House may get $1.1 million for renovations

John Thompson • Feb 4, 2012 at 12:04 AM

ELIZABETHTON — Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year had good news for state parks in Carter County.

The budget includes a $1.26-million recommended appropriation for upgrades at Roan Mountain State Park and $1.1 million for renovations to the Sabine Hill House that was acquired for Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area a few years ago.

Chad Bogart, a seasonal interpretive ranger with Sycamore Shoals, said the news was especially welcome, since it is coming at the bicentennial of the War of 1812. The house was built around 1818 by Mary Patton Taylor, the widow of Brig. Gen. Nathaniel Taylor, who defended Mobile, Ala., in 1814. It was not known at the time whether the British force in the Gulf of Mexico was going to attack New Orleans or Mobile. Mrs. Taylor may have used the general’s payments for his war service to finance the house’s construction.

In addition to his war service, Taylor also served as the first sheriff of Carter County. The Taylors were the great-grandparents of Bob and Alf Taylor, who became famous during their War of the Roses campaign for governor. Both Bob and Alf became governors of Tennessee and another great-grandson, Nathaniel Harris, became governor of Georgia and is considered the father of Georgia Tech.

“This is really great news if the General Assembly passes it,” Bogart said of the budget.

Although the state owns the wood-frame house that stands on a high hill at the western approach to Elizabethton, the old structure is not in condition to be shown to the public until it can be restored.

While $1.1 million sounds like a lot of money, Bogart said restoring an old building can be expensive because of the additional skills and requirements that are unnecessary in restoring a home built in the late 20th century.

“There will be a required archeological assessment,” Bogart said. “The interior walls were done with the lath and plaster process. How many plasterers are around today?”

Any part of the house that needs to be replaced has to be built by hand. Modern hardware stores don’t stock parts for early 19th-century houses.

Bogart said the funds will be used for interior and exterior work and landscaping.

Some pieces, such as the original mantles for the fireplaces, have been recovered and stored until the house has been restored.

The news of the governor’s plans comes as one more affirmation to local efforts to preserve the house, which was almost destroyed by a developer’s plans to build a residential area on the site.

Those plans led concerned citizens to seek ways of saving the house. Those goals were accomplished when two citizens, Helen Wilson and Sam LaPorte, bought the house and land from the developer in the hope that the state would one day be able to purchase Sabine Hill. Their gamble paid off in 2007 when the state bought the property from Wilson and LaPorte at their cost.

The appropriation for Roan Mountain State Park would be used for campground upgrades, including renovations to buildings, new campsite equipment and upgraded electrical service.

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