listed at $1.2 million.
An open house will be 5-7 p.m. March 29, part of the annual Dogwood Trail ribbon cutting ceremony on Historic Gibbs Drive.
A second open house will be 2-4 p.m. April 2.
The five-bedroom neoclassical-design home is a Fountain City landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is set on two lots, with both Historic Gibbs Drive and Broadway frontage on 1.49 acres. The property is said to have once had a tennis court, many more trees and two summer houses.
Looking back at its restoration in 2001, Trent recalled, “We (Knox Heritage) had listed it on the endangered list of May 2001, because with elderly owners they don’t always have the energy and finances to maintain it, and it had really deteriorated. And we knew it was coming on the market, and we were concerned. So it went from endangered to beautifully restored.”
Whaley rebuilt the roof above the half-moon porch, added a master bathroom, sympathetically modernized the kitchen and restored everything from the original stone fireplaces, hardwood floors and woodwork to the leaded glass entry. “It is amazing that it is almost completely intact,” added Trent.
On Memorial Day in 2002, Whaley and Mills were honored by the Fountain City Town Hall with a Residential Restoration Award.
Trent has been friends with David Whaley, a talented carpenter who helped work on the property and recommended her to his father, Joe Whaley. “I specialize from Victorians to Midcentury Modern, and I have lived in all of the above,” Trent said.
Trent has been busy researching the former home of Knoxville mayor and inventor George Dempster. He invented the Dempster Dumpster, a now often used trash receptacle that can be mechanically emptied into garbage trucks.
“Mr. Dempster built it between 1924-28 and lost it in 1932 in the wake of the Depression. Coal magnate Louis Francis bought it in the 1930s and owned it until Mr. Whaley bought it,” said Trent. Coincidentally, Francis’ aunt Margaret Williams owned a 21-room mansion, Park Place, that was torn down in 1980 to make room for a Target store.
The Dempster Mansion was also known as the Francis house. Both of Francis’ sons died in WWII, and the home’s ownership was passed down to their three daughters. Margaret Francis lived in the 12-room house until 1998.
“It still has so much of the original detailing, light fixtures, woodwork, and two staircases,” said Trent. “The original back stair linked the kitchen to the former maid’s room. Not many people have live-in maids, so it can be a regular bedroom.”
Wallpaper and linoleum were scraped up and wall cracks repaired. Upgrades included new electrical and plumbing, and radiators were replaced by central heat and air.
“They invested in quality, insulated windows,” said Trent. “When you are in the house it is so quiet; it is a solid brick and stone structure – you would never know that you’re next to Broadway.
“I love that it still has one of the historic fountains in the front of the yard,” Trent continued. The current owners also landscaped and added an irrigation system, built a new back porch and side deck.
After 25 years working in the nonprofit sector, Trent now consults with real estate agents and preservation developers around the country.
“I couldn’t give up old buildings when I left Knox Heritage,” she said. “I have been driving past the home for 30 years and already admired it.” The iconic home stands out from the many bungalows on Gibbs Drive.“The thing about historical homes is that you want them to adapt to modern living so they will continue to be loved and used by each family that moves in,” said Trent. “You don’t have to live in a museum to enjoy living in an old house."
Viewings at any other time are by appointment with a letter of pre-approval for the asking price. More photos and details can be seen at https://my.flexmls.com/KimTrent/search/shared_links/8KbUD/listings/20230316165559302104000000.
This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Knoxville mansion in Fountain City is listed for sale