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Original logs now exposed to help study of 1790s Rogersville building

Jeff Bobo • Jul 25, 2019 at 1:18 PM

ROGERSVILLE — The Tennessee state historian is helping Rogersville acquire information about a downtown building that dates back to the 1700s in hopes of attracting grant funding to pay for restorations.

Dr. Carroll Van West is currently overseeing the study on the Powell Law Office, which is believed to have been built around 1795 on Washington Street near the Depot Street intersection.

The building, which is now owned by the city, was the law office of U.S. Congressman and Rogersville attorney Samuel Powell (1776-1841), and was most recently used as a locksmith shop, but it has been vacant and neglected for decades.

Original log exterior now exposed

Rogersville Building Inspector Steve Nelson, who is also an adamant supporter of historic preservation, told the Times News Wednesday that West visited earlier this year and recommended removal of the siding to expose the original log exterior.

After the siding was removed last month, West returned to Rogersville to take a closer look at the building.

“Dr. Van West has been back, looked at it, and took photographs,” Nelson said. “They are not only looking at the history. They are conducting an architectural and archaeological study to see what the original configuration might have been — trying to figure exact age, condition, and help us with the design when we attempt to return the property to its original appearance.”

The back was originally the front

Once West has completed his study, that information will be used to apply for grant funding to help pay for the restoration project.

Nelson added, “He said I may get something back on that before the end of September, but he didn’t make any promises. I have my suspicions of how the original configuration was, but I’d like to be told by someone officially that’s what it is.”

There was probably a door in the middle, front and back, Nelson said, and the stairs to the second floor probably weren’t in their current location.

“There’s what appears to be an original window right where the stairs are, and they wouldn’t have built it that way originally,” Nelson said. “It may have just been a ladder originally. And the front of the building probably faced the creek, because back in the 1700s that’s where the main road was. Main Street didn’t exist. The road was by the creek.”

The restoration will be extensive

The exterior logs on three sides are in pretty good shape, but the logs on the back side appear to be rotting.

There was an addition on the back side, but the seal between the two buildings wasn’t good, so those old logs in the back were damaged by moisture over a long period of time. Some of those logs will have to be replaced.

By the time the it’s restored inside and out, Nelson estimates the Powell Law Office project will be well into six figures. 

“Everybody I’ve talked with so far believes it definitely can be restored, and our plan is to take it back to the way it was originally,” Nelson said. “We’re going to have to find some grants. There’s no way the city is going to be able to afford the entire amount of that restoration. We need to find some grants out there, and we’ve started that search.”

What about when it’s restored?

“I don’t think we actually want to use it for a specific purpose,” Nelson said. “I think we just want to use it as a tourist draw. My idea, and so far the mayor and some aldermen are in agreement, is to get the outside totally done and looking the way it was in the 1700s. The next phase would be to fix the interior to its original appearance, which means no electricity, no plumbing — nothing. Just the way it was. When that’s completed, it would be available for tours.”

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