Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Glen Oaks, LaFollette, Tennessee

It was the large, beautiful, Victorian house that caught my attention. It sits on Indiana Avenue, just off the main street (Tennessee route 63) through LaFollette, Tennessee. We pass that way several times a year and it just seemed fitting to stop and take some pictures. Then I saw this,

and needed to learn more.

Harvey Marion LaFollette (1858-1929) was born in Wisconsin to a politically-active family. Family members included members of the U.S. House of Representatives elected from Wisconsin, Indiana (2), and Washington; two U.S. Senators from Wisconsin; and a Wisconsin Governor, as well as lesser state-level officials. Harvey LaFollette served as Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction before moving to Tennessee.

In about 1891, Harvey and his brother, Grant, bought 37,000 acres of land around Big Creek Gap, southwest of Cumberland Gap. Here they founded the Lafollette Coal, Iron, and Railway Company which would soon employ 1,500 people and operate the largest blast furnace in the south. They would lay out a town they would name LaFollette, and Harvey would build what remains the largest house in the city.

The twenty-seven-room house, named Glen Oaks, was designed by Knoxville architect George F. Barber, who was a leading designer of catalog house plans. Glen Oaks is reported to have been shipped by train to LaFollette as a "kit home," but it's not clear that George Barber was involved in the manufacture of the components. Glen Oaks was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, one of more than four dozen George Barber-designed houses placed individually on the Register, as opposed to being included in National Register Districts.

An interesting sidebar discovered while researching this post was the reason behind LaFollette's unusually wide streets. It seems Harvey Lafollette asked his good friend John Fox, Jr., to help him design the town that would be his base of operations. Fox told his friend to build the streets extra wide because everyone would someday have two buggies and two wagons and would need lots of room. As a result, LaFollette is one of few towns where buildings haven't had to be torn down for highway widening projects. This John Fox, Jr., of course, is the famous author of the prototypical Appalachian novels The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come (1903) and Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1908). And, yes, I own and have read copies of each.


  1. What a beautiful house. I didn't know they built 'kit houses' back then. I thought they were a modern idea.

  2. What a splendid old building with an interesting history.

  3. 27 rooms! Imagine cleaning that! I guess they had maids and such back then. I got to see John Fox's house last summer. It's a beautiful place, very cabin-y.

  4. It is a beautiful old house, isn't it. A friend of mine, an attorney in Lafollette, tried unsuccessfully to buy it a few years ago. It's a bit out of my price range, however.

    Granny Sue, I assume you're referring to the John Fox, Jr., house in Big Stone Gap, VA. That's an interesting town, isn't it. We go through there on our trips to and from West Virginia. I need to spend some time shooting pictures in and around there. There are some nice coal-baron homes in the town. Jim

  5. I am Grant LaFollette's granddaughter. My father grew up in that house. I still have his copy of "The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come," and plan to read it to my granddaughters some day. I didn't know its author was responsible for the wide streets in LaFollette. Of course, my Uncle Harvey probably envisioned LaFollette growing into some kind of "Paris of the South" and wanted to be prepared with spacious avenues!

    1. Delighted to hear from you, Martha. That wasn't a personalized copy by chance, was it? It could be valuable. Hope your granddaughters enjoy it. Jim

  6. Jim, I don't think the book is autographed, but I will check. Something else that might interest you--I have a large portrait of Uncle Harvey. I will send you a photo of it when it gets back from undergoing some repairs.