Faces of Black Excellence

Lewis Buckner, the Black architect whose buildings erected 143 years ago in Tennessee are still in good state

Lewis Buckner’s work began gaining prominence in the 1870s. By the late 19th century, many of the houses in Sevier County in Tennessee were built by him. building houses throughout Sevier County that featured robust Italianate and Queen Anne style architectural elements.

His unique trademark was that his buildings featured strong Italianate and Queen Anne-style architectural elements. Even though Buckner learned the ropes of the job as an apprentice, the inspiration behind his buildings wasn’t picked from his master, Christian H. Stump, a white furniture and cabinetmaker originally from Michigan.

His architectural designs were inspired by pattern books and published journals. He was credited for his creative designs. Historians say no two works of Buckner are ever the same.

Buckner was born as a slave on March 12, 1856. His father was white and his mother was African American. According to isaacdockery.org, “Buckner’s well-crafted architectural detailing features vernacular renditions of Victorian patterns that include naturalistic elements such as a unique flower motif that became his signature trademark.”

Given the firm nature of his work, almost 20 of his buildings can still be found in his county. These houses were built between 1880 and 1921. When Buckner is erecting a structure, he often lives at the building site during the construction. He was also known to travel to the countryside to build decorative designs on staircases, mantels and porches.

He was also into furniture making. He built bedroom suites, washstands, cupboards and picture frames. Many of his works are considered classy family heirlooms. Buckner rose to become a successful businessman. He purchased seven acres of land on Kellum Creek Road, off Allensville Road for $140 in 1894 to build a home. This was considered a feat for an African American at that point in history.

The home he built in 1894 at the outskirts of Sevierville is still standing. He is also known for the Darius and Mary Robertson House near Harrisburg (1880); the Andes-Denton House near Sevierville (1890); the Trotter-Waters House at Sevierville (1895); the Sam Dixon House near Shady Grove (1914); and the Mullendore House near Pigeon Forge (1921), according to Tennessee Encyclopedia. The platform adds that many of his houses are listed in the National Register of Historic Places because of their unique architecture

Cabinetmaker and house builder Buckner had six children from his first marriage. He later met and married Eliza Chandler on March 1, 1898. He also had four children with his new wife. He is buried in an unmarked grave at the Union Hill Cemetery near Millican Grove.

Stephen Nartey

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