Hugh L. McClung

Copyright 2008 * All rights reserved
J.C. (Jim) Tumblin, OD, DOS
3604 Kesterwood Drive, East
Knoxville, Tennessee 37918-2557
(865) 687-1948

Fountain Citians Who Made A Difference


Hugh L. McClung


Hugh Lawson McClung was born on June 2, 1858 in Russellville, Jefferson County, Tn.  He was the youngest of the two children of Hugh Lawson McClung Sr. (1810 -1891) and Anna Gillespie McClung.  His father had seven children by his first wife, Rachel Morgan McClung, before her untimely death in 1842 at only 32 years of age.  

Hugh Lawson Jr.’s distinguished ancestry derived from both his parents.  His father was a grandson of Gen. James White, Knoxville’s founder, and his uncle was Sen. Hugh Lawson White who was a candidate for the Presidency in 1836.  His mother, Anna Gillespie, was the granddaughter of Gen. Landon Carter, son of John Carter, the Secretary of State of the ill-fated State of Franklin.  James White, John Carter and Landon Carter were members of the first Tennessee constitutional convention in 1796.  

While he was still an infant, the family moved to Knoxville.  Young Hugh’s primary education was by private tutors at home enabling him to enter the University of Tennessee and graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1877.  His health was not robust at this point in his life and his father encouraged him to spend a year in Texas as a ranch hand.  There he rode horseback every day and often slept on the bare ground with his saddle for a pillow at night.  

The outdoor life and exercise completely restored his health and he came back to Knoxville to begin the study of law with his brother-in-law, Maj. T.S. Webb.  When he passed his examinations under Judge William B. Staley in 1879, he joined the Webb-McClung law firm as a full partner.  They were later joined by a third partner, L.M.G. Baker.  

The senior partner found attorney McClung to be keenly analytical and soon entrusted him with the preparation and trial of cases which he managed with the skill of a veteran.  Although confined mainly to the civil courts, both circuit and chancery, the practice became extensive and lucrative.  McClung’s business acumen and his investments in real estate and coal properties enabled him to retire from the firm in 1908 a wealthy man.  

He had served a short term as a special judge on the state Supreme Court early in his career. Although both of his partners were Democrats and active in politics, Hugh McClung had never aspired to political office.  In spite of that, at the urging of his partners and his friends, he accepted the position of Knox County Chancellor when he was appointed to the office by Gov. Malcolm R. Patterson in 1909.   

He served with notable ability and strict impartiality.  Although his services on the bench were for a period of only 18 months, they were months of unremitting labor.  He entered over 700 orders and decrees, many of them contested.  Of the 32 appeals taken from his judgments there were only four reversals in the Supreme Court, a record that would challenge comparison with his predecessors in that high office.  

Hugh L. McClung Jr. was the third generation of his family who were intensely interested in higher education.  The three generations served for a total of 126 years beginning in 1794 with his grandfather, Col. Charles McClung, who was a charter member of the board of trustees of Blount College, predecessor to the University of Tennessee.  Upon Charles McClung’s death in 1835, his son, Hugh Lawson McClung Sr., succeeded to the board.  When he died in 1891, Judge Hugh L. McClung Jr. became a board member until his retirement in 1920.  

He was also a trustee and chairman of the board of the East Tennessee Female Institute, president of the board of the Robert N. Strong Home and trustee of the Knoxville Public Library.  For five years he was a director and president of the Holston Bank.

On December 15, 1892, Hugh L. McClung Jr. married Ella L. Gibbins (1870- 1951), daughter of William E. and Ellen (Henry) Gibbins.  Her father was a Knoxville business and civic leader, an early partner in the W.W. Woodruff Hardware Co. and president of the YMCA during its period of expansion.  The family resided in a stately home on Broadway near the entrance to Old Gray Cemetery. 

Hugh and Ella McClung had one child, Ellen Lawson McClung, who married Thomas H. Berry, a prominent local coal mine operator, and nephew of the famous Martha McChesney Berry, founder of the North Georgia College named for her.

The McClungs made frequent trips to Europe, often staying for months at various points.  Ella collected many outstanding pieces of art during her travels, an interest she passed along to her daughter. 

The family home was on Circle Park until 1922. The McClungs were inspired by the marked resemblance of property they acquired on Black Oak Ridge to that of Tuscany, a mountainous region in central Italy bordering the Mediterranean Sea.  Therefore, they partially modeled their home and gardens after an ancient villa at Siena and named it Belcaro.  Their estate is the subject of a future article. 

The Judge wrote an interesting account of his around-the-world tour in the “Knoxville News Sentinel” (Jul.  7, 1931), entitled, “Judge McClung Shares his Enjoyment of a World Tour.”   

He reported, “The Hamburg-American S.S. Resolute began her world cruise from New York on Jan. 6, 1931, and returned on May 25 with her log book showing 32,000 miles.  Adding 4000 miles for land travel her passengers had covered about 36,000 miles.  

“She started with 165 passengers and returned with about 200.  The voyagers came from many different countries, from the United States, Canada, several Central American countries and several countries in Europe.    A ballot was taken of all passengers before their arrival in New York to determine the most beautiful and impressive objects and places seen on the tour with these results:  Most fascinating: City- Hongkong (Honolulu was second); Country- Japan; Edifice- Taj Mahal; Hotel- Royal Hawaiian in Honolulu; Island- Ceylon; Mountain- Fujiyama in Japan;  Museum- Cairo (by a large majority); River- Nile; Street or Avenue- Cryptomaria in Nikko, Japan; Temple or Shrine- Dome of the Rock (Mosque of Omar) in Jerusalem; View- From the Upper Corniche Road on the French Riviera and Most beautiful ladies- Japan.”  

When he became seriously ill with pneumonia, Judge McClung entered St. Mary’s Hospital in March 1936.  His final illness lasted more than a month and he passed away on April 25. Funeral services were held at Belcaro with his pastor at Second Presbyterian Church, Rev. Clifford E. Barbour, officiating.  He was first buried on the grounds of his home; but, upon his wife’s death in 1951, his body was moved to the family burial plot at Greenwood Cemetery.  Thomas and Ellen Berry joined Ella McClung at Belcaro and maintained the showplace estate.  

Hugh Lawson McClung was distinguished in appearance and bearing, a man of culture and refinement, well acquainted with geography and world events as a result of his extensive travels and known for his unfailing courtesy.  

(Author’s Note: Thanks to the University of Tennessee Special Collections for the archival photograph. Next month’s article will describe Belcaro’s architecture and its gardens.  Additional photographs can be found on the following website:  

D-McClungHughL (Belcaro) (4/29/08= 1219 words)