The Hawkins County Commission’s Buildings Committee met jointly Tuesday with members of the Rogersville Board of Mayor and Aldermen to discuss potential uses for the building, as well as how to proceed with much needed repairs and restoration.
The city and the county serve as joint trustees of the historic house, which is technically part of the H.B. Stamps Library. The city and the county also share equally in the cost to maintain the building.
A ground level wall and foundation-stabilization project has already been completed at an overall cost of $12,657. The committee voted 4-2 Tuesday to commence a stabilization project for the second story exterior walls that is expected to cost about the same. Commissioner Hubert Neal and Committee Chairman Darrell Gilliam voted no.
The committee also agreed to pursue a free assessment of the building to determine eligibility for grants from the Tennessee Historical Commission.
Rogersville Building Inspector Steve Nelson told the committee that water is seeping into the outer wall bricks, and if the roof isn’t replaced soon there’s a potential for massive damage to occur when that water freezes.
There is some insurance money available from last year’s hail storms, but whether that will cover the cost of a new roof isn’t known. Joseph Construction President Gary Eastman, who attended Tuesday’s meeting for a different issue, volunteered to do an assessment of the insurance adjustment for the Kenner House and its carriage house to determine if there’s enough to replace the roof.
The committee voted 5-0 with one abstention in favor of moving forward with the engineer specs for the roof, bid advertisement and Eastman’s insurance adjustment assessment.
Only Gilliam abstained. He said he would not vote in favor of spending money on the Kenner House until a use for the facility has been determined.
City and county officials offered suggestions during Tuesday’s meeting, as did members of the audience including Library Board member Dick Burdette.
Burdette suggested using the building to house the Chamber of Commerce, a visitor center and tourism bureau.
“We have a tremendous heritage here in Hawkins County, and we have people coming from all over the country to visit the Hawkins County Archives and the genealogy center in the library,” Burdette said. “They come in, they stay for a while, they leave their money, and they go home. Preserving something like this, especially as close as it is to the genealogy center, would be terrific.”
Commissioner Bob Palmer suggested turning the Kenner House, which has a full kitchen, into a community center for meeting space, receptions and parties.
Nelson said he believes that after the roof is replaced and the stabilization project is completed, all that would be left to address is “cosmetic issues.”
The big question mark is the cost, which would be split evenly between the city and the county.
Rogersville Mayor Jim Sells and County Mayor Melville Bailey each joked that they would be willing to sign their half of the building over to each other to avoid the impending renovation costs.
“It’s time to do something,” Sells said. “We’ve set here for years, and it’s about to fall to the ground. We need to work together as a group and figure out what we’re going to do with it.”
The Kenner House, also known as the Clay-Kenner House, 403 E. Main, was built in 1835 by local attorney John A. McKinney, an early settler, lawyer and judge who also built the Hale Springs Inn in 1824.