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Historic Phillips/Taylor House could tell political stories

Tanner Cook • Updated Oct 11, 2018 at 6:58 PM

When walking near the Milligan College athletic fields, there is a house near on the backside that seems almost out of place.

That house is the historic Williams-Taylor or Phillips-Taylor Home that once housed Tennessee Gov. Alfred Taylor among some other names of local political lure.

Taylor is most famed for the “Tennessee War of the Roses” political campaign in 1886 against his brother Robert. The brothers grew up in the community of what is today Happy Valley during the American Civil War.

On the campaign trail, Alf was a Republican while brother Bob was a Democrat. Alf was known as the vote-getter and believed this fact might drive his brother out of the race.

Bob persisted and eventually won the election by a little under 18,000 votes and served two terms from 1887-1891. The reason for the name “Tennessee War of the Roses” is that the father of the brothers ran in Congress as a Whig while the mother was sympathetic to the Democratic south after the Civil War.

Some say that the two brothers were born into conflict and had to choose at a young age.

Later on, the two campaigned together and even made joint speeches. The brothers loved to entertain crowds and it was almost comical at times according to accounts from those who witnessed the speeches.

They shared everything despite being on opposite sides of the political spectrum.

Alf eventually did finally win an election for a seat in Congress and served three terms. And yes, he won the Governor’s race in 1921 and was 72 years young.

The home — originally a log cabin — was owned by the Edmund Williams family. The Williams family was one of the first pioneers of the area and gave some of the first land donations to the Buffalo Institute, which is now Milligan College. Joshua Williams enlarged the small log cabin and gave a small one-acre piece of land to what would become Milligan College in 1866. He owned the house until 1938.

There were five generations of Williamses who lived in the home. There was also a short-lived guest in the home from 1900 to 1905. That was Col. Wilson Gilvan Barker, who was president at Milligan at the time. He lived there with his daughter and son-in-law, Nannie and George T. Williams.

In 1906, Alf Taylor purchased the house along with 16 acres of land.

In 1925, Milligan purchased part of the Taylor property in order to build better athletic facilities.

The home later changed hands to longtime U.S. District Judge Robert L. Taylor, who was the son of Alf and named for his uncle after Alf’s death in 1931.

The judge lived in the house most of his life until his death in 1989. In his life, Judge Taylor received his Ph.B. From Milligan in 1922 and his LL.B. From Yale in 1924. He was appointed to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee by President Harry Truman in 1950.

He served as chief judge from 1961 to 1969 and achieved senior status in 1984. He served in this capacity until his passing. Milligan purchased the house and the surrounding land in 1989.

In 2000, the house was named a Tennessee Historic Site thanks to Milligan alum Clint Holloway. However, there was still some renovation work that needed to be done.

In October 2002, the renovations were complete as they were overseen by Milligan then-President Donald R. Jeanes’ wife, Clarinda Phillips.

The house now serves as a hospitality and reception place for Milligan events.

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