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.