Henry Home in The Sequatchie Valley

 

In 1947 my great-aunt Evelyn Key left her home on the mountain to live with her new husband, Hollis Henry, on his family’s farm in The Sequatchie Valley.  The Henry’s had already lived on their one hundred acre farm for nearly half a century.  Now, the house is over a hundred years old and is still welcoming friends and family. 

I really sat down to write about a treasure that I’ve received from this house, but no sooner started until I realized that in our series on historic houses this would be a great one to visit.  It is so typical of homes I’ve seen from the early twentieth century - and really for about fifty years on either side of this one.  The original part of the house consisted of two first floor rooms with a central fireplace and a kitchen in the rear.  At some point, a small bathroom was added and  there was even a smoke house that was eventually attached to the kitchen – presumably it was no longer used for smoking meat after it was attached.

As a little girl, I thought they lived in a big, fine home.  Surrounded by the mountains, I remember sitting on their shady front porch in awe of the rock walls and rolling green fields.  But looking at it now, I realize that the original house was really pretty small, especially by today’s standards.  The front room would quickly fill with a sizable family and with the only fireplace it would surely have been the gathering spot.  There was one bedroom on the first floor and a narrow staircase leading to the second story.  The two upstairs bedrooms would have had to accommodate all children and any guests that happened along.  However, there is a wide, screened upper porch that certainly made the upstairs feel a little more spacious.

Aunt Evelyn passed away a couple of years ago and her family has graciously handed-down to me a china cabinet that belonged to my great-grandmother (and Evelyn’s mother).   Now, I tend to be the keeper of the family-junk.  I’d love to say I collect heirlooms, but the reality of a family of subsistent, Appalachian farmers is not million-dollar Chippendale furniture and priceless works of art.  The things we’ve passed along were handmade furniture, chipped family portraits and single pieces of glassware.  And every one of those things is a priceless treasure to me because each is a part of my family.  A piece like this cabinet inspires me as I imagine my great-grandmother going to it for dishes to serve her family a home-cooked meal.  They were not a family that would have ever owned fine china so the cabinet undoubtedly held dishes the family used regularly.  One of the great-aunts remembered her mother having a pretty lamp, one of the only really pretty things she owned and when a distant relative admired it she sent it home with him.  I know that any pretty dishes were really rare in those impoverished homes and would have been treasures even then so they hold a great deal of value to me.  I don’t suppose you’ll ever see me on The Antiques Roadshow exclaiming, “Great day in the morning, did you say it’s worth a million dollars?”  Still, you can rest assured, this piece of furniture certainly is worth its weight in gold.

The cabinet is such a treasure that I just had to share it with all of you, but there were a couple of things that really moved me in this gift.  Obviously, it is wonderful to have a piece of furniture that at least four generations of family have enjoyed.  I was also inspired that even though none of my Henry-cousins were interested or able to use this cabinet in their home, they realized the value it might hold to other members of the family and instead of putting it in a yard sale or simply dumping it they made the effort to pass it along.    I can’t help but add a social commentary here because it seems like so much of our world is really self-absorbed and doesn’t think beyond what value an item might have to them personally.  Surely the character of this family reflects the values and teaching of Hollis and Evelyn. 

And that brings me right back to the house.  For the last century, it has been the social center of a family.  Hollis’ sister lives just down the road and his nephews remember regularly walking a well-worn path to the old family home.  One of Hollis’ own children raised his family next door and now one of the grandsons hopes to renovate the house and enjoy it for at least another generation.  It’s exciting to hope that these walls that already hold so many memories will continue to absorb many more.

The Imperial Hotel

Today’s historic house is a public house so it’s a little different than the others we’ve explored in this series.  The Imperial Hotel was built by General John T. Wilder in Monterey in 1909.

During the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Monterey, Tennessee enjoyed a thriving resort business.  After the railroad came through town in 1890, people began to ride the rails to this mountain top town where they enjoyed mineral spring waters, world-class dining and beautiful gardens manicured just for the tourists.  I would be very interested to learn what originally prompted these tourists but it’s not hard to imagine the rustic beauty of the mountain as well as the cooler temperatures those dwelling in the valley towns would have enjoyed. 

In those days, it wasn’t easy to get to Monterey, especially from the East.  There was no direct East-to-West train service.  Before The Civil War, the trip from Knoxville to Nashville went via Chattanooga.  Then, during the late 1800’s the Tennessee Central Railroad aspired to connect the two major Tennessee cities directly.  Unfortunately, myriad problems conspired to prevent the direct connection.  So, East Tennesseans desiring to relax in Monterey’s luxurious accommodations would have to ride to Harriman and change trains for the final leg to Monterey.  Interestingly, even people headed on to Nashville or other points west would have to make the same connection. 

The transportation difficulties seem to have had little effect on the tourists who came to Monterey in sufficient numbers to support four hotels in addition to The Imperial.  I say “in addition” because The Imperial never intended to compete with the other hotels in their resort business.  This beautiful brick hotel was strictly a railroad hotel.  She was intended to accommodate the train passenger staying over in Monterey, or the business man coming to town on the train.     

The Imperial had thirty rooms in three floors; there was running water and indoor plumbing which were nearly unknown among the mountain people living around Monterey in that day.  There was a dining room that was well-known for the food served.  According to this blog article by W. Calvin Dickinson & Charlene McClain , “One newspaper editor lauded it as o­ne of the best hotels between Nashville and Knoxville.” 

This was a heyday for the little town self-styled, “where hilltops kiss the sky”.  As automobiles became the more prevalent mode of transportation, tourists had many more choices where to spend their leisure days.  Monterey’s resort community began to decline.  Then in 1958 passenger train service was discontinued to the town.  Many of the resort hotels had already closed or converted to other uses for their rooms.  The Imperial closed shortly after the passenger service ended.

A chapter closed for The Imperial, but thankfully, the building still stands.  Left vacant for many years, it seems nearly miraculous that she is still there since all of those resort hotels have succumbed to the ravages of time or the spirit of progress.  Then, in 1997 a gentleman bought The Imperial with a vision to renovate and restore it and use it as a bed and breakfast as well as an event venue.  A whopping $700,000 was invested in the renovation.  Unfortunately, the building is again empty due to a difference in priorities of the city planners.  A metal-clad museum was constructed next door and the rear exit stairs of the hotel were removed.  That simple change threw the building out of fire code compliance and prevents its use by the public.      There is a  website here where you can register to show your support of the hotel if you would like to.  I have tried to reach the current owner in hopes of sharing some pictures of the renovation but have been unsuccessful.  If I am able to reach him, I will certainly post an update.

I am thrilled that at the very least this historic building has been preserved and may again be open for the public to enjoy. 

The Taylor Place

After a couple of weeks “off the mountain”, today we’re back in Clarkrange at one of our local historic homes. 

After a mention from one of my readers, I took steps to learn about The Billy Taylor home.  While I knew of the place, and certainly knew that it was quite old, I had no idea the wealth of history I would find there.  In fact, I can hardly touch it here so we will definitely re-visit The Taylor Place in the future.

While I knew this house had stood for many years down it’s lonesome lane, I now understand that this is probably the oldest house in Clarkrange and might actually be a strong contender for the title of first house on the plateau.  It seems that a federal surveyor was sent to what is now Clarkrange to prepare for land grants of the area.  This man built for himself a shelter in the form of a one-room log house with a low loft overhead.  When his surveying work was finished, he simply moved on to his next assignment and the log house was left behind. 

That log home would become the central part of the Taylor house.  I don’t have the exact date of the surveying work, and therefore don’t know the original construction of the house.  The dwelling began to grow as the resources and needs of its occupants grew.  The low loft would be raised into a full second story – the hand-hewn logs of that second story were revealed when cabling for modern appliances was installed.  Then, a room was added here, a porch first added then enclosed, until a home was created that would accommodate large families.  In fact, three generations of the Taylor family have enjoyed the house and today Ken Taylor is lovingly preserving and restoring it.

As a house stands decade after decade, she develops a character of her own, and a history known throughout the community.  We don’t know all of the families that sheltered here, but the community would remember one woman who they deemed a witch.  You see, there’s a cave very near the back of the house that has a natural fireplace.  This woman chose to do her cooking in the cave, no doubt taking advantage of the natural coolness and avoiding heating up the little log house with the wood stove during warm weather.  But that was unconventional and mountain folk are suspicious of the unconventional so they declared she must be a witch and she was cooking not supper down there, but potions!  Years later, Herschel Taylor would tear out the fireplace and chimney for his father allowing the staircase to be moved.  When the original stairs were torn out, a box was found beneath them containing a complete woman’s skeleton.  Who she was has never been discovered.  The skeleton was donated to Joe Lockhart who was in medical school at that time; he kept it in his medical practice and it would forever after be known as The Lockhart Bones.  Nothing gets wasted on a mountain farm, and that fireplace was recycled as the front porch steps.

Some of the changes to the house can’t really be dated.  The Fentress County History Book states that the Bradford family came to town in 1884 and built a house here.  However, this is the house they lived in.  So it would seem that at least a portion of their house was already standing when they bought the property and how much construction was done in the late nineteenth century is unclear.  Perhaps they were the family that enlarged the cabin to two full stories.  The historical marker for their daughter Kate says she was raised in a two-story log home so that would seem to indicate that not a lot of additional square footage was present during their lifetime.  Now, Kate Bradford puts this house in the history books for she would be the first female gubernatorial candidate in Tennessee.

At some point a porch was built around a cased-well.  A very innovative Billy Taylor enclosed that porch, allowing his wife to draw water without stepping out into the weather.  She was quite the envy of her neighbors for that convenience.  Billy’s innovation and forward-thinking can be seen in much of the house’s history.  An upstairs balcony, so common among houses in the deep south to accommodate outdoor living during the hot summers, is rare on the plateau yet one of Billy’s additions included such a balcony.  Mr. Taylor also built-in cabinets, something that was uncommon even in fine homes in the nineteenth century; there are deep bins that held flour and meal beneath ceiling-high shelves behind the paneled doors.  When TVA first ran power lines through the area, Billy helped with the surveying and negotiated a dynamo to be installed in his cellar.  I’m unclear how long the dynamo was used, although it was still in place when Ken grew up in the house.

It always seemed curious to me that such an old property would be located so far from the main road.  However, roads are always moving and sure enough there was a well-traveled road running right beside the house.  The rattling wagon wheels of that road gave Maggie Taylor a fright or two and led her to believe her house was haunted.  Billy calmly explained it was the wheels running over the rock outcroppings of the road.  Like the witch story, ghost stories tend to stick around and there are numerous such stories surrounding this old house.

The farm contained one hundred acres when Billy Taylor purchased it, and there is little indication that it was ever much larger than that.  The big barn so central to farm life stands adjacent to the house.  It too is constructed of hand-hewn beams and assembled with wooden pegs.  The signs of years housing working mules and then many pounds of drying tobacco are still evident yet it stands sound today.

Chief George Fields Log Home

 

At the junction of Bradley, Meigs and Hamilton counties sits tiny Georgetown, Tennessee.  Today it’s merely a speed zone along highway 60 but in the nineteenth century it was an important little town.  There, Cherokee Chief George built a two story log home from which he operated a trading post while he and his family lived upstairs. 

It is said that Chief George owned 1500 acres of land surrounding this large log home.  The house was built as a dogtrot cabin, which was a popular early American cabin style.  This type of building had two rooms joined by a porch and shared a common roof.  While two-story models are rare, this cabin was surely built with the intention of commercial use.  Therefore the lower story was probably intended from the beginning to be a trading post.  It would also house the post office for Georgetown.   At forty-six feet long, this was a very large cabin.

2 Story Dog  Trot style log house - The Chief George House would have looked very similar when first built. This is The John Looney House near Ashville, Alabama, a rare example of a full two-story dogtrot. It was built circa 1818, during the Alabama Territorial period. From Wikipedia

2 Story Dog  Trot style log house - The Chief George House would have looked very similar when first built.
This is The John Looney House near Ashville, Alabama, a rare example of a full two-story dogtrot. It was built circa 1818, during the Alabama Territorial period. From Wikipedia

While the construction date is unknown, we do have the major historical marker of the 1830 Cherokee Removal, also known as the Trail of Tears.  The house was obviously built before that.  There was a marker stone on the chimney with an 1842 date inscribed; this may have been a date for that stonework, or may simply have been antique graffiti. 

Many families called this home through the years, and their descendants can still be found in the area.  The home adapted with the times, closing in the dog-trot porch to make an entryway and enclosed staircase with a wide porch spanning the front; to the back of the house a large kitchen had been added.

When I saw the house it had experienced a fire in that back kitchen area which scorched but did not destroy the original log house.  There was beautiful trim still visible despite the fire’s scars.  Each end of the house had large stone chimneys that accommodated four fireplaces – one in each of the original rooms.   While one of the downstairs fireplaces had been fitted with a modern facade, the other still sported a much older, wooden mantel.  The large, white oak logs were hand hewn and joined in a unique semi-dovetail pattern.   Even with its roof missing, it was obvious this had been a grand house that had stood the test of time and sheltered many.

I keep thinking about the walls of these old homes telling their tales and it brings tears to my eyes as I think of the discussions Chief George’s home would have heard.  Can you even imagine how this must have been a gathering place for the native people living around Georgetown?  As the white settlers they had served and befriended began to turn on them demanding their land and refusing to even allow the people to live in peace, what must the traders here have been saying?  Did they question what went wrong in their relationships?  Do you think they contemplated rising up to physically defend the land they’d called home for generations? 

And then the Cherokees were just gone.  Driven away by soldiers, they left homes like this large log house.  Can you imagine moving into it?  Could you lie down near the warmth of those big fireplaces, could you take shelter from a rainstorm in the dog-trot porch and not remember the man who had hewn the logs and carefully stacked and chinked them.

Yet the house stood.  For another one hundred seventy-five years people would call it home.  Children ran up the stairs, families passed quiet evenings by the fire and bread was passed around the table.  The European descendants who took the property from the Cherokees would themselves see many hard times.  This house stood through The Great Depression, then the rationing years of World War II.  Those stories also might come from the walls – heartache as sons were sent to war, hunger and disease, the sorrows of life that always accompany the joys.

When fire broke out in the rear of the house, it would seem the end of a long story.  But so much of the house was still sound that the logs were recovered by Greg Filter who bought and disassembled it.  The Blythe Ferry, Cherokee Removal Park has discussed re-assembling it and I do hope that will work out.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to visit this historic house?

 

The Patterson House

In the last half of the nineteenth century, a family of millers by the name of Patterson came to Sale Creek, Tennessee.  They were welcomed by the resident Cherokees because of the valuable product they could offer in flour and cornmeal.  By 1880, their native friends were facing a forced removal but the Pattersons had found their home.  They built a simple yet roomy four bedroom farmhouse that has stood and sheltered five generations of that family. Twelve years ago the current Patterson family moved in after the death of a great aunt who was twice widowed with no children of her own.  Amazingly, in its 135 years this house has never really been empty and that is a testament to the family that kept finding someone willing to live in it and give it the care it needed to stand.

European homes are usually passed through a law they call primogeniture that gives entire estates (house and household items included) to the firstborn male child.  This is a pretty foreign concept to us in rural America. Today, too many times homes are sold completely out of the family.  Even if one child or grandchild is willing to take on the property, the household belongings are separated among family members.  It is a precious thing to have even a small reminder of a loved one, but by this method things are quickly scattered.  However, the Pattersons have followed more of the European tradition and today The Patterson House is filled with literally five generations of treasures.

There are mementos of the original milling trade – mill stones stored in the barn and antique scales and grain scoops which seem poised to tell of their years of service measuring meal and sending neighbors on their way, ready to make bread.  It makes me wonder how open the house was to the populace.  Certainly long-time residents in Sale Creek today appreciate this building as an integral part of the community.  Gayle Patterson, the current lady of the house, very graciously sees her home as belonging to more than just herself, her husband and their children.  A few hours spent in her flower beds often yields a neighbor stopping in to comment on the house or share a bit of history with her.  Surely this speaks to a family that has always been caring and neighborly. 

Just as I mentioned last week, changing times and tastes have changed this house.  Built as a working farm house, well before indoor plumbing was even considered much less thought to be an absolute necessity, there was neither living room nor upstairs bathroom.  So the last resident decided she’d prefer a more formal, Victorian-type home and made changes to adapt the farmhouse.  The drive was moved to direct visitors to a new entry into the former master bedroom which was converted into a parlor.  Making a simple switch, the original parlor became her bedroom.  But the question of where to put a living room remained.  Ah, the dining room would serve well but that necessitated the kitchen transforming into the dining room and a new kitchen would be built on the now-enclosed porch.  Whew, it rather makes your head spin, doesn’t it?  But I doubt all of these changes were happening simultaneously so maybe it wasn’t quite as chaotic as the mental picture the list conjures. 

Then there was that missing bathroom upstairs. You don’t have to look too closely at a lot of older homes to see that bathrooms were created from existing space or added as afterthoughts of original plans.  Often, there are big, roomy bathrooms in otherwise modest homes – these were usually bedrooms that were just converted entirely.  One reader last week recalled an English hotel room in which the addition of a private bathroom obliged guests to walk sideways around the bed.  Well The Patterson House wouldn’t squeeze the upstairs bathroom into a closet, nor would it waste an entire bedroom.  So a bedroom was split into the new upstairs bathroom and a new hallway – never mind the fireplace in that bedroom, it’s now in the hallway.  All of these changes necessitated the removal of two doors, but in proper farmer-fashion, Miss Katherine saved the doors in the barn because you never know when you might need them.

Some changes were extremely practical, such as the altered roofline hoping to eliminate the collection point for leaves which were damaging the roof.  However, the bay windows were built for function as well, drawing cool air into the pre-air-conditioned house.  Although the two features seem unrelated, Great Aunt Katherine reported the house never “drawed air” as well after the roof was changed. 

I’ve mentioned many times in these articles that they are driven by research for my fiction writing.  Usually I’m researching legends that I’ve heard all my life, or people that I’ve always known about.  This fascinating home and family are new to me but I am certain they will soon find a home in one of my books and I am eager to write it.