Photo Friday – The Carson House

Today’s photo is of the Carson House, now know as the Ronald McDonald House of Knoxville.

The House itself has had a vibrant past. It stands on the site of the old Fort Sanders where, on November 29, 1863, in a bitter cold winter, Union General Ambrose Burnside defended the city of Knoxville from the attack of Confederate General James Longstreet.

Forty years later, the land was obtained by Dr. William Waller Carson, a Confederate veteran of the Civil War. Dr. Carson was a professor of mathematics at the University of Tennessee and founder of the chair of civil engineering at the University. During the construction of the house in 1903, the builders had to fill in the trenches used by the soldiers.

The three-story house, when originally built, had columns in the front and an open porch on the side of the house. The house also contained gas, electric lights, and a telephone. None of which where commonplace at the time.

The large home was used by Professor Carson not only to house his four children, but also to rent rooms to U.T. Students.

In 1943 and 1944, the house was used by Patty Burkhart as the Patty Ellen Nursing home.

In the mid 1940’s, the house was purchased by Benjamin Ogle as an investment. The government leased and subdivided the house into apartments to accommodate the Oak Ridge Manhattan Project workers to keep them close and prevent security leaks.

After the war, the house was rented out mostly to University of Tennessee students. In the more recent years, the house became more commonly known in the U.T. are as the Theater House, because of the high concentration of theater majors living in the house.

This Queen Anne house is typical of the grand dwellings built on the north side of Clinch Avenue. Many Victorian characteristics still are visible today. Note the decorative glasswork around the entry door, the gabling, the large porch and the tower in the southwest corner. The sunburst ornamentation on the frame surrounding a protruding attic window is one of the house’s most distinguishing architectural features.

On April 1, 1983, the house was purchased by Children’s Family House of East Tennessee, Inc., to be used as the Ronald McDonald House®.

For more information about the Carson House or other historic structures in Knoxville, visit the Knox Heritage web site at


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