ROGERSVILLE — Workers got quite a bit done in one day as Phase One of the restoration of the historic Powel Law Office began Wednesday and then was interrupted by rain on Thursday.
An archaeologist is required to be present when excavating takes place on the job because the 1800s-era log building is directly adjacent to a historic cemetery on Washington Street in downtown Rogersville.
Rogersville Building Inspector Steven Nelson told the Times News on Friday that the contracted archaeologist isn’t available to be in town until next Wednesday, which is when work is expected to resume.
Nelson, who oversees historic preservation in Rogersville, met the Times News at the Powel Law Office Friday to explain what work has already taken place and what will happen next when Phase One continues.
The first objective was to shore up the log walls, which was accomplished by attaching weather-treated 2-by-6 boards with large metal screws.
“Now it’s really locked together,” Nelson said.
The wall stabilization was needed so that crews could begin working underneath the building.
“We went down into the basement and there was quite a few broken floor joists that were logs,” Nelson added. “We’re going to be putting three beams in, but we went ahead and already got some of those up, which took a lot of sag out of the floor. When they do come back, they’ll be putting the beams underneath and more posts holding the beams up to stabilize the floor, because the floor is not really locked into the logs.”
Later workers will remove all the loose foundation stones all the way around the building, except for the four corners, which is what is actually still holding the walls up.
A person who specializes in historic masonry will then put the foundation stones back in place.
“We’re going to be putting in as much of the original limestone as we can, and we’ve got some more limestone coming so it will look just like it did in 1804, or whatever year it was built,” Nelson said.
Nelson added, “A lot of the rocks have come loose, slid out, and the mortar is gone between them. We do have a fellow working on this project who specializes in this, and he’ll be putting those stones back exactly the way they would have done it in the 1800s. The same mortar. The whole nine yards.”
Last month the Rogersville Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved a low bid of $49,666 from RJR Management Inc. to restore the Powel Law Office’s foundation and stabilize the walls.
The city received a Tennessee Historic Commission grant for the project, which requires a 40% local match. That puts Rogersville’s portion of the cost at approximately $23,500.
The Powel Law office was built by congressman, judge and Rogersville attorney Samuel Powel (1776-1841) who was one of Rogersville’s most important early residents.
In 2019. Tennessee State Historian Dr. Carroll Van West from Middle Tennessee State University completed a study on the Powel Law Office, stating that the building is historically important because it represents a family that significantly impacted Hawkins County and Tennessee history.
Van West said the structure has many important stories to tell, and he described it as a rarity.
Although there are no surviving records, West estimates the date of construction at 1806 based on the year Powel began his law practice in town.
Powel, as well as many of his family members, is buried in the adjacent Presbyterian cemetery, about 100 feet from the building. There are links to previous articles with greater detail about the history surrounding Powel and his family in the online version of this article at www.timesnews.net.
City leaders were hoping to get a new 1800s style roof installed with the Phase One grant funding, but the increase in building material costs caused by the pandemic made that impossible.
As a result, Phase Two will likely include the new roof, replacement and repair of logs that can’t be salvaged, and replacement of the chinking with a substance identical to what would have been used when the building was constructed.
Later phases will involve completely gutting the interior and rebuilding it in the original 1800s style, including the removal of electrical and plumbing hardware.
Although the first phase should be completed within the next few weeks, future phases will depend on the availability of grant funding.
Once completed, the building will be used for tourism, although specific uses haven’t been decided.