State Historic Sites Update

The Tennessee Historical Commission State Historic Sites Program helps ensure the stewardship of some of Tennessee’s most significant places. This model program thrives today thanks to longstanding partnerships with independent nonprofit organizations that raise funds and operate these special sites as historic resources for the state’s citizenry and visiting public. 

March 3rd tornados in Middle Tennessee did not damage any THC structures, but three storms downed approximately thirty trees at five sites this spring. Thanks to preventive measures that THC implemented in a Comprehensive Tree Safety Pruning and Maintenance Program over two years ago, no operable buildings were damaged by trees. Two separate wind events damaged five structures at the Burra Burra Mine State Historic Site. A May 3rd wind event at the Cragfont State Historic Site damaged non-historic windows and destroyed trees at the THC office. Two that stood for over a century at Clover Bottom Mansion toppled, damaging the limestone and iron fence surrounding the Hoggatt Cemetery. Working closely with the Tennessee Department of Archaeology, repair work was conducted with minimal disturbance to gravesites.   

On a positive note, Spring of 2020 has brought exciting changes to Castalian Springs in Sumner County, where, through strong encouragement by THC, a new umbrella organization called Historic Castalian Springs will oversee all four area THC properties: Cragfont, Wynnewood, Hawthorn Hill and the Castalian Springs Mounds. These sites have long been administered by two separate groups. Professionally-trained staff has been hired to manage the properties and to develop new interpretive strategies that will bring increased visitation to these properties. 

Site updates

The Alex Haley House and Museum State Historic Site, Henning, the first African American historic site owned by the state, was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. Author Alex Haley is buried on the grounds of the bungalow built in 1919 by his maternal grandfather. On this porch, Alex listened to the stories about his ancestors that led to his renowned classic, Roots. In 2010, THC dedicated the state-funded Alex Haley Museum and Interpretive Center, an award-winning museum facility designed by architect Louis Pounders. A $500,000 rehabilitation project on the historic house will wrap up this summer. Capital improvements include replacing 5 HVAC systems, security system repairs, and correcting a standing water problem at the house entrance. Alex Haley’s tomb is receiving additional site maintenance.

From 1899 to 1975, the Burra Burra Mine State Historic Site, Ducktown, was headquarters for the Tennessee Copper Company’s mining operations. Owned by THC since 1988, it is one of the South’s few mining heritage museums. Ten original mine buildings remain on the 17-acre property, National Register listed in 1983. A $1.5 million dollar rehabilitation project, including visitor center exhibit space revision and comprehensive security system installation, wrapped up early this year. Working with the State of Tennessee Real Estate Asset Management Division (STREAM), through architectural consultant Jim Thompson, a master plan for 2020-21 capital projects was completed—which now includes $100,000 in roof replacement and exterior repairs on five structures, due to wind damage this spring.  

The Carter House State Historic Site, Franklin, was saved from demolition by the State of Tennessee and THC in 1953 and is now managed by the Battle of Franklin Trust. Built in 1830, it is one of 29 National Historic Landmark sites in the state. In a 1980s land swap, THC acquired an adjacent property for interpretation of the bullet-ridden structures that bear witness to the 1864 Battle of Franklin. Plans to construct a $3.5 million dollar visitor center there were put on hold until additional funding could be allocated. In the meantime, exhibit planning for the pending visitor center was completed and decorative repairs were made on the Carter House. 

The Chester Inn State Historic Site, Jonesborough, preserves one of Tennessee’s finest frontier era wood frame inns. Constructed on a prominent stage road in 1797, three U.S. presidents have been guests of this establishment. Restoration began in the 1990s, after THC acquisition. It is operated by the Heritage Alliance of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. Last summer, Spanish Cedar window frames, glazed with restoration glass and affixed with period-appropriate hardware were installed. Warranty inspection for this window rehabilitation project was completed in May. Repairs to the Inn’s gutters and drainage were completed in January, with plans for a capital project to complete outstanding issues with the site in 2020-21.  

THC offices moved from downtown Nashville to the restored Clover Bottom Mansion in 1994. Since then, the agency’s historic sites program has taken on the role of property steward, overseeing repairs and improvements to the mansion and historic outbuildings. Last year, grounds were cleared for interpretation of the barn field, Hoggatt Cemetery, and Overseer’s House, with repairs to a former slave cabin porch and mansion porches completed in the fall. 

Construction of the house now known as the Cragfont State Historic Site, in Castalian Springs, began in 1798 and ended in 1802. Named Cragfont because it stood on a rocky bluff with a spring at its base, the house typifies architecture of the late Georgian period. This year, THC took care of plumbing repairs, completing the innovative rehabilitation of a tobacco barn on the grounds (see photos) and correcting the site’s sinkhole problem, a $400,000 capital project. Historic paint analysis of the main house, as well as window repairs are in the planning stages.   

The Hotel Halbrook Railroad & Local History Museum State Historic Site, Dickson, is home of the Clement Railroad Hotel Museum. The 1913 building is one of the few remaining examples of a railroad hotel in a small Tennessee town. Functioning as a working man’s hotel until 1954, it opened to the public as a historic site in 2009. It recently became the town’s visitor center as well.  This spring a $330,000 window rehabilitation project wrapped up at the site. 

Hawthorn Hill State Historic Site, Castalian Springs, this rare brick hall-and-parlor floor plan I-house is the birthplace of Tennessee Governor and Confederate general William B, Bate, as well as the former residence of Grand Ole Opry pioneer, Dr. Humphrey Bate. THC acquired the c. 1806 structure in 2007. Much of the interior stenciling survived intact and wall finishes have been conserved or restored following paint analysis, as part of a three-year restoration project. 

In 1941, the state purchased the plantation home that John Sevier named Marble Springs. The John Sevier Memorial Association operates Marble Springs State Historic Site, near Knoxville. This year, THC led rehabilitation work totaling $420,000 at Marble Springs, including road and parking lot improvements as well as building and main entrance gate repairs. 

In 1969, the State of Tennessee purchased Rock Castle, a blend of Federal and Georgian architectural styles that was the home of pioneer surveyor Daniel Smith. Construction began in 1784 on this National Register listed site. The 18-acre Rock Castle State Historic Site in Hendersonville is administered by the Friends of Rock Castle. This year, site construction needs were identified in a master plan conducted with STREAM, through architectural consultant, Jim Thompson. 

In 1941, the Daughters of the American Revolution obtained funding from the State of Tennessee to purchase and restore the Rock House as a public museum and local chapter meeting place. The small stone structure was built between 1835 and 1839 to collect tolls on a private road near Sparta. Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, Sam Houston, Frank Clement, among other notable visitors, stopped at the Rock House. In 1973, the structure now known as the Rock House State Historic Site was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Development of a scope of work plan through STREAM is in process for this site. 

 In 1962, the State of Tennessee purchased Rocky Mount, a log house that was built on the location of the capitol of the old Southwest Territory. Through dendrochronology studies, the construction date of the present home in Piney Flats was found to be the late 1820s. Complete with kitchen, barn, and weaving cabin outbuildings, it operates as the Rocky Mount State Historic Site, managed by the Rocky Mount Historical Association. Last summer at Rocky Mount, 7,000 artifacts were treated in a mold remediation project that also required replacing the site’s auditorium floor and six HVAC units. This THC-funded work was conducted in agreement with legal and insurance advisors, TN State Library and Archives, and a consulting engineer through the state’s environmental compliance office. After certifying the building radon free, the site was reopened to the public in the fall. A $175,000 HVAC system reconfiguration project, developed at STREAM, is underway this summer.  

Sabine Hill State Historic Site, Elizabethton, is a circa 1818 Federal-style I-house that was threatened with demolition and purchased by THC in 2007. Restored as a THC capital project, it opened to the public in 2017. It is administered as a unit of Sycamore Shoals State Park. THC staff recently oversaw the completion of the kitchen’s historic paint finish conservation project.

Sam Davis Memorial, Pulaski, is the smallest THC site. A small structure preserves the site where Confederate Sam Davis was hanged. This summer, repairs to the engaged gutter system are underway and interior leaks related to this problem will be repaired. 

The Sam Houston Schoolhouse State Historic Site in Maryville was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. In 1945, the State of Tennessee purchased the schoolhouse and adjacent property where Sam Houston taught before the War of 1812. Operated by the Sam Houston Memorial Association, it exemplifies late 18th and early 19th century field schools. 

The Tipton-Haynes State Historic Site, Johnson City, is operated for THC by the Tipton-Haynes Historical Association, Inc. Construction on a $750,000 rehabilitation project will commence this summer, with planning for future work currently in development through STREAM. 

As the Wynnewood State Historic Site, the 1828 inn and mineral springs resort complex in Castalian Springs, long managed by Bledsoe’s Lick Historical Association, is transitioning to Historic Castalian Springs management. In 1970, the State of Tennessee purchased the largest extant log structure in the state, Wynnewood, from the last descendant living in the ancestral home. The following year, it was designated a National Historic Landmark, one of 29 in the state. Severely damaged by tornado in 2008, the house was restored by THC and reopened to the public in 2012. Last summer, Spencer cabin repairs were completed, cedar trees planted post-tornado treated for bagworms, and plans made for repairing a dry stone wall by the barn. 

Advisory services

The THC Historic Sites Program also serves in an advisory capacity to other historic sites. This year, the John Sevier Office Building on the Capitol Mall; Port Royal State Park Masonic Lodge; Stonecipher Kelly House in Wartburg; Fite-Fessenden House in Lebanon; Collins Farm with the DAR in Franklin; Hayes House and the Custom House in Clarksville; Mel Malone House in Murfreesboro; Paris Henry Co Heritage Center in Paris; Comer Barn in Sumner County; and Rock Island State Park Mill; as well as the National Park Service are among the places and entities that have benefitted from this resource. 

The Tobacco Barn Rehabilitation Project

The 19th century tobacco barn at Cragfont State Historic Site has been partially reroofed with panels that allow filtered light and provide a unique setting for 21st century special events.  The rehabilitation project used native red oak for structural and siding infill and restored the barn’s original stone footings.  Other work included infilling three sink holes and removing two collapsed non-historic barns on the site.  A seismic engineering study was completed to identify possible future sinkhole locations. This THC capital project was completed through the State of Tennessee Real Estate Asset Management Division.  The architectural firm was Moody Nolan Architects and general contractor was Joe Staub Building Group, Inc.