ROGERSVILLE — As the Review reported in A New Visitor in Town: The next steps after discovering William Clark’s 1809 stay at Rogers Tavern, State Historian Dr. Carroll Van West has been conducting a comprehensive study of the Rogers Tavern’s history and structure, and he recently released his findings.
This comes after it was recently discovered that William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expeditions actually spent one night in the Rogers Tavern in 1809 along with his wife, Julia, and his nine-month-old son, Meriwether Lewis Clark.
West was asked to conduct the study to gather the history of the building and see if restoration would be possible.
“We’re not 100 percent sure when the Rogers Tavern was built, but we want to take it back to the way it was originally built,” Steve Nelson told the Review back in August when the discovery was made.
Though West’s report is the first step towards the restoration of Rogers Tavern, he told the Review in August that it is important to take “baby steps” when dealing with this kind of project.
A well-known landmarkThe first portion of West’s report is focused entirely focused on the tavern’s rich history.
Though its exact construction date is still unknown, West explained that it was built around the year 1800 at the direction of Rogersville’s founder, Joseph Rogers.
Rogers was married to Mary Alice Gale Amis, who was the daughter of another notable early settler, Thomas Amis.
When Rogers died, the tavern was passed down within his family until the 1870s when Col. Frederick Heiskell acquired it and began living there with his daughter.
“Heiskell is a significant figure in Tennessee history and is credited with being one of the most important journalists and publishers in 19th century Tennessee history,” West wrote.
He went on to note that the Rogers Tavern was a well-known landmark in its heyday and referenced a section of Joseph Killebrew’s work entitled “Resources of Tennessee,” which claimed that, “at the old Rogers Tavern, as it was called, many of the old celebrities of the day were wont to gather.” The work also noted that, “it was there that General Jackson made the dandy, who wanted a separate room and bed, sleep in the log corn-crib.”
One of the “celebrities of the day” who stayed at the tavern was, of course, William Clark.
The structureWest explained within his report that the existing Tavern is the product of multiple remodels and additions.
The portion of the building closest to the road, which West refers to as the first building period, is the oldest portion. As time went on, the Tavern was expanded towards what is now Crockett Spring Park.
The second building period, which took place between 1870 and 1882 includes the front porch and the middle portion of the building that begins to expand towards the park. The addition closest to Crockett Spring Park and farthest from the road was built during the third building period, which took place between 1900 and 1920. The sleeping porch on the side of the tavern was also constructed during the third building period.
Some minor remodels to the building have also taken place since the third building period, such as an upstairs bathroom that was installed in the 1950s and both a closet and central heat and air that were installed in the 1990s.
Identifying the detailsWest explained within the report that the little details in tavern’s design were able to help him identify their age. For example, he noted the Victorian-styled posts on the front porch of the Tavern indicated that the porch was part of the 1870s remodel.
“During the Heiskell’s 1870s to at least 1882 occupation of the building, it is likely the Victorian-era changes notable in the building fabric were made, such as the Victorian-styled front porch, clapboarding, the second-story porch, and the Victorian-styled newel post and staircase on the first floor,” West wrote.
Unfortunately, the rear room on the second floor of this addition has suffered from extensive water damage and “has the greatest repair needs of any in the building.
West also was able to identify the approximate construction date of the sleeping porch by doing some research.
“As the research of Dr. Jenna Stout has emphasized, sleeping porches swept through Appalachia at the turn of the 20th century out of the medical belief that fresh air was healthy, and that the cool mountain breezes were ideal for patients suffering from respiratory ailments,” West wrote. “Asheville, North Carolina, grew as a medical resort town and is famous today for the number of boarding houses, hotels, and homes with sleeping porches. The Rogers Tavern is a late 19th century example of this phenomenon in Hawkins County, Tennessee.”
The rear portion of the tavern includes a bay window and another porch. West also noted the dark-stained woodwork found inside this portion that is characteristic of the early 20th century Craftsman style.
West’s recommendationsWithin the report, West noted that his investigation was “non-evasive” and did not involve making any changes to the building.
The report concluded the following:
1. The original tavern hall-parlor space of c. 1800-1810 is intact.
2. The original tavern has the potential to be restored to its c.1800-1810 appearance.
3. We recommend keeping the c. 1870-1882 Heiskell addition because it too has interpretive value.
4. The 1900-1920 addition could be removed since it has no ties to the building’s primary period of significance or it could be restored as an office for tavern guides or as a small museum/media room.
5. We have questions about changes to the façade and to the gable-end elevations. Have windows been remodeled on the first floor? Have chimneys been removed?
6. An invasive exploration of the building (meaning the removal of materials) needs to take place before final restoration decisions are made.
He also found a historic corner-cupboard in the third addition that he recommended keeping.
Will the tavern be restored?Though West recommended within his report that the 1870 through 1882 addition be kept because of its “interpretive value,” Nelson told the Review that, in the past, it has always been the wish of the Heritage Association boards to restore the building to how it looked when it was first built.
“Dr. Van West and I actually had that discussion when he was here,” Nelson said. “We talked about the benefits either way, and we really didn’t make a decision one way or another. Of course, in the end, it will be up to the Heritage Association because it belongs to them.”
Now that the report is complete, Nelson explained that he plans to bring this information before the board and discuss the possibility of an invasive exploration of the building as well as the removal of the two additions.
“Hopefully they will at least let me know at the next meeting if I can pull off some of the siding on one end of the building to get an idea of what the logs look like,” he said.
Nelson added that he is “excited” with West’s findings.
“It is great to have a tie-in with Lewis and Clark,” he said. “Hopefully that will make it easier to get some grants so that we can actually restore this thing.”
Paying for the restorationUnfortunately, the process of finding these kinds of grants is a long one.
“Of course, none of the grants are 100 percent, so you also have to come up with the matching part,” he added. “And the heritage association isn’t swimming in money. So, we’ll have to do some fundraisers to come up with the matching part.”
So far, the Rogersville Heritage Association has been hosting Music Mondays as a way to raise money for this project, though the event scheduled for Oct. 2 was rained out.
Nelson also noted that anyone who is interested can donate towards this restoration by giving to RHA and earmarking the donation as funds for the project.
For more back story on the Rogers Tavern, check out the Review’s three-part series on the Tavern’s connection to William Clark called A New Visitor in Town.