Tennessee Mountain Stories

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.