George Barber

George F. Barber (1854-1915) was an architect known for the house designs he marketed worldwide through his mail-order catalogs. A self-taught architect, Barber’s mail-order business was inspired and modeled after the Bridgepoint, Connecticut, firm of Palliser & Palliser & Company. Barber most likely purchased the Palliser’s 1878 catalog, American Cottage Homes, while working as a carpenter in Marmaton, Kansas. In 1885, while working as an architect in Dekalb, Illinois, Barber produced a small publication of his own, The Cottage Souvenir, containing 18 plans and bound by yarn tied through a hole punched in the corner. 

Barber arrived in Knoxville in 1888 on the advice of his doctor to seek a warmer climate. He became a partner in the Edgewood Land Improvement Company, which subdivided and developed a suburb east of Knoxville known as Park City (today, the Parkridge neighborhood) located along Washington Avenue and Jefferson Avenue. He designed more than a dozen homes in the area, including a number of his own personal homes along Washington Avenue. However, Barber’s business also looked far outside of Knoxville for clients, starting with the publication of The Cottage Souvenir #2 – A Repository of Artistic Cottage Architecture in 1891. The catalog contained 59 house plans, along with plans for barns, churches, and commercial stores. Other catalogs followed as the business thrived, including a monthly magazine. By the turn of the century, Barber owned the largest architecture firm in Knoxville and employed more than 30 draftsmen. 

More than willing to customize designs, catalogs contained questionnaires and sketch pages for prospective clients to flesh out their ideas. Barber would frequently modify his designs to fit the client’s needs and specifications. Catalogs often stated, “Keep writing until you get what you want. Don’t be afraid of writing too often. We are not easily offended.” 

Barber’s designs ran the entire gamut, from small three and four room cottages to huge mansions. His earliest and most famous designs were examples of the late Victorian Eastlake and Queen Anne styles. A handful of Barber’s later designs show hints of bungalow influence, which Barber referred to as “chalet style.”

Barber retired from his catalog business in 1908, selling more than 20,000 plans during his career. When he died in 1915, professionally trained architects were more common than in the previous generation, and retail giants like Sears and Montgomery Ward had begun selling entire prefabricated houses via mail order (something Barber never did). Today, Barber’s legacy lives on in hundreds of houses scattered across the county, including more than 20 that still stand in Knoxville. Most are located in the Fourth & Gill, Old North Knoxville, and Oakwood-Lincoln Park neighborhoods. Many of his homes are individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and many more are listed as part of historic districts.

Knox Heritage preserves structures and places of historic or cultural significance for our community. Established in 1974 as a non-profit educational corporation, our organization works to protect and raise awareness of what is beautiful and irreplaceable in East Tennessee.