I found the house at all nearly by accident. On what is effectively a dead-end loop in a neighborhood I never drive into, I knew of the street itself only as a name related to the children of a local famous Victorian architect. The projects I invent for myself tend to mushroom. I write a short article about that architect for my neighborhood newsletter and it explodes into a multi-page Wikipedia article tracking all of his known works; I volunteer to put together a family tree for a local museum house, and before I know it, it’s exploded into a 10,000 person family tree for the entire city of Knoxville. (Want to know how our past city mayor is related to our past county mayor? I can tell you. Want to know how Helen Keller is related to Emily Dickinson is related to Tennessee Williams? I can tell you that too.) Both of these projects intersected at Prospect Place. The cottage on Prospect Place was built in 1924, probably the first house on the street, and definitely one of the earliest houses in Morningside Heights. Its original owners were Charles L. and Elizabeth Lawhon. Charles was a native Tennesseean, born in Roane County. Sometimes listed as a marble salesman or estimator, he was also a designer, who trained for many years in New Orleans. The World War I Victory Arch in Bywater is his design.
In Knoxville, Charles L. Lawhon worked for Gray Eagle Marble Company. He certainly designed any number of uncredited funerary monuments, but is also known to be the designer of the entrance gates to Old Gray Cemetery.
Prospect Place, as I had discovered earlier, is full of architectural relationships. George F. Barber, the famous mail-order architect, had three children — George Jr., Charles, and Laura. George Jr. and Laura lived in neighboring houses on Prospect Place, probably designed by brother Charles, the founder of Barber & McMurry architects. Also on the street lived Frank O. Barber, no relation as far as I have been able to determine, but who also had his own architectural firm, Barber & Shelton. For being two blocks long, Prospect Place has one of the densest collections of houses of discernible architectural provenance in Knoxville, after Kingston Pike and Lyons View. Unlike those two streets, however, it exists today distinctively on the wrong side of town, definitely lending it some anonymity.
In any case, there were plenty of architects around them to have designed the Lawsons’ curious little English cottage. Charles L. Lawhon, however, among his other titles, was also sometimes listed as an architect — he may very well have designed the house himself. Remarkable even on its architectural street, it’s surrounded by terraces of marble, with an interior wainscoted in marble, undoubtedly due to Charles’ primary profession. Known for his collection of books and engravings of ancient and historical monuments, his house might have been expected to adhere to some romantic revival style, but while whatever affinity the Lawhons may have had toward England, specifically, that might explain a house as unique as this one is unknown, their son Charles Dickens Lawhon lived in the house until the 1940s.