Charles J. McClung 

Copyright 2008* All rights reserved
J.C. (Jim) Tumblin, OD, DOS
3604 Kesterwood Drive, East
Knoxville, Tennessee 37918-2557
(865) 687-1948

Fountain Citians Who Made A Difference

Charles J. McClung 

(1866-1932)  

 

(Courtesy of the C.M. McClung Historical Collection)

Ridgefield

Charles J. McClung (1866-1932)  

E.E. Patton, former Central High School principal, state senator and mayor of Knoxville, also wrote a regular column in the Knoxville Journal on local, state and national history.  In a column entitled, “Knoxville’s McClung Family Played Important Roles in History of City” (Knoxville Journal, June 29, 1952), Patton wrote these words:  

“There is perhaps not a family which has had more to do with the founding and promoting of the best interests of Knoxville and East Tennessee than the McClung family.  Matthew McClung, a full blooded Scotchman, was born reared and educated in Ulster Province, Northern Ireland.  He married Martha Cunningham who was from the same locale.  In 1746 they settled in Lancaster County, Pa., which has furnished Tennessee and the South with so many outstanding officials, as well as business and professional men.  

“His son, Charles McClung (1761-1835), was born on his father’s farm in Pennsylvania on May 13, 1761.  He traveled through the valley of Virginia about 1788 and reached White’s Fort, now Knoxville, in the fall of 1790.  He married Margaret White, daughter of Gen. James White, founder of Knoxville.  Charles McClung was a surveyor, lawyer, merchant and county official.  He laid off the town of Knoxville and supervised the sale of lots for his father-in-law.  He was a member of the Board of Trustees of Blount College, now the University of Tennessee, and his son and grandson, both named Hugh Lawson McClung, were members of the Board of Directors of the University of Tennessee, a record perhaps not equaled by any other family.  

“He saw military service and reached the rank of Major in the territorial militia.  But his most remarkable record was as a public official.  He was a member of the constitutional convention which met in Knoxville in February, 1796; he and William Blount were appointed to draft the constitution and the work of the committee was mostly his.    In 1792 and in 1800 he was a candidate for presidential elector, but his most outstanding record as an official was as clerk of the Knox County Court from 1792 until 1834—forty-two years.”  

There was also Calvin Morgan McClung (1855-1919), a grandson of Charles McClung, who contributed as much to the literary, educational and cultural life of Knoxville as any other person.  Due to the generosity of his widow, Barbara Adair McClung, his collection of rare books and manuscripts, the product of many years of his intellectual life, now serve as the nucleus of the C.M. McClung Historical Collection. He was first a partner in the firm of Cowan, McClung and Co., but later purchased a controlling interest and became president of C.M. McClung and Co. in 1905 and held that office until his death in 1919.  The wholesale hardware firm grew to occupy 4.5 acres of floor space in three buildings, making it one of the largest in the South with 500,000 items in stock from automotive and plumbing to sporting goods and farm equipment.  

Fountain City too had its McClungs.  We have written earlier about Ellen McClung Green, the wife of Judge John W. Green. Judge Hugh Lawson McClung (1858-1936) who built Belcaro is the subject of a future article.   

Our subject for this biographical essay is Charles J. McClung (1866-1932).  In 1924, he built Ridgefield, his white-columned summer home on Black Oak Ridge with its unforgettable view of Fountain City, Greenway Gap and even downtown Knoxville and the Great Smoky Mountains on a clear day.  The Knoxville City Directory lists a Black Oak Ridge address for the McClung’s summer cottage as early as 1902, although they maintained a home at fashionable 1533 Laurel Avenue* near downtown until the late 1920s.  

Charles J. McClung

(Courtesy of the C.M. McClung Historical Collection)

Charles James McClung, the seventh of the ten children of Franklin H. and Eliza Ann (Mills) McClung, was born in Knoxville on July 12, 1866.  The previously mentioned Calvin M. McClung was his oldest brother.  The ninth child was T. Lee McClung, an All-American football player at Yale and later Secretary of the Treasury (1909-1912) under President William H. Taft.  The youngest of the children was Ellen Marshall Green.

Charles received his elementary and preparatory education in local private schools and studied at the University of Tennessee for three years. He then entered Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, N.H. and graduated in 1887.  He successfully passed entrance exams to Yale University; but for health reasons chose to return to Knoxville and associate with his brother, Calvin M. McClung, in the wholesale hardware business.

McClung Warehouses, 1937

(Courtesy of the C.M. McClung Historical Collection)

When the business was incorporated in 1905, he was made secretary and treasurer.  He administered those offices with marked ability and advanced to vice-president.  In January 1930 he was elected chairman of the board and held that position until his death.  Considered to be one of the most progressive and efficient executives in East Tennessee, he chose private citizenship over public office.  A Democrat with independent leanings, he supported the efforts of the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce to the benefit of the business community.  He was a member of the Cherokee Country Club, the Tennessee Historical Society and St. John’s Episcopal Church.  

Anna M. Gay (1867-1956) and Charles J. McClung were married on Jan. 5, 1911.  She was the daughter of Andrew H. and Mary Dickinson Gay of Plaquemine, Iberia Parish, La., where her father was a cotton planter.  Interestingly, her maternal great-grandfather, Charles Dickinson, was killed in a duel with Andrew Jackson and her brother, Edward J. Gay, was a U.S. Senator from Louisiana.   

Anna Gay attended Augusta Female Academy in Staunton, Va. where she met her future sister-in-law, Ellen McClung, who would marry Judge John W. Green, venerable Knoxville lawyer and community leader.  

Although she and Charles had no children, several lively nieces and nephews visited them often and enjoyed the extensive woods and gardens at Ridgefield.

The McClungs spent the month of February in Florida, usually making the trip down by train.  The family chauffeur brought their car down later, as Charles enjoyed motoring to various places of interest while there.  It was in Miami Beach on Feb. 10, 1932 that he suddenly fell across his bed soon after arising and never regained consciousness.  He was brought home for burial in Old Gray Cemetery after funeral services at Ridgefield.  

The public-spirited Anna G. McClung chose to remain at her home, stayed active in the First Presbyterian Church and entertained her family and friends in her gracious Old South manner.  She supervised those who tended the gardens and grounds and visited often with her sister-in-law, Ellen McClung Green, at nearby Ridgeview II.  

She survived her husband by 24 years, but succumbed on Nov. 22, 1956, having suffered a stroke ten days earlier.  Mrs. McClung had been president of the Women’s Auxiliary at her church and was a member of the Colonial Dames, Knoxville Garden Club and the Blount Mansion Association, where she was a board member.  Her services were also held at her home and she was laid to rest in the family burial plot at Old Gray Cemetery.  

The McClungs will be long remembered-- he for his kind, courtly manner, immaculate personal appearance and business acumen; she for her keen interest in her family, church, gardens and her love of history.

*Verify City Directory addresses on Main or Laurel.  

(Author’s Note: Thanks to Sally Polhemus of the C.M. McClung Historical Collection for the archival photographs. One can view Ridgefield by proceeding up Gresham Road and Grove Drive to the Grove Park Addition. The house is on Walkup Drive and was later the home of William Walkup, president of Home Federal Bank.  Betty Bean’s excellent article “Something’s burning” which appeared in the Feb. 4 Shopper is archived on www.ShopperNewsNow.com. The article describes the Feb. 19, 2007 fire that all but destroyed the McClung Warehouses.)  

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