ROGERSVILLE — The owners of Rogersville’s historic Thomas Amis settlement raised a little money and a lot of awareness this past weekend toward saving an endangered 235-year-old stone dam on the property.
Dressed in colonial attire, property owners Jake and Wendy Jacobs led visitors on hour-long tours of their home throughout the day Saturday and Sunday. The home was built by Capt. Thomas Amis about 2 miles south of what would later become Rogersville shortly after he arrived in 1780.
Amis brought with him his wife, 11 children and about 30 slaves, and the first things they built were the dam, the mill and the house — all of which were made of stone.
Wendy Jacobs is a direct descendent of Thomas Amis, whose son-in-law Joseph Rogers founded Rogersville.
Visitors this weekend were entertained with stories about the interesting people who visited Amis House, which for a time was at the end of the Old Stage Road and the last chance to buy supplies for settlers heading west.
Famous explorers, scientists, clergymen, politicians and even president Andrew Jackson stayed at Amis House.
The dam and the house are still standing, and the foundation and part of the mill wall can also still be seen near the dam.
The dam is the oldest stone dam still standing in Tennessee.
At a glance, it’s obvious that the dam is leaking and in need of major repairs, which engineers have estimated will cost between $200,000 and $250,000.
The $2,000 raised this past weekend may seem like a drop in the bucket toward that final cost, but Jake told the Times-News Monday that a dollar value can’t be placed on spreading awareness.
“We are overwhelmed by the response this past weekend despite the weather,” Jake said. “This was far and above the best Colonial Christmas we’ve ever had, not just from the attendance standpoint, but from quality of attendance. These were the most engaged tourists I’ve ever seen. They asked questions, and they were sincerely interested in the history.”
He added, “We didn’t make a lot of money this weekend when you think about how much the dam restoration is going to cost, but I think we demonstrated that there is a lot of interest in preserving this piece of history.”
The Jacobs have been pursuing grants to acquire funding for the dam project, but its an uphill battle because the dam is privately owned.
Jake said there are people in Washington, D.C., who have taken an interest in the project, but he can’t really discuss details about that at this time. Nothing is definite.
In the meantime, Jake and Wendy continue raising funds.
“That is my top priority for the next year, to get all the pieces in place for the dam restoration,” Jake said. “I had a conversation this weekend with two different people involved in engineering and construction, specifically about that dam. I’ve got some more names to talk to, so I am still working on making sure I have the politics lined up, the engineering, the right construction company — and I think the money is going to come around one way or another.”
The drought this past fall would have been an ideal time to fix the dam, which must be drained and dredged.
A small concrete support dam may have to be built to reinforce the original structure, and then they will probably use a sealing material used in swimming pool construction to stop the leaks.
But the draining and dredging will be the most expensive part.
“If I have to do it initially, I’ll borrow money, and I’m willing to do it for that specific project if I can’t raise the funds or get the grant quick enough,” Jacobs said. “But I’m very optimistic. I’ve received some information and gotten some support lately that has been very reassuring.”