Local Lore: 3222 Kingston Pike

Recent photo of 3222 Kingston Pike

This is first in a new regular series highlighting the history of Knoxville area homes, as well as the stories of their early occupants. We really hope you like it. 

The Home: 3222 Kingston Pike (formerly 2818)

The home at 3222 Kingston Pike, affectionately known as "Nellvar" by its original owners, is an excellent example of a Craftsman style home.  The current home is approximately 5900 sq ft with 5 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms. It sits on over 4 acres of prime river front property in the Sequoyah Hills section of Kingston Pike. It is currently in need of renovation. 

The Original Owner: James D. Varnell (b. 1872 - d. 1946)

The home formerly known as 2818 Kingston Pike was most likely built by James D Varnell for his family in 1914.  Varnell was among the founders of Miller's Department Store and spent his career there as an executive and Treasurer.  His fellow executives at the store included Lee H. Pettree, Vice-President and later President; James Anderson, President; and Oscar Handley, Secretary. Varnell's career lasted until a short time before death in 1946. He was known to often walk the store, greeting and helping customers and employees.

Varnell came to found Miller's department store in Knoxville through his association with Gustave H. and Frank Miller, brothers, in Chattanooga during the late 19th century. The Miller brothers owned and operated the Miller Brothers Company store in Chattanooga. In 1901, Varnell and the Miller brothers established a store in the 300 block of South Gay Street. The business moved to the corner of Gay Street and Union Ave. in 1905. In 1907, G.H. and F.L. Miller sold their interest to H.L. Dulin, James Anderson, and Oscar Handley. The Miller's building currently houses KUB, along with numerous other buisinesses. 

Varnell credited his wife, Lucy, with much of his early success in his career. She had worked as a superintendent and buyer in the millinery and ready-to-wear department of the store. Varnell maintained direct supervision of these departments during his career with his office  nearby, on the southeast corner of the building. Lucy, lived at 2818 until her death in 1924. 

Other Residents & Family Members

The James D. Varnell family  also included two daughters, Elizabeth and Katherine. Katherine and her husband, D. Morton Rose, were also listed at the address for many years. The Rose family living at the house included Varnell's grandchildren. 

D. Morton Rose worked as an executive in his family business, started by his father and uncle, the D.M. Rose Company, lumber manufacturers, in South Knoxville. The company had been founded by his father and uncle. The family home of his father was at 803 W. Hill Ave. (may still be standing, I need to research).

The reception of the Rose and Varnell wedding, at which Nancy Handley had been bridesmaid, was hosted by James and Lucy Varnell and the Rose family at "Nellvar". The home was decorated in green and white with spring flowers, palms, and exotics. Gifts were displayed on the second floor sitting room and a several course buffet was offered to guests in the dining room. In the dining room, there was a picture table overlaid with lace, displaying a silver basket with bride roses and orchids and silver candlesticks with white tapers. The twenty-two members of the bridal party were served in the sun parlor.

Daily Life

Although downtown Knoxville would remain the center of commerce until the middle of the 29th century, by the time "Narvell" was built,  turn of the century neighborhoods like Mechanicsville, Fourth & Gill, and Old North Knoxville ("grid neighborhoods") were stylistically and functionally dated. Cars became more popular and streetcar tracks extended.  The expansion of utilities and technology allowed center median neighborhoods like Sequoyah Hills, North Hills, and Island Home to flourish during the early twentieth century.

It is therefore likely that James D Varnell and his family enjoyed talking on a telephone in their home on Kingston Pike and by the 30s, he also most likely used a car to drive the distance between his home and his job at Miller's. 

3222 Kingston Pike Today

After being saved from demolition in 2014, Narvell was recently sold before auction at a as yet undisclosed amount, although it had been listed for sale for over $1,000,000.