Lewis Buckner: The Black Architect Whose Buildings In Tennessee Were Built 143 Years Ago And Are Still In Good Condition

Photo credit: Historical Marker Database


Lewis Buckner’s work rose to prominence in the 1870s. He built many of the houses in Sevier County, Tennessee, by the late nineteenth century. Building houses in Sevier County with strong Italianate and Queen Anne architectural elements.

His buildings were distinguished by strong Italianate and Queen Anne-style architectural elements. Even though Buckner was an apprentice, the inspiration for his buildings did not come 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.”

Despite the firm nature of his work, nearly 20 of his structures can still be found in his county. These homes were constructed between 1880 and 1921. Buckner frequently lives on the construction site while constructing a structure. He was also known to travel to the countryside in order to create decorative designs on staircases, mantels, and porches.

He was also a furniture maker. He made bedroom sets, washstands, cabinets, and picture frames. Many of his works are prized family heirlooms. Buckner rose through the ranks to become a successful businessman. In 1894, he paid $140 for seven acres of land on Kellum Creek Road, off Allensville Road, to build a house. At the time, this was considered a feat for an African American in history.

The house he built on the outskirts of Sevierville in 1894 is still standing. According to Tennessee Encyclopedia, 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 near Sevierville (1895), the Sam Dixon House near Shady Grove (1914), and the Mullendore House near Pigeon Forge (1921). According to the platform, many of his houses are on the National Register of Historic Places due to their distinctive architecture.

Buckner had six children from his first marriage as a cabinetmaker and home builder. On March 1, 1898, he met and married Eliza Chandler. He and his new wife had four children. He is buried in an unmarked grave near Millican Grove at Union Hill Cemetery.


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