‘Dealers in rare things and fine jewelry’ – John W. Hope, (1842-1914)

Jim Tumblin
History and Mysteries

When Col. J.C. Woodward liquidated his extensive real estate development in Lexington, Ky., in 1890 and moved to Knox County, he purchased the Fountain Head Hotel and Resort. He enhanced the park adjoining the hotel and impounded the lake nearby. He also established the Fountain Head Land Co. and advertised residential lots with “easy transportation, pure water, beautiful trees and a pleasant climate” in the local papers.

The post office soon renamed the suburb Fountain City to avoid confusion with Fountain Head in Sumner County. Among the first to purchase lots there and build summer homes or to establish permanent residence in the suburb were Col. J.C. Williams, coal magnate; Sol H. George, department store owner; and John W. Hope, prominent Gay Street jeweler.

Perhaps the most interesting of these choices of a home site was that of John W. Hope since he was the grandson of famous architect Thomas Hope (1757-1820). An ability to choose building sites seems to have passed down through the generations.

John W. Hope (1842-1914). Civil War veteran John Hope reorganized his father’s Gay Street jewelry store in 1868 in partnership with Fred Miller. Photos courtesy of the C.M. McClung Historical Collection
John W. Hope (1842-1914). Civil War veteran John Hope reorganized his father’s Gay Street jewelry store in 1868 in partnership with Fred Miller. Photos courtesy of the C.M. McClung Historical Collection

Thomas Hope, an English architect and furniture builder who had trained in London, moved to Knox County in 1785. His first local project was Francis Alexander Ramsey’s elegant two-story Georgian-style home at Swan Pond, built of locally quarried marble and completed in 1797. A decade later, Hope built “Trafalgar” for planter John Kain, overlooking the Holston River (1806), and Charles McClung’s Federal-style “States View” at Ebenezer in West Knox County (1812).

Hope also built Dr. Joseph C. Strong’s house, on the corner of State Street and Cumberland Avenue, which was later named “Maison de Sante” (1812). Some attribute the original design of the James Park House on Cumberland Avenue to Hope, and several payments Hope received from Thomas Humes, builder of the Lamar House Hotel, indicate that he may have participated in the hotel’s design.

Ramsey House and States View still stand as evidence of Thomas Hope’s architectural expertise, and both are on the National Register of Historic Places. Blount Mansion still displays some of his elegant furniture.

John W. Hope’s father, David Large Hope (1799-1869), was born at the Ramsey Plantation in 1799. He married Mary E. Welsh, and they became parents of several children, including our subject, John William Hope, on Dec. 27, 1842. After attending the common schools, John apprenticed himself to his father, a silversmith.

He traveled to Atlanta early in the Civil War (1861-1865) to enlist in the Georgia 1st Regiment of Regulars (CSA) and was stationed at Fort Pulaski until the Battle of Manassas. After that battle, he transferred to Gen. Rogers’ Virginia Cavalry. He was captured at Culpeper Courthouse and imprisoned at notorious Point Lookout, where he served 16 months.

Although he was ardent in his support of the Confederacy during the fighting, Hope refused to hold ill will, and after the war he turned his efforts toward rebuilding the South. Hope Jewelers had been founded by his father in 1846, but John Hope and Fred Miller reorganized the business in 1868, and John’s brother, David J. Hope, joined the firm not long after.

The 1882 City Directory lists “Hope and Brother” at 142 Gay St. By 1930, John W. Hope’s two sons, Albert G. (1869-1955) and James D. Hope (1872-1947), had joined the firm. After occupying two other locations on Gay Street, the store moved to 428 S. Gay St. in 1908 and to 613 Market St. during the 1930s and was liquidated in 1959.

Hope’s storied 12-foot-tall ornamented cast-iron clock stood on the sidewalk at the Gay Street location and remained there when Kimball’s occupied the building in 1933. When Kimball’s relocated to Kingston Pike in Bearden in 2004, they moved the clock to their new location. Downtown business people missed the iconic landmark so much that several of them, including Wayne Blasius, Ann Marie Tugwell, John Worden and Chuck Morris, organized fundraising that eventually enlisted some 200 contributors, and a handsome cast-aluminum replacement was unveiled in December 2007.

Hope Brothers Jewelers (c. 1930). The store and its iconic ornamental clock were downtown landmarks for many years. CMMHC, Thompson Collection, N-3848
Hope Brothers Jewelers (c. 1930). The store and its iconic ornamental clock were downtown landmarks for many years. CMMHC, Thompson Collection, N-3848

But back to John W. Hope for the rest of the story: After he returned from the Civil War, he and Rachel Ebaugh (1846-1920) were married on Dec. 7, 1866, by the Rev. John F. Spence in the First Methodist Church. They became parents of three children: Albert G., James D. and Nora (Mrs. C.G.) Davis.

Early in their marriage, the Hopes lived on Fourth Avenue near Lamar Street. They probably moved to their home in Fountain City during the real estate boom generated by Col. J.C. Woodward in the late 1890s. They bought on fashionable Fountain Avenue, which then as now runs along the western side of Fountain City Lake paralleling Broadway then curves up Black Oak Ridge. At the time, the heart-shaped lake with its white board fence, gravel walk and gas lights was the jewel of the neighborhood.

Each of the houses on Fountain must have had quite large grounds, as the 1910 U.S. Census lists only four families on the street: John M. and Lelia Tindell, John W. and Rachel Hope, James B. and Margaret Carson and George L. and Anna B. Price.

The northern terminal for the Fountain Head Railway (the Dummy Line) was within easy walking distance for those families. From 1890 to 1905 the unique train collected 10,000 fares each day and, in just 30 minutes, carried John Hope and others to their downtown businesses. The railway was replaced by a trolley line that ran on those same standard-gauge tracks after 1905.

The idyllic home life of John W. and Rachel Hope ended on Sept. 8, 1914, when John passed away at home after several months of failing health. After services conducted by the Rev. French Wampler at the Fountain City Methodist Church, South, he was buried in Greenwood Cemetery.

Dr. Tumblin’s latest book, “Fountain City: Those Who Made a Difference,” is available at the Fountain City Art Center, Pratt’s Country Store and Page’s Fountain City Pharmacy.

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