Hopecote, The University of Tennessee’s guesthouse for distinguished visitors, sits just off Melrose Avenue and for more than a decade has been facing a continuous threat to its massive shrubbery.
“I’ve been here since 1990, and UT students have always vandalized the hedges, but nothing like these last three years,” said Gary Stinnett, the resident of Hopecote. “It’s hard to go out there and trim them knowing they’re just going to come back and do it again.”
Stinnett trims the hedges every two weeks, yet vandals wait until he is done to jump through and over the hedges. Both ends of the yard have dead and broken branches to show for the vandals’ intrusion. There is a section where passersby can see directly through to the other side because of the size of the hole, he said.
“I can tell someone jumped on them because the branches will be all the way bent down to the ground,” Stinnett said. “They hit the same spots over and over.”
The hedges have always been a part of the house and its history. According to Knox Heritage, Inc., Hopecote was built in 1921 by architect John Fanz Stuab for his aunt, Emma Fanz, and her husband, Albert Guinn, who was the great-great-grandson of Thomas Hope.
Hope was an English builder who in 1795 settled in Knoxville. UT purchased Hopecote in 1980, and Staub oversaw its renovations just before his death in 1981.
It is considered one of the university’s three historic homes. Hopecote has a garage, five trees in its spacious backyard and two guestrooms upstairs. Rumors persist that even Michael Jackson stayed in one of the guest rooms when he performed in Thompson-Boling Arena’s first concert; however, Stinnet said this is not true.
With or without the myths and rich history, vandalism is still an offense recognized by Student Judicial Affairs.
“It depends on the nature of the vandalism and the amount of damage done,” Angela Smith, director of Student Judicial Affairs, said. “Punishment ranges from probation to suspension. It happens several times a semester, but I wouldn’t say it’s an epidemic.”
Very few student vandals are actually caught, though, and if they were, an explanation would be difficult to come by.
“You can’t accidentally jump over a hedge,” said Rose Spurrier, a freshman in cultural anthropology. “I think it’s really disrespectful, and people should be more mature.”
Despite the hedges at Hopecote becoming the hotspot for amateur crimes, Stinnett wants something to be done about the students who “lack character” and continue to vandalize.
“It’s only been a week and I’ve already caught two students,” he said. “I caught one back in December and, from what I know, he’s still in school. It’s something you’d expect from 12- and 13-year-olds, not college students.”