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Ellen McClung Berry Letter

Identifier: MS-2336

  • Staff Only

In this letter, dated March 11, 1960, from Palm Beach, Fla., the author (whose signature is unidentifiable) writes how hopeful he is that Ellen and Thomas Berry will visit him and wife Rhoda. He says that "Helen and Donald are planning to come South for a week." Also, he mentions that Rhoda's health does not permit a trip to go see the Berrys. However, he says they are going on a trip April 1, 1960, with their Bahamian maid North, who loves Rhoda greatly.


  • 1960 March 11

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0.1 Linear Feet


In this letter to Ellen McClung Berry, dated March 11, 1960, from Palm Beach, Fla., the author (whose signature is unidentifiable) writes of a trip and hoping for a visit from friends in the upcoming weeks.

Biographical/Historical Note

Ellen Lawson McClung was born to Judge Hugh Lawson and Ella (Gibbins) McClung on November 14, 1893 in Knoxville, Tennessee. She was educated at Charles Coffin Ross's school in Knoxville and later studied at the Ogantz School for Girls in Philadelphia. After being presented as a debutante in 1914, she traveled abroad extensively with her parents. She married coal magnate Thomas Huntingdon Berry on October 18, 1928 in the formal gardens of Belcaro, and the couple had one son, Hugh Lawson McClung Berry, on December 17, 1932.

After her father Hugh McClung died in 1936, Ellen and her family returned to Belcaro to care for her widowed mother. On February 28, 1951, while the family was taking its annual vacation to Palm Beach, Hugh Berry shot his grandmother (who died of her wounds on March 9, 1951) and father with a shotgun. He also shot a policeman while trying to escape. He was eventually captured, and later sent to a mental health facility in Chicago.

During the 1950s and 1960s, the Berrys involved themselves with a number of historic preservation causes. In late 1951, Ellen became the organizing chairman of the Upper East Tennessee Division of the Association for the Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities (APTA) and helped to organize the Jefferson County branch of the organization in 1952. In the same year, she assisted the Knoxville chapter of the APTA in purchasing the crumbling Ramsey House. She and her husband also purchased and restored Fairfax (built by Major Lawson Franklin in about 1840). Ellen Berry also donated some of her property to the University of Tennessee in 1965 in order to build a plaza with a fountain and statuary.

In 1977, the Berrys built a smaller home, called Berrymount, to retire to. Ellen's husband Thomas died on March 13, 1978, and she retreated to Berrymount with her housekeeper and companion Dan Tondevold. Tondevold claimed to be from Denmark and moved into Berrymount's guest house after Thomas Berry's death under the pretext of writing a book. He eventually took over the management of the estate and was granted power of attorney in April 1982. Using his position and influence, he stole the majority of Ellen's savings and belongings. A body believed to be his (but never positively identified) was found shortly after the crime was committed. Ellen Berry moved into a small apartment in Jefferson City, where she lived modestly on the proceeds of the land she had donated to the University of Tennessee. She died on April 18, 1992 at 98 years of age.


Collection consists of a single folder.

Acquisition Note

This collection was donated to the University of Tennessee Libraries, Knoxville, Special Collections.

Repository Details

Part of the Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections and University Archives, University of Tennessee, Knoxville Repository

University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Knoxville TN 37996 USA