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East Tennessee's most endangered historic sites named

3:20 PM, Mar 5, 2012   |    comments
  • Neglected Cemeteries. Courtesy: East Tennessee Preservation Alliance
  • Old Monroe County Health Department/Legion Hall. Courtesy: East Tennessee Preservation Alliance
  • Morristown College Courtesy: East Tennessee Preservation Alliance
  • Old Lafollette Post Office. Courtesy: East Tennessee Preservation Alliance
  • Oak Grove School. Courtesy: East Tennessee Preservation Alliance
  • Quaker Valley. Courtesy: East Tennessee Preservation Alliance
  • Rural Mount. Courtesy: East Tennessee Preservation Alliance
  • Central Business District of Lenoir City. Courtesy: East Tennessee Preservation Alliance
  • Alexander Inn. Courtesy: East Tennessee Preservation Alliance
  • Brushy Mountain. Courtesy: East Tennessee Preservation Alliance
  • Donaldson House. Courtesy: East Tennessee Preservation Alliance
  • Historic Dandridge School. Courtesy: East Tennessee Preservation Alliance
  • Boyhood Home of Estes Kefauver. Courtesy: East Tennessee Preservation Alliance
  • Abandoned Rural Schoolhouses. Courtesy: East Tennessee Preservation Alliance
  • The Tanner Cultural Center. Courtesy: East Tennessee Preservation Alliance
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From East Tennessee Preservation Alliance:

The East Tennessee Preservation Alliance (ETPA) has announced the 2012 East Tennessee's Endangered Heritage list of endangered historic buildings and places in the sixteen-county region.

The announcement took place Monday at the East Tennessee History Center, located at 601 South Gay Street.

This marks the third list of endangered historic places selected by the East Tennessee Preservation Alliance Board of Directors from nominations received from members and the general public.

Preservation strategies are developed for each site on the list and can include working with current property owners, government officials, citizens and/or potential new owners to preserve these important parts of East Tennessee's heritage. In some cases, ETPA will organize volunteer work days to help stabilize and protect sites.

The list includes:

The Tanner Cultural Center - Cocke County

The Newport Consolidated School, later called the Tanner School, was built in 1924 with financial support from the Julius Rosenwald Fund. Rosenwald helped fund hundreds of African American schools across the country. The Tanner School is the only Rosenwald School in the region.

The Tanner School, now known as the Tanner Cultural Center, received significant roof damage from the tornado that swept through Cocke County in April 2011. Eventually, the roof was replaced, but not before significant water and mold damage had occurred.

The City of Newport, which owns the building, is faced with the expensive cost of mold remediation. ETPA will work with the African American Heritage Alliance, the organizations formerly housed in the Tanner Cultural Center, and city officials to find grants and funding sources to properly clean up the mold so the significant building can continue being used.

Donaldson House - Hamblen County

In 1790, in what is now the community of Russellville, William Donaldson bought 300 acres. Donaldson, a soldier in George Washington's army, was drawn to the land for the plentiful game, sugar maple trees, and three free flowing springs. Three years later, Donaldson and his family moved into their two-story log home, which still stands today.

During the Civil War, the Confederate Army line stretched from Rutledge to Knoxville and General Longstreet made his headquarters in the Nenny home (also in Russellville), while a subordinate, General Humphries, moved into the Donaldson home, where he stayed for several weeks.

The Donaldson House has suffered from years of neglect and changes, but overall it still retains the architectural integrity of a 1790s log house. Surviving log houses are rare in East Tennessee, and ETPA hopes to work with Civil War organizations, historians, and the community to find a new owner for this important building.

Old Monroe County Health Department/Legion Hall - Monroe County

The unique stone building was constructed by the National Youth Administration as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the 1930s. For many years, the building served as the Monroe County Health Department. The upstairs was the American Legion Hall, which also served as a community meeting place for such activities as Boy Scouts, dances, private parties, etc.

The building has also been used as the Monroe County Election Commission Office and the Sessions Court Office. The building, which has been abandoned by the county for several years, is located on Tellico Street in downtown Madisonville, just one block from the Monroe County Courthouse.

This property is an architecturally unique building in Madisonville and could be rehabilitated for numerous County uses, non-profit uses, or sold to a private developer. ETPA will work with community organizations and county officials to find a viable use for the significant buildings so it contributes to the community once again

Alexander Inn - Anderson County

The Alexander Inn (originally known as The Guest House) was built in 1943 in Oak Ridge to serve the "Secret City." The wood framed building, similar to many other World War II "H-plan" buildings, served as guest quarters to a number of dignitaries during the top-secret Manhattan Project, including Enrico Fermi, Robert Oppenheimer, and General Leslie Groves. In 1949, a 44-room addition was completed to accommodate the expanding Oak Ridge community. In September 1950, the name was changed to the Alexander Inn and was sold to a private owner in 1958.

Since that time it has been privately owned and listed in the National Register of Historic Places, although it is in serious disrepair.

In December 2009, a newly formed nonprofit organization, Oak Ridge Revitalization Effort (ORRE), acquired the landmark building. Since then, ORRE organized volunteer work days to clean out and stabilize the building. In addition, ORRE hosted several fundraisers and sought donations to help "Save the Alexander." Unfortunately, fundraising efforts fell short, and ORRE now has the building listed for sale.

ETPA has been working with the City of Oak Ridge and the Department of Energy to secure a grant to purchase and stabilize the Alexander Inn as part of the mitigation for the demolition of the East Tennessee Technology Park (historically known as K-25). If awarded the grant, ETPA will work to find a buyer who will restore the building as a private development to help boost local property taxes and preserve one of the most significant, privately owned buildings in Oak Ridge. However, until the mitigation process is complete, the Alexander Inn's future is still in limbo.

Old Lafollette Post Office - Campbell County

The construction on the post office began in 1936 as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) under President Roosevelt's New Deal initiative. In 1939, the Post Office was dedicated and served the LaFollette community until a new Post Office was opened in 2008.

The old post office is still owned by the USPS and has approximately 4,000 square feet of floor space. It had been well maintained until it was vacated by the USPS. The Post Office building had been listed for $435,000, but in two years no reasonable offer had been made so the contract expired.
ETPA hopes a qualified buyer can be found or that the City of LaFollette can work out an arrangement with the USPS to acquire the building for use by the Campbell County Historical Society. ETPA will continue working with the USPS representatives in Atlanta and the City of LaFollette to arrange a suitable transaction for both parties.

Abandoned Rural Schoolhouses - Grainger County

In most rural communities, small one- or two-room schoolhouses were built to serve the immediate community. As communities and education evolved, larger school buildings were built to accommodate more students and more grade levels. In Grainger County, several abandoned rural schoolhouses still remain and should be protected.

Dotson School: Last year an individual purchased the property but has no plans for the schoolhouse. The building has been used as hay storage and other agricultural uses since closing as a school. It is still in solid shape and could easily be restored as a residence or small business.

Dutch Valley School: This school was converted to a residence and people lived in it for several years, but it is now abandoned. Fortunately, most of the vegetation that once covered the structure has been cleared away and some repairs have been made.

ETPA recognizes that each of these schools present unique challenges and each school will have a unique solution. Unfortunately, little background information is available for some of these rural schools. ETPA will work with property owners and local officials to help develop plans for these and other abandoned rural schoolhouses in the region. Several other idyllic schoolhouses in Sevier and Union Counties are endangered.

Morristown College - Hamblen County

Morristown College campus sits on a picturesque hill close to downtown Morristown, located about halfway between Knoxville and the Tri-Cities in upper East Tennessee.

Founded in 1881 by the national Freedman's Aid Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church, it was originally known as Morristown Normal and Industrial College before evolving into Morristown College and later Knoxville College-Morristown Campus. The original building was constructed on the site of a former slave market from hand-pressed bricks made on site. Following the Civil War, it became a secondary school at which freedmen were taught reading, writing, and arithmetic.

At the height of its enrollment the school occupied 12 buildings and encompassed 375 acres. Today the college property stands at 51 acres and 7 of the 9 buildings are listed in the National Register.

The buildings have remained vacant for a number of years, been thoroughly vandalized, and been left open to the elements for much of that time. The campus is privately owned and available for purchase; however the current owner has no interest in preserving the campus and even threatened to demolish the buildings at one point. Past development plans have fallen through because potential buyers were not able to come to a purchase price agreement with the owner. In September 2008, a devastating fire engulfed the historic Cafeteria building and was a stark reminder of the imminent threat of fire damage to vacant buildings. Then in December 2010, a massive fire practically destroyed the most prominent building, the Laura Yard Hill Administration Building.

The campus is adjacent to a historic residential area currently undergoing a "clean-up" initiative and a new historic homeowners association has been formed. It is close to downtown, and the city would be willing to work with a developer on infrastructure improvements.

ETPA urges the negligent property owner to sell or donate the property to a suitable buyer who can make use of the campus. Federal tax incentives and other opportunities are available to help offset the cost of the rehabilitation of the buildings. The City of Morristown has organized a task force to find a solution to the blighted property and is working towards issuing a request for proposals for redevelopment plans.

Rural Mount - Hamblen County

Rural Mount was likely built in 1799 by Alexander Outlaw as a wedding gift for his daughter, Penelope, and her new husband, Joseph Hamilton. Outlaw and Hamilton were early proponents for the organization of the State of Franklin and then the establishment of the state of Tennessee. Hamilton was the first clerk of Jefferson County and one of the original trustees of Greenville College, the first state school.

The house is one of a few surviving eighteenth century stone houses in East Tennessee. Constructed in a random ashlar limestone pattern, the house has seen little alterations since construction. In fact, many of the original architectural details, such as the decorative scrollwork on the staircase, remain, and evidence of decorative painting can be seen on the wainscoting. In 1974, the house was measured and documented for the Historic American Building Survey (HABS) and in 1975 it was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The house has been empty for about 30 years and sits in an active cow pasture. Fortunately, the roof is sound and the building has been secured from vandals, but the house will not survive without a viable use and immediate attention. During National Preservation Month in May 2010, volunteers from Tennessee Preservation Trust, Heritage Alliance, and ETPA cleaned and secured the house. In June 2011, ETPA and the property owner hosted 200 people for an open house at Rural Mount to continue raising awareness. ETPA will work closely with the property owner to help develop long term plans for the unique house.

Historic Dandridge School - Jefferson County

Designed by noted architects Barber McMurry, the school was built in 1927 and is similar to many of the other schools designed by the firm during that era. The school was built to replace the Maury Academy that was later torn down for a new Post Office.

The school building was sold by the county at an auction over 10 years ago to a private individual with no long term plans for the building or site. Today, most of the building is empty and the 1950s addition is used as a small mechanic shop.

ETPA strongly encourages the property owner to repair the roof leaks and address the water damage so the building does not become a victim of "demolition by neglect." ETPA will continue working with the Dandridge Community Trust and the Town of Dandridge to find a new buyer for the building who will rehabilitate the historic school. The building is a prime candidate for historic rehabilitation tax credits and could be a welcomed addition to the vibrant town of Dandridge.

Quaker Valley - Jefferson County

While ETPA is mostly focused on the preservation of historic buildings, the conservation of the ever-shrinking rural landscape and scenic vistas are also critical to East Tennessee. In New Market, 280 acres of historic farmland known as Quaker Valley is in the crosshairs of developers. The land has recently been the center of controversy as residents in Jefferson County try to prevent a proposed development by Norfolk Southern Railway that would change the rural landscape forever.

Jefferson County Tomorrow, a community driven non-profit, was formed to organize citizens against the development. The group has effectively challenged the job creation claims and the economic impact of the proposed railyard. Simply put, the new intermodal railyard would create roughly the same number of jobs that would be lost if the farms were taken out of use.

ETPA strongly urges Norfolk Southern and local officials in Jefferson County to use another existing industrial site for the intermodal railyard and preserve the rural farmland in New Market, limiting the negative environmental impact on prime agricultural land. If the railyard is built, it will have an industrial type ripple effect on the rural community.

Central Business District of Lenoir City - Loudon County

As a reward for his services during the Revolutionary War, General William Lenoir was given 5,000 acres from the state of North Carolina along the northern bank of the Tennessee River that would eventually become Lenoir City.

The land was given to Lenoir's eldest son, Major William Ballard Lenoir, who farmed the land and built a house for his family. The land remained in the Lenoir family until 1876 and later was sold to the Lenoir City Company, which was formed by Knoxville and New York City businessmen who laid out the town and built many of the homes surrounding downtown.

With the completion of the Interstate, the Lenoir City Central Business District began to decline. For many small towns in East Tennessee, the Interstate construction was a blessing and a curse. The changes in traffic patterns have diverted traffic from historic centers and sparked a wave of new development outside of downtown.

Last summer, ETPA hosted a Preservation Toolbox in Lenoir City that featured John Craig. Craig spoke about the qualities of a strong urban core by using Market Square as a case study. Then in December 2011, ETPA hosted a Developers Roadshow in Lenoir City that brought preservation professionals to meet with local leaders. ETPA will continue working with leaders in Lenoir City and local businesses to continue their momentum. Lenoir City has already laid the groundwork for a successful downtown with beautification projects, but with the downturn in the economy, many storefronts are empty and businesses are closing their doors.

Boyhood Home of Estes Kefauver - Monroe County

Around 1912, the family of future U.S. Senator Estes Kefauver moved into the home and he was raised there. Kefauver was a colorful figure who served in the Senate from 1948 until 1963. He served as the Democratic nominee for vice president in 1956 under Adlai Stevenson and chaired 1951 hearings on organized crime, the first Senate hearings to be nationally televised.

A devastating fire ravaged the house in January 2006 and the owners, descendants of Senator Kefauver, had intended to restore the property and live there, but their efforts have stalled. Local codes officials and the Board of Mayor and Aldermen organized a committee work with the property owners to find solutions, but the meetings never materialized.

In October 2010, ETPA and the UT Howard H. Baker, Jr. Center for Public Policy hosted an "Estes Kefauver Day" in Madisonville to promote Kefauver's legacy. ETPA continues to urge the property owners to restore, sell, or donate the house to ensure the architectural and historically significant house remains standing and can find a new use. Additionally, ETPA is working with other partners to list the house in the National Register of Historic Places. The Estes Kefauver legacy is endangered of being forgotten and his boyhood home is a vivid reminder of his fading memory.

Former Brushy Mountain State Correctional Complex - Morgan County

Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary was built as a reaction to the Convict Lease Wars that were raging in the coal regions of Tennessee. The Tennessee General Assembly voted to construct two state prisons and end the practice of leasing convicts for private labor. In 1894, the state acquired over nine thousand acres for the construction of the remote Brushy Mountain State Prison in Petros. An additional 4,000 acres were added later. Inmates would mine coal and then cut timber from the state's holdings for use in large brick ovens to turn the Tennessee coal into "coke," a carbonaceous residue used as fuel and for producing steel. Inmates produced the prison's first coke in October 1897.

After labor disputes in the early 1970s, state officials closed the prison for approximately three years; it reopened in 1978. Over the next twenty years, the state made various improvements to the New Deal-era prison buildings as well as adding two major facilities within the prison wall, a Maximum Security Building (1989), which replaced some of the prison's recreational areas, and a new Law Library/Classroom Building (1998).

Brushy Mountain shuttered its doors in the summer of 2009 and the state has no long term plans for the massive facility. ETPA encourages the state to continue working with Morgan County leaders to find a viable use for the unique compound that would preserve the building and its history.

Neglected Cemeteries - Entire Region

Since fall 2009, ETPA's Cemetery Task Force has been working to develop solutions for cemetery preservation issues across the region by examining the state burial laws. The Task Force is currently sharing those findings with city and county mayors in the region to hear feedback.

In February 2010, ETPA announced the Slave Cemetery Registry Project that will help document and raise awareness for slave cemeteries across East Tennessee. Many of these cemeteries are overgrown with vegetation and barely marked with small fieldstones, making identification difficult.

ETPA encourages awareness of neglected cemeteries in all 16 counties. Many cemeteries are moved to make way for new developments, but often graves and remains are neglected or not properly transferred to the new cemetery. With this in mind, we will work with communities, churches, and organizations to facilitate maintenance and long term adoption of these cemeteries.

New Salem Baptist Church - Sevier County

The New Salem Baptist Church was built in 1886 by Isaac Dockery, noted African-American builder, and is Sevierville's oldest surviving building, Sevier County's oldest brick church building, and the only historic African American church in the county. The church served the thriving African American community until the 1950s when the last services were held by the original congregation.

Since that time, the church has been used by other congregations and denominations, and the historic integrity has slowly been chipped away. The original bell tower and pulpit furniture have been removed and the overall interior has been altered significantly.

Even with these changes, the church was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2003, and a Tennessee Historical marker was placed on the grounds in 2006. The building suffers from lack of maintenance and ventilation issues, which are compromising the structure.

Today the church and grounds are used for the Annual Dockery Family Reunion, which draws hundreds of descendants to the church and idyllic grounds. The Dockery Family Association has been working with the East Tennessee Community Design Center, the African American Heritage Alliance, and ETPA to find a long term preservation solution for the building that would preserve the legacy of the building and the contributions of the congregation. A task force was established in summer 2011 and meets regularly to strategize solutions for the landmark building. The group is organizing fundraisers for the building's rehabilitation.

Oak Grove School - Union County

The Oak Grove School is a two room schoolhouse built in the early 1930s to replace the original Oak Grove School, which was displaced by the Norris Dam project. At the same time, about 25 other one- and two-room schools were built in Union County to house the rural schoolchildren.

Today, only a handful of these school buildings remain and Oak Grove School is ripe for revitalization. Sitting in Sharps Chapel behind one of the Union County convenience centers, the school's fate is unknown. Last year, Preservation Union County organized several volunteer work days to help clean out the interior of the building and clear away vegetation. Additionally, a local contractor has worked with volunteers and donated materials to replace and rebuild parts of the compromised foundation. Valspar generously donated paint for the metal roof and for the exterior of the building.

Several potential reuses, such as a trailhead and visitors center, satellite library, community center, and a small office have been proposed for the building. ETPA will continue to partner with Preservation Union County, East Tennessee Development District, and the Union County government, who owns the building, to find funding, paint and repair the building and find a suitable use.

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