Adelia Lutz (seated on left) teaching her students in downtown Knoxville.
Westwood History to 1931
by Jack Neely | April 4, 2014
The unusual house known as Westwood would deserve a second look even if it existed outside the context of Knoxville in one of its most interesting eras. But as it is, it does have a pretty fascinating and complex story, one that combines the businesslike drive of one ambitious young man in a booming, prosperous era, and the artistic aspirations of a talented young woman who had the audacity to call herself a professional artist.
In fact, Adelia Armstrong Lutz’s family had been associated with the property for three generations even before these old walls were built.
Knoxville is not known for “old families,” but the Armstrongs were one. Robert Armstrong (1774-1849) was born in the French Huguenot settlement of Abbeville, in South Carolina when it was still a British colony. His father, whose name was also Robert Armstrong, was a Revolutionary officer who in 1787 was among the first wave of settlers in the area later to coalesce as Knox County. The younger Robert Armstrong joined in the settlers’ forces in the Indian wars of the 1790s, and later became an official deputy sheriff and surveyor. He married a local woman, Elizabeth Wear, also a daughter of a Revolutionary officer, whose family would become well known in Sevier County.
Their eldest son, Drury Paine Armstrong (1799-1856), married Ann Amelia Houston, daughter of Knox County’s first sheriff, Robert Houston, who had once been her new son-in-law’s employer. Upon their marriage in 1823, Armstrong established a “large plantation” of hundreds of acres along the Kingston Road just west of Knoxville, including the future site of Westwood. In 1834, Drury Paine Armstrong completed his main house overlooking the river, and called it “Crescent Bend.” Though his new home was well outside of city limits, he remained thickly involved in downtown business, as owner of a store on Main Street, as an early investor in railroading, and as a supporter of educational institutions. He became a trustee of East Tennessee College, the forerunner to the university, at the time the struggling college moved from a single house on Gay Street to its permanent location on the Hill.
Hence Drury Paine Armstrong’s son, Robert Houston Armstrong (1825-1896) was a fourth-generation Knoxvillian, something of a rarity in this frontier town that in its first half-century had experienced high turnover.
Robert Houston Armstrong’s house, built on his own family’s land a quarter mile west of his father’s house, was a wedding gift from his bride Louisa Franklin’s father, Major L.D. Franklin. Armstrong was a literary fellow, and named his new home Bleak House for the latest novel by Charles Dickens–perhaps as a joke, considering the Bleak House as described in the book is something of a melancholy monstrosity involved in a tangle of bitter lawsuits. Probably less practical than his ancestors, Armstrong did more traveling than most Tennesseans of his era, as is indicated by his sometimes droll travel journal of 1850, and he was keenly interested in the arts. He was a skilled amateur painter, himself. He chose a home design markedly different from most in Knoxville, a fashionably exotic Italianate style with a tower for contemplation and a small ballroom, reflecting a new era of leisure and contemplation probably unfamiliar to most of his ancestors.
Adelia and her twin sister Lizzie where born in 1859 in Jefferson County, Tennessee at the home of their maternal grandfather, Lawson Franklin. The Armstrongs’ sympathies during the Civil War are a little mysterious. Robert Houston Armstrong is sometimes assumed to have been a soft Unionist, and his book collection suggests a keen interest in the Lincoln administration. He seems to have been absent at the time that Confederate General Longstreet commandeered his house as his headquarters for the disastrously unsuccessful assault on Fort Sanders. By an old and popular but unproveable story, General William P. Sanders, for whom the fort was named, was shot by a sniper in Armstrong’s Italianate tower.
Thus Adelia Armstrong grew up in a house scarred by war, and her parents preserved its wartime blemishes as curiosities, at a time when most citizens were intent on putting the war securely in the past, filling in trenches and patching up bullet holes. It was a couple of decades before Knoxville saw organized efforts to commemorate the war. Still, Bleak House was hardly a shrine. As late as the 1880s, when it was still newer than most houses, it was described in newspapers mainly as a “modern suburban home.”
Adelia was living there when she showed a very early talent for art, which surely pleased her artistic father. At a local fair in 1873, the 14-year-old artist won the first-place prize for pencil drawing.
Of Adelia’s twin sister, Lizzie, only a little is known. She drops out of the Armstrong story early. Lizzie married a James McMillan in 1881 and moved to Chattanooga. They had three, perhaps four children, but by some accounts Adelia’s twin led an unhappy life. After the death of her husband in a fire, she died young, herself, in her 30s.
Adelia had an education better than that of most Knoxville girls. At a young age she was sent away to Miss Pegram’s School in Baltimore, then to the Augusta Female Seminary in Staunton, Virginia. Her doting father may have been expressing some of his own aspirations as an artist when he sent her to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, to the Corcoran in Washington.
She exhibited an unusual talent for copying masterworks, a valued skill at the time. By the time she was 25, Adelia Armstrong was a minor star, earning prominent exposure in bigger cities. She exhibited at the New Orleans World’s Fair of 1884-5, and over the next few years, her work received praise from several major newspapers. A Washington arts journal noted she “has been overwhelmed with compliments by the best judges of painting in the city…if the highest talents combined with a perfect devotion to art can accomplish anything, we confidently predict for Miss Armstrong a national reputation.”
In 1886 Adelia returned to Knoxville to teach art, for a time, in the Kern building on Market Square where she and her friend Sally Thomas kept a studio, offering “lessons in painting, drawing, and embroidery.”
Adelia Armstrong’s future husband, John Edwin Lutz, was born near New Market, Virginia, of German ancestry, in 1854. Moving to Tennessee, his family settled first in Rogersville when John was a boy. No aristocrat, he took a business course and moved to fast-growing Knoxville in 1874, working in retail, first in dry goods, then specializing in shoes and hats. When he took a liking to Adelia Armstrong, a fifth-generation Knoxvillian and member of more than one of the city’s most prominent families, artistically talented from an early age and generally one of the most attractive women in town, Lutz may have felt he had something to prove.
Soon after her return from Europe, they married, and probably began planning their new home.
In 1890, Knoxville was a burgeoning, modern American city, more than twice as big as it had been 10 years earlier, a compact industrial city whose population of 23,000 didn’t even include anything west of Second Creek. (The whole Armstrong family property along Kingston Pike, in fact, would not be considered part of Knoxville until 1917.) Knoxville began to build electric streetcar systems in 1890, but during their early years, streetcar lines didn’t extend this far west. People who built houses along Kingston Pike tended to be wealthy, because a residence this far from town would require ownership of a horse and buggy.
In just the previous seven or eight years, Knoxville, perhaps having reached a critical point in its municipal hierarchy of needs, almost suddenly found itself with cultural amenities. Between 1883 and 1890, Knoxville established its first permanent public library, an annual opera festival, a symphonic group, a French restaurant, and even, if briefly, a literary weekly. A scant few professional artists like Lloyd Branson, a European-trained artist who was earning accolades in New York, and Charles Christopher Krutch, a master of oils known for his moody landscapes, were suggesting the city might have some potential as a center for painters and other visual artists.
The young Lutzes chose a site for their ideal house, between the Kingston Road and Third Creek, on the last elevation of the plateau that included the other two Armstrong houses. The Southern Railway’s line to Georgia ran just north of the creek, and the deep chug and high whistle of its frequent passenger and freight trains would have been audible from the house site.
To design the house, they hired Knoxville’s first and best-known architectural firm, Baumann Brothers. Son of a Bavarian immigrant who had been a ship builder in Savannah, Joseph Baumann was living in Knoxville by the time of the Civil War, and worked mainly as a building contractor before teaching himself architecture. He started advertising himself mainly as an architect in the early 1870s, designing buildings like the Kern building on Market Square. He trained his much-younger brother Albert, in architecture, and by 1890, the two were working together as Baumann Brothers. They were especially busy in that era. When Joseph was in his 50s and Albert was in his 20s, they designed much of the elaborate industrial, public, and domestic architecture of a blooming city.
Westwood could be described as a Queen Anne style house, a subset of Victorian, unusual among its peers in that it’s constructed of brick and stone rather than wood, but it also offers hints of another style called Richardsonian Romanesque. Named for the fashionably extravagant styles of Boston-area architect Henry Hobson Richardson, whose influence lasted years after his early death in 1886, the style employed contrasting brick and woodwork, interesting accessories like towers and balconies, and lush ornamentation, often in terra cotta.
In Knoxville, that Richardsonian Romanesque era lasted only about five years, but the city was growing so fast at the time that the style applied to many notable buildings. The yearWestwood was completed may have been the most extravagant moment in the city’s architectural history, as the towered Vendome and Palace Hotel were going up downtown, along with the terra-cotta-facade wholesale houses of Gay Street and West Jackson Avenue. In many cases, the style’s hard-to maintain cupolas and other ornamentation was a factor in why most of them did not survive the 20th century.
Westwood’s most unusual feature, though, and it was much commented on at the time, was one interior room, the studio, designed specifically for an artist and in many respects ideal: a long room with storage space for materials and paintings, a fireplace, and a a skylight with a variety of windows offering, potentially, a thousand shades of light.
They called it Westwood, perhaps just a reference to the fact that it was on the west side of Knoxville, and had woods nearby. The house is decades older than the neighborhood of the same name in Bearden, and, for that matter, older than the famous neighborhood in Los Angeles. But there are several ancient places called Westwood in England, and it’s tempting to wonder if the Armstrong family might have made a habit of naming houses for places in literature.
When Westwood was built, it was the only house in its immediate vicinity. Sequoyah Hills did not yet exist except as woods and farmland, with a few practical houses on it. That peninsula was known as Looney’s Bend, and for Westwood’s first 35 years, most of it would remained undeveloped.
Westwood might have seemed the perfect place for an artist, and maybe it was. Adelia Lutz was prolific, and her work would be locally admired for many years to come. But by the time they moved in, Adelia was no longer the 25-year-old beauty who was astonishing the masters in Washington with her idealized figures. As the house was completed, she had all the preoccupations of a suburban mother of a three-year-old girl. Young Louise would become the subject of many of her mother’s pictures. Four years after they moved in, Adelia was pregnant again, and bore a son, Edwin.
It may seem remarkable that a married Victorian mother of two small children kept painting at all. For a while, at least, she even kept exhibiting. The Cotton State and International Exhibition in Atlanta, and at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts accepted her work for shows. A gallery exhibit in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1896 earned her praise as a “flower painter”–but the 1890s was an era of an almost sudden veneration for the Civil War, and an article ostensibly about her work gave much more emphasis to her home and its history as a battlefield. “Many of the roses and honeysuckles in which Mrs. Lutz delights to fine subject for her brush have grown in soil watered by blood of both the blue soldiers and the gray.” (It was a bit of an exaggeration, because though both armies had marched across this land, there hadn’t been much combat in the immediate vicinity of Westwood.) In terms of sales, that show was disappointing.
Meanwhile, the art world was changing rapidly. Higher-quality photography was taking the place of portraiture, and new ideas like impressionism, which Adelia’s Parisian mentors may have counseled her against, a few years earlier, were gaining enthusiastic acceptance even in America.
After the death of her proud father in 1896, she seems to have slowed, at least in terms of exhibiting outside of Knoxville. If we can judge by the newspaper articles she saved, her remarkable home earned as much attention as her art did. As years went by, Adelia Armstrong Lutz, artist but also mother and matron of Westwood, was referred to more and more often as “Mrs. J.E. Lutz,” reflecting a husband-centric fashion that was more entrenched in the early 20th century than it had been in the 19th. In Adelia’s case, it may have suggested some of the reality of her maturing years, as she became at least as well known as a wife, mother, and hostess, as she was as an artist.
A Knoxville Tribune reporter described Westwood as it appeared in the mid-1890s. “The pleasure of a visit to Westwood begins with the first view of the house, which is among the best examples of domestic architecture to be found in and around Knoxville; the pleasure grows both in kind and degree with entrance into the hall where the elegant simplicity of the arrangement of the rooms and the quiet richness of the furnishing is taken in; but the pleasure does not reach its highest point until the curtain is drawn aside for entrance into the room which is at once a library, a picture gallery, and an art studio. There is no other such room in or about Knoxville, rich and elegant as many of them are. There is no room in which one who is blessed with a love for the beautiful, in nature or in art, can get so much genuine enjoyment, so much unalloyed pleasure…. Her home was planned under the influence, and is therefore an ideal home for, one who is at once a refined and cultivated woman, a devoted daughter and wife and mother, and a gifted artist. While the finger marks of the artist adoren and decorate the walls on every side, the refining presence of the woman pervade[s] the whole house….”
The Matron of Westwood was excited about an interesting arts movement involving her local peers, and happy to offer her support, sometimes by hosting them in her remarkable home. In 1897, Adelia was central to the formation of a progressive new Knoxville Art Club, first led by Confederate veteran Major Hunter Nicholson. When he died four years later, it was renamed the Nicholson Art League in his memory. Knoxville had been home to a few literary and intellectual clubs before, but the Nicholson Art League was the city’s first visual-arts organization that was organized and vigorous enough to be remembered a century later. In fact, among organizations not directed connected to the university, it’s easily the most dynamic arts group in the city’s history. Unusual among artistic or intellectual associations of the era, the NAL included both men and women, and a trans-generational variety of ages.
At the turn of the century, the club’s charismatic leader was Eleanor Swan Audigier (1864-1931), a wealthy patron of the arts who lived near the Armstrongs, right between Crescent Bend and Bleak House. The NAL’s early members included Lloyd Branson (1854-1925), an accomplished artist in oils who had studied in New York and won awards there, and who was probably the first Knoxvillian to make a living from paintings, though most of them were portraits; Joseph Knaffl (1861-1938), the nationally successful art photographer; Charles Krutch (1849-1934), the painter known as The Corot of the South, who was also an Episcopal church organist; architect George Barber (1854-1915), already nationally known for his mail-order Victorian house designs; Mortimer Thompson, portraitist and patriarch of a family of photographers; Hugh Tyler, the “artist” known as Andrew in the novel A Death in the Family (he was author James Agee’s uncle); Pattie Boyd, the pioneer female journalist; and eventuallly Catherine Wiley (1879-1958), the impressionist who would become the most famous of the artists.
In 1901 the League presented a public exhibition at the Women’s Building on Main Street. (Built as the Knoxville pavilion for Nashville’s Centennial Exposition of 1897 but somehow moved to its namesake, the Women’s Building served as a sort of salon and lyceum for Knoxville’s artistically inclined.) Adelia Lutz became president of the Nicholson Art League in 1903, when the vigorous club had 99 members. She attended the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904, apparently not as an exhibiting artist, but representing the NAL as an observer; she returned to give her favorite club a full report, a lecture on the subject of art at the World’s Fair. Her descriptions likely had an influence on her fellow artists when they mounted an especially ambitious exposition in Knoxville just a few years later.
Meanwhile, John Edwin Lutz had established what would be remembered as his life’s work, an opus more practical than his wife’s paintings: the Lutz Insurance Company. In 1908, they moved into “Knoxville’s first skyscraper,” the building eventually known as the Burwell. There, on the second floor, its name applied in gold lettering on the windows, it would thrive for almost a century.
The Lutz family seems to have been fairly progressive, by the standards of the time. An interest in international art kept their perspectives broad, as they read books and journals in French and German. Among the wide range of books they accumulated were one from 1904 on an eastern practice, new to middle-class America, called yoga.
Their much-adored daughter, Louise, married Dr. Victor Holloway, a young physician from Kentucky, in 1911, and the gala reception was held at Westwood.
Five years later, the Lutz’s son, Edwin “Ned” Lutz married Edith May Atkin, daughter of C.B. Atkin, the manufacturer and developer who was one of Knoxville’s wealthiest businessmen. It was the year that Atkin purchased the building where J.E. Lutz had his business, and renamed it for his wife’s family, the Burwells. Hence, Adelia’s husband J.E. Lutz worked in a building named for his son’s mother-in-law.
The younger Edwin Lutzes built their own house on the same property, at a discreet distance just east of Westwood.
Though Adelia may have suspected her days as the star of art exhibitions were behind her, her involvement in a series of major events beginning in her early 50s would have to be regarded among the greatest accomplishments of her life. The Appalachian Expositions of 1910 and 1911, and the National Conservation Exposition of 1913 were some of the biggest fairs in Knoxville history, earning nationwide praise, as well as visits from some of the most famous Americans of the day, including Teddy Roosevelt, Helen Keller, William Jennings Bryan, and Booker T. Washington. All three expositions made room for art exhibits, organized by the Nicholson Art League, and they were among the most impressive exhibits of modern art in the city’s history, presenting new canvases by Mary Cassatt, Childe Hassam, Robert Henri, and many others familiar to any student of American art. The momentum and leadership of the Nicholson Art League made all that possible.
In 1912, Eleanor Audigier, the Lutzes’ neighbor and longtime mentor of the Nicholson Art League, moved to Rome. Lutz became the new grand dame of Knoxville’s art scene, elected delegate to the convention of the American Federation of Arts, the national agency founded three years earlier by Secretary of State Elihu Root, and supported by philanthopist Andrew J. Mellon. The nature of her participation is unknown, but during her involvement with it, that organization was influential in promoting arts by improving access to great art; in 1913 the AFA succeeded in abolishing the tariff on art entering the United States.
Westwood hosted at least one of the formal meetings of the Nicholson Art League, during that period, in June, 1913: “al fresco…weather permitting. The spacious lawn at Westwood is now aglow with many hollyhocks for which Westwood is famous.” At the time, the NAL’s president was Catherine Wiley, Tennessee’s premier impressionist, then at the height of her talents.
After 1913, though, modern art was no longer necessarily expected to be beautiful. It was the era of Cubism, Futurism, Dada, and other forms most members of the NAL seemed to find confusing, unappealing, unnerving, and bad. Even Audigier, who was then living in Italy, found cubism horrifying, and warned her old friends in Knoxville away from it. The NAL survived, but seemed to lack some of its old bohemian heart, reoriented toward decorative arts and crafts.
By 1913, “Mrs. J.E. Lutz” was 54, the mother of two grown children. Louise and Dr. Victor Holloway moved into the capacious mansion, and had a daughter, Cecil. Edwin Lutz’s family lived next door. Even then, it was unusual for grown, married children to stay so close to home, but Westwood was no ordinary home.
John Edwin Lutz died in 1920, 30 years after constructing his bride’s dream house. Adelia stayed at Westwood, with her children and grandchildren close at hand.
In 1925, an unsigned newspaper article praised Adelia Lutz and her home. As a place it was as astonishing during the Jazz Age as it was during the Victorian era. The newspaper story described the “Home of Mrs. J.E. Lutz, a Treasure Grove of Art: Original paintings of this gifted artist include charming flower studies, poetical and mystical landscape and idealistic portraits… A special room with beautiful inlaid oak floor and a dado of low bookcases has been set aside in Mrs. Lutz’s home for the display of the work of her brush. It is a room in which both the art lover and the book lover would love to sit and look and dream. On entering the room, one is struck by a lovely study of hollyhocks, white, pink, and red, in a natural outdoor setting.”
The unknown journalist described the unusual mantel: “An interesting feature of the long room used as an art gallery and study is the large fireplace surrounded by the tiles upon which Mrs. Lutz has painted the heads of her favorite authors. Shakespeare, Tennyson, Longfellow, Ruskin, Emerson, Robert Browning, Mrs. Browning, Dickens, Thackeray, Du Maurier, Robert Louis Stephenson, Barrie, and others smile benignly upon their readers as they peruse the works of these authors on a winter’s evening.” (Barrie is probably J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan. The mention of Du Maurier is surprising, considering that famous novelist Daphne Du Maurier was only 18 at the time; her grandfather, novelist George Du Maurier, was still the most famous author in the family. He wrote Trilby, set in bohemian Paris of the 1850s, and introduced the villain Svengali.)
The 1925 article mentions her works “When Winter Comes,” “Dawn,” “Blue Twilight,” “Winter’s Evening,” Turkish Dancing Girl,” “Sunset in the Swamp Land”–and “A Young Girl,” the last described as “a lovely picture of Mrs. Lutz’ own daughter, which shows the gold crowned head of a young girl….” Of course, by that time, Louise Lutz Holloway was 38.
It was the year that the NAL bought an antebellum house called Melrose, an unusual Tuscan-style home on the crest of a hill just west of the university. Its lawn was decorated with cast-iron sculptures, and Hugh Tyler painted much of the interior, including the ceilings. The NAL had 200 members at the time, and expected to be able to pay for the museum/refuge through dues.
Meanwhile, Westwood’s neighborhood was rapidly changing, no longer the rural idyll it had been in the 1890s. Kingston Pike had always been an important street, but never a noisy one with heavy traffic or high speeds. During the life of Adelia’s husband, J.E. Lutz, it had witnessed only the clop-clop-clop of horse hooves, and later the light whine of electric streetcars. But in the 1920s, automobiles became more common than ever, and Kingston Pike found itself the junction of two national routes, the Dixie Highway and the Lee Highway. Suddenly, on the street in front of Westwood, there were cars from the east coast and the Midwest, on their way to the Gulf.
Then, in 1925, one of Knoxville’s first automobile-oriented residential developments, called Sequoyah Hills, opened almost across the street. Adelia Lutz lived long enough to see her old country road become a noisy highway.
Her final years saw the disintegration of her old artists’ community; the Nicholson Art League lost its two brightest stars in the matter of a few months, first with the 1925 death of Lloyd Branson. The following year, Catherine Wiley, whose work had been getting darker in recent years, was committed to a mental institution in Pennsylvania. The nature of her disorder and the circumstances that led to her commital, which would be for the rest of her life, remain a mystery. Hugh Tyler moved away. Lucy Du Cloux, an art teacher prominent in the NAL, moved to Switzerland. Max and Lalla Arnstein, longtime supporters of the NAL, retired and moved to New York. And word came that Eleanor Audigier died in Rome.
Of the original set of idealists of the 1890s, about the only ones still around were the elderly Charles Krutch, Joseph Knaffl, and Mortimer Thompson, the portrait painter whose son Jim was making a name for himself as a photographer. Despite a few remaining well-heeled supporters, the NAL went broke by 1930, and lost their beloved Melrose Art Center.
Adelia Lutz was 72 when she died at Westwood in November, 1931. Her family, including her daughter Louise, who had been the subject of many paintings, and granddaughter Cecil, kept the house occupied and lively for more than 75 more years.