Johnson City Press: Gump Addition belongs on National Register
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Gump Addition belongs on National Register

Johnson City Press • Jul 2, 2019 at 7:15 AM

The sky is falling in east Johnson City.

At least you’d think so based on the alarmism coming from some residents of Hillrise Park, a neighborhood more commonly known as “The Gump Addition.” A proposal to place the century-old subdivision on the National Register of Historic Places has their feathers ruffled.

The opposition is premature and misdirected.

As Press Staff Writer David Floyd reported, Johnson City has received a $12,000 state grant and provided $8,000 in matching funds to pay a consultant to conduct a survey of the houses in the neighborhood and submit an application to the Tennessee Historical Commission, which is reviewing the proposal. If approved, the proposal would then go before the National Parks Office for the designation.

Some residents are concerned that the National Register recognition could be the first step toward local historic zoning designation, which would restrict what homeowners could do with their property.

Whoa, Nelly. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Matthew Manley, a senior planner with Johnson City, told Floyd the inclusion on the national register simply would be an honorary designation. Implementation of a local historic zoning overlay would have to be driven by residents of the neighborhood. There’s been no discussion among city staff or members of the Historic Zoning Commission about taking that step.

Manley also said such overlays are typically implemented when there’s a threat to the historic integrity of a neighborhood. That’s not happening at “The Gump.” The handful of newer homes in Hillrise Park appear to fit right in with the neighborhood’s character, and we see no signs of older homes being threatened.

If any neighborhood in Johnson City deserves a historic honor, it’s Hillrise Park. The Gump name is practically synonymous with Johnson City. Early downtown clothing store owner Harry D. Gump bought a 160-acre farm about one mile northeast of downtown Johnson City in 1907. It became the site of the city’s first country club complete with a nine-hole golf course, as well as the site of the city’s first landing strip for airplanes.

In the 1920s, Gump decided to subdivide the land and commissioned E.S. Draper, a landscape architect and city planner from Charlotte, North Carolina, to design the neighborhood. Today, 129 of the neighborhood’s 147 primary dwellings are considered contributing to its historic nature, which means they’ve retained a fair amount of their original architectural character. The houses include many neoclassical-style homes as well as mid-century modern homes designed by local architect Alfred Abernathy.

Based on our limited research, Hillrise Park was only the fourth neighborhood in the city’s history outside of downtown and one of only two older neighborhoods that largely maintained their character. The other is the Southwest Addition, also known as “the Tree Streets,” which was developed by another major figure in Johnson City history, railroad pioneer George L. Carter, who donated the adjacent land for what is now East Tennessee State University.

A portion of the Tree Streets indeed has been a designated historic conservation district since 1999. And yes, three years earlier, it landed on the National Register of Historic Places.

So we understand the correlation drawn between historic recognition and restricted zoning designation, but one does not necessarily beget the other.

Garnering historic conservation district status is an arduous process that requires public processes and hearings via city planners, the city’s Historic Zoning Commission and the City Commission. In the event such a proposal were discussed, any residents opposed to historic zoning restrictions would have ample opportunity to voice their concerns, address specifics in the code and hold officials accountable in the process. That’s when the bell would ring.

Supposition is no reason to spoil Hillrise Park’s rightful place in history.

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