Frances Hodgson Burnett in Tennessee
Avid Tennessee readers have likely enjoyed children's classics like The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, and Little Lord Fauntleroy, yet few are aware that the author of these distinctly English tales actually began her writing life in Knoxville. To honor and promote her connections to our state, seven students from my Fall 2015 Women Writers course at Lee University joined me in creating this guide to the Burnett sites and resources in East Tennessee.
Locations to Visit
New Market House Site
1010 West Old Andrew Johnson Highway
New Market, Tennessee 37820
When Burnett and her family moved to Tennessee from Manchester, England in 1865, they settled in the small town of New Market, twenty five miles northeast of Knoxville. The family lived in the house for their first winter in the United States, but moved to Knoxville after a few months. Even though the Burnett’s log cabin is no longer standing, a plaque remains in honor of her time in New Market.
Supposed Site of "Noah’s Ark"
901 Knoxville College Drive
Knoxville, Tennessee 37921
From 1866 to 1869, the family lived at a house they called Noah’s Ark. Although closer to Knoxville, the house was still in a fairly rural location at the time. While Burnett lived at Noah’s Ark, she published her first short story, “Hearts and Diamonds." Noah’s Ark was likely located at what is now Knoxville College, but the site possesses no plaques or statues in honor of Burnett’s time at the residence.
Vagabondia Castle Stone Inscription
Located on the east end of Calhoun’s On the River
400 Neyland Drive
Knoxville, Tennessee 37902
The Hodgson’s home from 1869-1872. Frances and her family lived in a house along the river that they affectionately referred to as Vagabondia Castle. Burnett’s mother died at Vagabondia Castle, and in the following years the home became a gathering place of young bohemians. Burnett (then still a Hodgson) lived at Vagabondia Castle until she married Swan Burnett.
Eliza Boond Hodgson’s Grave
Old Gray Cemetery
543 North Broadway
Knoxville, Tennessee 37917
Frances Hodgson Burnett’s mother passed away in 1870 while the family was living in Knoxville. She is buried in Old Gray Cemetery. Her grave is located in Quadrant B9. There is a map at the entrance of the cemetery that will indicate the quadrants. At the entrance of the grave, follow the path split to the left -- Mrs. Hodgson’s grave is on the left side of the cemetery before the two paths rejoin. Burnett’s brother, John George Hodgson, is buried with his mother, but there is no marker.
803 South Gay Street
Knoxville, Tennessee 37902
The iconic Bijou Theatre began in 1817 as the Lamar House Hotel, and Frances’s brother John George worked at the bar during their time in Knoxville. Although Frances’ relationship with her brother was estranged, she attended balls at the Lamar House.
Other Notable Locations
Market Square, in the heart of downtown Knoxville, is a significant spot for Burnett enthusiasts; there young Frances sold wild grapes to earn money for postage in order to mail her stories to publishers. It is also an excellent place to have a meal and stretch your legs mid-pilgrimage. Nearby is the East Tennessee Historical Society's McClung Collection, which holds print editions of Burnett's books as well as some press clippings. Temperance Hill, off of what is now East Summit Hill Drive, is likely where Burnett settled with her husband, Swan, after their marriage. In 1875 the couple left Tennessee for a more cosmopolitan life in Europe and Washington, D.C. Frances would never return.
Manuscripts at the University of Tennessee
Searching the University of Tennessee's SCOUT catalog reveals seven hits for Burnett. Each one contains a hyperlink to a finding aid, and with the exception of the Rosa Campbell Lennon papers, these links also contain transcriptions of the letters.
Frances Hodgson Burnett Manuscript Collection
Contains seven letters concerning societal and literary engagements, Burnett’s home in Washington D.C., and business with her publisher, Scribner's. All letters are transcribed in the finding aid.
Rosa Campbell Lennon Manuscript Collection
MS-0264 contains two letters from Burnett to Rosa Campbell Lennon, a Knoxville child. The letters were written in 1872 and 1873. Since they are not transcribed in the finding aid, we've included a summary below.
On 16 December 1872, Frances writes Rosa from Manchester, England, relating her affection for the young girl. She mentions seeing many children in England but “none like her little Rosie." This is loosely quoted, as Burnett writes in Spencerian script and is a bit illegible.
On 1 January 1873 Burnett mentions she is ill, and describes the routine of a normal day during her life in England. She recounts her experience at the theater, the plethora of food and accoutrements she ate and bought, and her evening of dancing. She goes into great detail about her costume as “Little Bo Peep” for a costume ball and relates a song she sang while there.
The collection also includes an undated Christmas card of an English Robin, which may be of interest to enthusiasts of The Secret Garden.
Clarence Brown Collection
This large collection contains the original screenplay from the 1949 film adaptation of The Secret Garden, produced by Clarence Brown. It also contains six folders of production stills. Based on the costumes of the actors, it appears the film setting is post-World War, whereas the setting of the novel is Victorian. A complete finding aid for the Clarence Brown Collection is available via the SCOUT database on the University of Tennessee’s Special Collection website.
Booker, Robert. “Author’s Knoxville Home Site Elusive.” Knoxville News Sentinel. 13 September 2011. Web.
2 December 2015.
Booker mostly references Gerzina’s biography (see below) and distills it to give a picture of Burnett’s life in Knoxville. The article is not the most accurate; Booker refers to Gerzina as “Gerzinga” and misspells “‘Vagabondia.” He does, however, make a valid point concerning Vagabondia’s actual location, revealing that Gerzina positions Vagabondia both along the Tennessee River and on the site of present-day Knoxville College, which is geographically impossible. Burnett’s own descriptions of Vagabondia suggest that it was at the site next to the restaurant known as Calhoun’s on the River, where a stone inscription remains.
Gerzina, Gretchen Holbrook. Frances Hodgson Burnett. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2004. Print.
This biography of Frances Hodgson Burnett is the first to have the cooperation of her family, containing new material on Burnett’s life.
McConnell, Liv. “Remains from 'Vagabondia Castle' Still Guard Knoxville's Historic, Artistic
Roots.” The UT Daily Beacon. 25 February 2014. Web. 2 December 2015.
In this article, McConnell explores the meaning of the inscribed stone memorial at the site of Burnett’s Knoxville home, “Vagabondia Castle.” McConnell, while celebrating Burnett’s presence in Knoxville, laments the obscurity of the memorial “rock.” McConnell also celebrates the natural beauty surrounding Vagabondia Castle, emphasizing how this probably influenced Burnett’s writing.
Neely, Jack. “Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Knoxville Years.” The Knoxville Mercury. 18 November 2015. Web. 2
Here Neely gives a comprehensive biography of Burnett’s time in Knoxville. He also provides the clearest timeline of Burnett’s Knoxville residences, noting that Burnett first lived at Noah’s Ark, located at present-day Knoxville College, before moving to the Vagabondia Castle on the Tennessee River.
Neely, Jack. “A Sesquicentennial Stroll Downtown.” The Knoxville Mercury. 29 April 2015. Web. 2
This article is about the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War, and is not directly related to Burnett or her life in Knoxville. Neely does, however, identify Lamar House, a hotel where Burnett’s brother worked and where Frances Hodgson Burnett herself attended balls, as the front part of Knoxville’s Bijou Theatre.
Neely, Jack. “The Unexpected New Book About Frances Hodgson Burnett.” Metro Pulse Online. 14.27 1 July
2004. Web. 2 December 2015.
In this article, written just after the publication of Gerzina’s 2004 biography, Neely lauds the new book as a “much needed” addition to Burnett scholarship. He also references several sites in and around Knoxville that commemorate Burnett’s legacy, like the plaque in New Market and the grave where both Burnett’s mother and brother are buried.
Stapleton, Kim. “Frances Hodgson Burnett Sesquicentennial Events.” Facebook. 4 March 2014. Web. 2
This Facebook page, which one can visit and like, gives the details about the recent Sesquicentennial Events that celebrated Burnett in her first home in America: New Market, TN. It also has interesting posts about Burnett’s life, and provides a place for Burnett scholars and enthusiasts to dialogue.
Thwaite, Ann. Waiting for the Party: The Life of Frances Hodgson Burnett. Boston: Nonpareil Books, 1991. Print.
Thwaite’s was the first biography of Frances Hodgson Burnett; it was originally released in 1974. Though it was written without the cooperation of Burnett’s descendants and therefore does not consult the family letters (which were only recently archived at Princeton University), it is still anecdotally useful.
“Written in Stone: Inscriptions on Market Square.” Inside of Knoxville. 29 July 2014. Web. 2 December 2015.
In this article, pseudonymous writer “KnoxvilleUrbanGuy” explores the various monuments and inscriptions found in Market Square. He notes that all but one of these inscriptions are written by white males. Towards the end of the article he mentions how Frances Hodgson Burnett lived in Knoxville, wondering why her remarks on Knoxville aren’t included.
This project was designed in fall 2015 by Dr. Katherine Carlson, Department of Language and Literature, Lee University: Cleveland, TN. Participating students were Ashley Akeson, Hannah Mae Atherton, Dixie Sandlin, Evan Pell, Katie Roberts, Amanda Seale, and Rachel Walls. Special thanks to Kim Stapleton (coordinator of the Sesquicentennial events), William Eigelsbach (University of Tennessee Special Collections), Alix Dempster (Old Gray Cemetery), Jean Eledge (Lee University Department of Language and Literature), and Penny Deupree (great-granddaughter of Frances Hodgson Burnett) for their assistance.
If you have any additional information on Burnett in Tennessee, please email katherinecarlson at gmail dot com.