Sabine Hill holds grand reopening on Wednesday

John Thompson • Updated Nov 1, 2017 at 8:34 PM

ELIZABETHTON — After five years of restoration work, Sabine Hill is now open for guided tours, just in time for the home's 200th birthday next year.

Descendants of Brig. Gen. Nathaniel and Mary Patton Taylor were first in line on Wednesday afternoon to tour the restored wood-framed federal-style home finished after the War of 1812.

Wednesday’s dedication ceremony held at the home’s site on a hill overlooking the western entrance into Elizabethton was attended by the Taylor Family and by state and local government representatives who worked together to save the home from being demolished in 2007 to make way for a 46-unit condominium complex back.

One of the speakers was Tennessee Historical Commission Director Patrick McIntyre, who announced that Sabine Hill is now the 17th state historic site. McIntyre also discussed how he asked the Elizabethton Regional Planning Commission to deny a rezoning request a decade ago that would have led to the residential development of the 5-acre historic site.

Another guest speaker was Brock Hill, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation deputy commissioner. Tennessee’s state parks are under TDEC and Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park will manage Sabine Hill in a manner similar to the way it manages the Carter Mansion.

Sycamore Shoals’ manger Jennifer Bauer welcomed the audience and described how the restoration is still going on. The next phase will be to furnish the home in the same historically accurate manner as the house was renovated.

Sen. Rusty Crowe read a proclamation of the Tennessee Senate stating, "We join in celebrating the opening of Sabine Hill to the public, commending the foresight and dedication of all those involved with the preservation of this historic Tennessee treasure."

Part of the treasure is that one of the state's most famous and colorful families traces its roots through the house.

The Taylor Family migrated to the Watauga settlements around 1775. Nathaniel Taylor married Mary "Polly" Patton in 1791. Nathaniel became prominent in the community and became the first sheriff when Carter County was created in 1796.

Nathaniel was not only successful in local business and government, he was also successful in the state military, rising to the rank of brigadier general in 1804. He held that rank when the nation entered the War of 1813.

While Tennessee's more well known military leader, Andrew Jackson, would direct the defense of New Orleans, Nathaniel was not too far away, helping defend Mobile, Ala.

Nathaniel returned home after the war, but did not long survive, dying in 1816, leaving Mary to complete the construction of Sabine Hill.

While their descendants would continue to distinguish themselves, they did so from other homes in Happy Valley or Carter County. Their great grandsons, Bob and Alf Taylor, would oppose each other in the 1886 gubernatorial election and both would eventually be Tennessee governors. Another great-grandson became governor of Georgia, was called the father of Georgia Tech and built a mansion in Hampton.

Other descendants included Nathaniel Green Taylor, who became U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs; Robert Love Taylor, who became U.S. District judge of the Eastern District of Tennessee; and Ann Taylor, a newscaster with National Public Radio.

While the Taylor Family prospered, Sabine Hill did not. Sabine Hill was occupied by tenant farmers from the late 19th century to the early 20th century.

During her welcome speech on Wednesday, Bauer attributed the first steps to restoring Sabine Hill to James L. Reynolds, with the intent of restoring the house.

While he was unable to accomplish that goal, Bauer said Reynold did stabilize the house "pulling it together and standing straight and tall," Bauer said. She said that without that work, the house would not be standing today.

Bauer said Reynolds made another important contribution. She said that when things on the old house wore out or had to be replaced, he did not throw away the original. He carefully stored everything in a barn on the property, providing the information about original pieces of the house that would prove invaluable during the restoration.

But Reynolds’ work might have been for naught. In 2007, a Johnson City developer acquired the property and announced his plan to build condominiums. The developer had offered to dismantle and move the house to another location.

That work would have required approval of the Elizabethton Regional Planning Commission, which denied a rezoning request.

The next step required citizens who were willing to risk their private funds to purchase the property and hold it until the state could acquire it. James and Helen Wilson joined with Sam LaPorte in acquiring the house and land. They held the property for more than a year, until the state could place money in its budget for the acquisition.

"Helen was the driving force," said LaPorte, who was a former mayor of Elizabethton at the time of the purchase. Wilson is a member of the Elizabethton Historical Zoning Commission.

"We bought it to give the state time to purchase it," LaPorte said. At the time, he said the house was in poor condition and he did not think it could be restored to the condition it is in now.

"They have really done a great job. ... I am glad to see it finally open to the public. It is a part of our heritage," LaPorte said.

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