Built around 1891 in the popular Romanesque Revival style, this building was originally known as the Caswell & Harris Building, later simply the Harris Building. It was presumably named for prominent dentist and politician Madison Monroe Harris (1841-1916), a native of North Knox County who studied medicine at the University of Tennessee, who kept his dental practice on the second floor of this building for a few years in the 1890’s. The other name associated with the building in its earliest years is that of William Caswell (1846-1926), a successful banker and real-estate dealer.
By one eyewitness account, Caswell participated in the first baseball game ever played in East Tennessee, on Gay Street around 1865. Caswell was a Confederate veteran; Harris was a Union veteran. However, in this building, they were apparently partners. The Harris Building once hosted multiple businesses, including doctors’ offices, a business college, an Odd Fellows hall, and a Union veterans’ hall. Harris had an interest in this block long before the construction of the building. In the 1870’s, Harris served two terms on Knoxville’s Board of Aldermen, and was among the first to propose a long bridge across the rail yards connecting Vine Avenue and Depot Street, a project that would not actually be accomplished until 40 years later. Harris lived nearby, on Park Avenue (now Magnolia).
A proud descendant of a Revolutionary War soldier, he’s known to this day for authoring a work of genealogy. But he was best known and remembered as a generous-spirited dentist. He was “a man of remarkable energy and vitality, and spent few leisure hours,” according to one newspaper eulogy. “He was kind and considerate toward all and more especially the unfortunate.” Although Harris moved his practice to Wall Avenue near Market Square, he may have maintained an interest in the building which kept his name into the 20th century. -Jack Neely