Future generations will appreciate Rogersville's four active historic restoration projects

Jeff Bobo • Apr 6, 2020 at 2:23 PM

Editor’s note: This article ran in the March 8 Kingsport Times News Progress Edition.

ROGERSVILLE — Although historic building restoration requires quite a bit of time, effort and expense, future generations will be grateful for the four major projects under way in Rogersville.

Those projects include the Rogersville Depot, built in 1890 at the corner of Depot and Broadway streets; St. Marks Presbyterian Church, built in 1912 at the corner of Kyle and Hasson streets; the Powel Law Office, built around 1795 on Washington Street near the Depot Street intersection; and the Rogers Tavern, built around 1795 on Rogers Street adjacent to the Crockett Creek Park, where city founder Joseph Rogers, as well as Davy Crockett’s grandparents are buried.

Last year, Tennessee State Historian Dr. Carroll Van West completed a study on both the Rogers Tavern and Powel Law Office which recommended restoration. Those studies are expected to be useful in acquiring grant funds for both restorations.

St. Marks benefited from state grant funding which helped pay for a restoration of the exterior, including replacement stained glass windows that had been broken in a storm. Although the property is owned by the Hawkins County Board of Education, the board has leased the church to a committee which is raising funds and seeking grant funding to complete a restoration of the interior.

In February the Hawkins County Commission gave final approval to deed the Rogersville Depot to the city of Rogersville, which will now begin seeking grant funding to replace exterior siding and guttering.

Two dormant projects

There are also two historic restorations in and around Rogersville which aren’t active: the Kenner House, which was built in 1835 and is located off Main Street on the campus shared by the H.B. Stamps Public Library and the Rogersville Senior Center, and the Amis Mill stone dam, which was built around 1780 and is the oldest stone dam in Tennessee.

In 2012-13, the Kenner House received roof and chimney repairs, as well as wall stabilization, but the interior is still in need of restoration.

Amis Mill owner Jake Jacobs has launched fundraising efforts to restore the dam, which he fears will eventually collapse if it isn't repaired.

Rogersville Depot

Of the four pending restorations, the Rogersville Depot, located at the corner of Depot Street and Broadway Street, will be the least extensive and the least expensive.

The Depot was donated to Hawkins County in 1986 by the Southern Railway Company, and in 1987 the county agreed to lease the depot to the Rogersville Heritage Association for 99 years.

Currently the Depot serves as the headquarters of the RHA, and is also the Tennessee Newspaper and Printing Museum.

Last year the county opted not to seek available grant funds to pay for needed repairs to the exterior, after which the city agreed to take ownership of the depot so it could take over the restoration.

Melissa Nelson, who spearheads Rogersville's historic preservation efforts, said faulty guttering on the back side of the depot caused some of the wood siding to get wet and rot.

“I need to replace some siding,” Nelson said. “I need to replace the guttering. It needs to be repainted.”

Nelson added, “The biggest thing is the guttering. The guttering is going to be an expensive job.”

Nelson estimates it will cost $70,000 to $80,000 to replace all the siding, replace the guttering and painting.

“What I'm probably going to do on my own is go up there and see if I can seal up the worst places that are leaking in the guttering — temporarily,” Nelson added. “If the water isn't splashing on it, at least the rot is going to stop and it's not going to get any worse before we get a grant and get it repaired.”

Nelson added, “That's what caused all this rot. Those boards are so rotted a lot of them are just gone. It's down to the studs in some places. If they had put gutters on it years ago we wouldn't have this issue.”

St. Marks Presbyterian Church

An independent restoration committee utilized a Rogersville grant to complete repairs last year to the exterior and replace broken stained glass at the 108-year-old church located at the corner of Kyle Street and Hasson Street.

That committee, which acquired a 99-year lease for the church from the Hawkins County Board of Education has already begun talking about ideas for restoring the church interior.

St. Mark’s was founded in 1875 as the first African American Presbyterian church in the region.

The current building was constructed in 1912 and is located at the corner of Hasson Street and Kyle Street on the campus of the former Swift College, which is now owned by the Hawkins County Board of Education.

The church dissolved in 2002 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.

A previous effort to transform St. Mark’s into a community center lost momentum in 2008 when the project’s champion, longtime teacher and school board member Ella Jo Bradley, passed away.

Bradley’s vision for the facility was to transform it into a community center for children to practice the arts.

In 2015, the church was identified as one of the top-10 endangered historic properties in Tennessee.

Powel Law Office

In January the Rogersville Board of Mayor and Aldermen agreed to apply for a grant from the Tennessee Historical Commission to begin the first of three phases of restoration for the circa 1790s structure.

The building is owned by the city and is located on Washington Street near the Depot Street intersection.

It was originally the law office of Congressman Samuel Powel (1776-1841), and was also the subject of an extensive study by Tennessee state historian Carroll Van West who endorsed the restoration.

West states that the building is historically significant because it represents a family that significantly impacted Hawkins County and Tennessee history.

“As the only surviving building directly associated with the significant Powel family, the Powel Law Office has many important stories to tell,” West said. “Certainly, a 200-plus-year-old log building that housed two generations of important attorneys and jurists is worthy of preservation. It is a rarity. But the stories associated with this building are so much deeper.”

Phase 1 involves repair of the foundation and replacement of the roof. Phase 2 will be repair of the log exterior, windows and doors; and Phase 3 will be the interior restoration.

Rogers Tavern

The Rogersville Heritage Association owns the Rogers Tavern which was built by Rogersville founder Joseph Rogers (1764-1833) in the 1790s on present day Rogers Street adjacent to Crockett Creek Park.

Currently the RHA is raising funds to restore the tavern to its original 1790s appearance in hopes that those funds would be used to match a future grant.

West conducted a study on Rogers Tavern, and endorsed a restoration there as well. That study, as well as the revelation last year that William Clark of Lewis and Clark fame spent the night there in 1809, is expected to be helpful in future grant applications.

Entries in a William Clark journal indicates that he spent the night at Rogers Tavern on Nov. 9, 1809, while traveling with his family from St. Louis to Washington, D.C., on federal government business, part of which related to the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

“This documented fact means that the Rogers Tavern is one of perhaps a half-dozen extant historic buildings in the nation that is directly tied to Clark and the expedition,” West said. “The Clark visit in 1809 adds a level of national significance to a building that has long had local and state historical significance.”

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