Updates and Information on Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Skip to main content

 KNOXVILLE, Tenn.– The University of Tennessee board of trustees Tuesday accepted a $4.6 million gift and agreed to use it to build a new geography building at UT-Knoxville.

 The gift, one of the five largest outright gifts from an individual in UT history, was from the estate of Dr. W.W. Burchfiel of Sevierville.

 The trustees accepted the gift in a meeting held by telephone conference call.

UT President Joe Johnson said the gift will give the geography department at UT-Knoxville a building to match the quality of its programs.

 “We are grateful to Dr. Burchfiel and his family,” Johnson said. “We already have one of the top geography programs in the country. Now the program will have one of the finest facilities in the country.”

 Burchfiel’s will, with James “Jack” Denton of Sevierville as executor, stipulates that the money go for construction of a geography building and that it be named after his father, W.W. Burchfiel Sr., who owned and operated a Sevier County insurance agency for 50 years.

 Burchfiel’s sister, Margaret Montgomery of Knoxville, said prior to the meeting that her brother grew up with an interest in geography.

 “From his earliest days in elementary school he enjoyed maps,” Montgomery said. “We always had a globe of the world at home. We would listen to the radio and try to find on the globe the places we heard about.”

 The building will probably be located on the site of Turner House on “The Hill,” Johnson said. It will include approximately 33,000 square feet of classroom, research and office space as well as room for a Geographic Information System.

 The GIS, which provides computerized and satellite mapping capabilities, also will be used by faculty and students in other disciplines including engineering, ecology, and physics.

The proposed building, which must be completed within three years under terms of the will, now goes to the State Building Commission for approval.

 Johnson said the Turner House site has been suggested because the hub of the campus’ fiber optic network is nearby, which will help lower installation costs of the Geographic Information System.

 Proximity of the Turner House location to the new Science and Engineering Building in June, is another consideration in favor of the site, Johnson said.

 Other factors supporting the Turner House site include the lack of other space on “The Hill” and its accessibility to faculty and staff of other departments.

 After its construction in the 1890s, Turner House was a faculty residence for many years, although it has been used mostly for office space since the 1960s.

 Construction of the geography building would require demolition of Turner House, but the university would continue to maintain two other 100-year-old buildings on “The Hill” — South College and Estabrook, Johnson said.

 Jack Williams, UT vice president for development, said the younger Burchfiel owned motels in Gatlinburg and Sevierville and co-owned for 18 years the insurance agency founded by his father.

In the early 1970s, the business was sold to Lyle Overbay and renamed the Overbay-Burchfiel and Associates Insurance Agency. The agency is still in business.

Burchfiel’s mother, Gertrude Patterson Burchfiel, was a school teacher and worked later in life in the family insurance agency.

Young Burchfiel earned bachelor’s (’40)and masters (’41) degrees from UT. During World War II, he was in the U.S. Navy. After the war, Burchfield worked in the Pentagon while earning the doctorate (’53) in industrial geography and climatology from the University of Maryland.


 Contact: Dr. Joe Johnson (423-974-2225) Jack Williams (423-974-4531)