The Toms Foundation, which owns, operates, and maintains Crescent Bend House & Gardens is a 501(c)(3) private foundation that William Perry, “Buck” Toms established during his lifetime.
William Perry Toms was born in Knoxville on June 27, 1884, to Captain Samuel and Eliza Curry Toms. “Buck” Toms, as he was known, was educated in the public schools of Knoxville. He graduated from Knoxville High School with high honors in 1900 and was a member of the school’s first basketball and football teams. Then he went to work for three years for General L.D. Tyson as a bookkeeper for the Knoxville Woolen Mills before entering the University of Tennessee. At the University of Tennessee, he was a member of Phi Kappa Phi Honorary Fraternity and of Kappa Alpha Fraternity. He graduated from the University of Tennessee with honors, receiving a degree in law in 1907.
He returned to work for the Knoxville Woolen Mills. In 1908 he was appointed secretary of the firm. From 1912 through the early twenties he was secretary and then general manager of the Fulton Sylphon Company. Later he was associated with Magnet Mills of Clinton and the Seven-Up Bottling Company of Jacksonville, Florida. He also held a variety of commercial and residential real estate interests and in 1935-1936 was listed in the Knoxville City Directory as a tax consultant with George G. Scott and Company.
Buck Toms held leadership positions in several social and civic organizations in Knoxville including Cherokee Country Club, Holston Hills Country Club, Rotary Club, Civitan Club, and the Cotillion Club. He became a Mason at the age of eighteen, and by 1925 he was a director of the Masonic Temple of Knoxville.
Although he never held public office, he was vitally interested in taxation and local government in Knoxville. In 1923 he took on the daunting task of writing the first City of Knoxville Manager Charter, a task to which he gave his undivided attention over many months with no expectation of payment. Along with Weston M. Fulton and Mitchell Long, Buck Toms interviewed Louis Brownlow before Brownlow was chosen to be the first professional city manager under the new charter. For his contributions to Knoxville he received the Citizen of the Year award in 1923. His many-faceted business career was spent in a variety of executive positions, but he is chiefly remembered for the breadth of his civic and philanthropic pursuits.
Buck Toms believed that in order to build a better world, he had to be a positive role model and play an active part in the education and development of young people. He pursued this goal through his lifelong membership in the YMCA, which he joined in October of 1896 and of which he was served a director for over fifteen years and its president from 1911-1914. He was also a lifelong member, deacon, and Sunday School teacher at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church. He gave the City of Knoxville land in the Lonsdale Community for a children’s playground; the Buck Toms Park is located at 2110 Richmond Hill Road.
But for Buck Toms, the scouting movement was to be his favored means of fostering positive development of boys and young men. Buck Toms was a pioneer and lifelong leader in the development of the Boy Scouts of America. He is known as the ”Father of Scouting” of the Great Smoky Mountain Council because he organized the first Boy Scout troop in East Tennessee, Troop #1 or the “Pioneer Troop.” Toms formed this troop in Knoxville in 1909, one year before scouting was officially chartered by the United States Congress. Toms accomplished this by communicating with Sir Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scouting movement in England. The Pioneer Troop contained eight youths, including Hobert Cooper, James Cottrell, and Belmont Earl. Belmont Earl served with distinction in the United States Army and was killed in action in World War I. Buck Toms also served as scoutmaster for several other troops including Troop #2 and #4 Knoxville, which met at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church. After he moved to Clinton in 1925, he established Troop #52 in that community.
The First World Boy Scout Jamboree, which was held in Europe in the summer of 1920, attracted Scouts from 37 countries. As one of four commissioners of the B.S.A in charge of the expedition, Buck Toms along with 54 other scout leaders and 301 Scouts from the United States sailed across the Atlantic Ocean. They visited Richmond, England; Paris, France; and Brussels, Belgium.
In addition to his leadership, Buck Toms gave generous financial support to scouting programs. Many dinners and special programs could never have been held if he had not underwritten the cost. He and his sister gave their family home at 600 East Fifth Avenue, which the Boy Scouts used for many years as their headquarters.
For his support of scouting, Buck Toms became was one of a select few to receive a Silver Beaver Award, the highest honor a local council can bestow on an adult leader. The Great Smoky Mountain Council further showed appreciation of his service to the council by naming their 750-acre camp on Watts Bar Lake “Camp Buck Toms.” With more than 50 years of service during his lifetime, Buck Toms provided a foundation and left a legacy for others to follow in serving youth through a program of character building, citizenship training, and physical and mental fitness that we know today as the Boy Scouts of America. Buck Toms also enjoyed working with historical groups in the local Knoxville area as they restored and maintained important Tennessee landmarks. Through the years he acquired many beautiful pieces of furniture of museum quality and is said to have had the first silver collection in the Southeast. He donated many of these items to Ramsey House, Bleak House, and the Blount Mansion.
In his senior years, Buck Toms desired to create a private foundation that could benefit others while preserving his extensive antique collection for future generations. In 1952 He established The Toms Foundation whereby Toms would place his entire estate in trust for charitable, educational, and historical purposes. During his life, Buck Toms funded the Foundation with his own private funds and then provided by testamentary instrument that the rest of his estate, including all his antiques, would be placed within the Foundation. When Buck Toms died on January 30, 1965, at the age of eighty, he left a rich legacy of good deeds in the civic and cultural life on Knoxville.
His valuable collection of English seventeenth- and eighteenth-century silver and his antique furniture were first put on public display in the Craighead-Jackson House. Then in 1974, The Toms Foundation purchased the historic property known as Crescent Bend upon which is situated the Armstrong-Lockett House. Crescent Bend was the ancestral home built by Drury Paine Armstrong in 1834. It was continuously occupied until The Toms Foundation purchased the home to restore it and convert it into a house museum for the Toms antique collection. The Armstrong-Lockett House is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is located within the Historic Kingston Pike District in Knoxville and is the oldest structure still in existence on Kingston Pike. It has been open to the public for viewing since July 4, 1976.
P.S. Why did they call him “Buck”…from an article that appeared in the January 31,1965 Knoxville News Sentinel, “Friends said they don’t know how it really originated, but that they jokingly tell him he got it because he was like the old Scotchman who bucked when one tried to push him. Hence the name Buck”.