Rogersville approves bid to begin preservation of its oldest building

Jeff Bobo • May 16, 2019 at 8:30 PM

ROGERSVILLE — The first steps toward restoring the city’s oldest building are expected to be completed in time for Tennessee State Historian Dr. Carroll Van West’s visit next month.

On Tuesday, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved a bid from RJR Management Inc. for $10,807 to address some exterior issues at the Powell Law Office, located on Washington Street near the Depot Street intersection.

Last year, the city took over ownership of the log building, which is believed to have been built between 1795 and 1805.

This first phase of restoration includes removing the exterior siding, removing all vegetation and debris within two feet of the building, reinforcing the back wall with two-by-fours, covering all door and window openings, and installing hinges and locks on the door at the rear entrance.

Rogersville Building Inspector Steve Nelson, who is shepherding the restoration project, said he asked the contractor to have the siding off by the time Van West returns to town around the second week of June.

“We needed all of that siding off so we could figure out what we’re going to do with it,” Nelson told the Times News Thursday. “We don’t know what we’re looking at because you can’t see it. That’s what all the restoration contractors and historian — everyone says the same thing. We need to get the siding off so we can figure out what we’re going to do.

“I’ll have the historian, historical restoration experts, engineers will all be looking at it and coming up with plans on what we have to do to restore it. Then we’ll look for grants to pay for it.”

Van West has already deemed the Powell Law Office historically significant because its “architecture is of the early Tennessee frontier type of a two-story log house — more substantial than many at that time.”

The expectation is that most of the original logs have been preserved by the siding, although the rear of the structure has been exposed, and many of those logs will likely have to be replaced.

Rogersville assumed ownership of the Powell Law Office last November after the previous owner decided to gift the dilapidated historic structure to the city rather than make city-mandated repairs.

The building originally served as the law offices of attorney and one-term Congressman Samuel Powell (1776-1841). The last time it was occupied it was used as a locksmith’s shop.

Nelson’s intention is to take the structure back to its original appearance in 1800.

“We’ll just take it back to the original four rooms,” he said. “It’ll need a new floor, wall, ceiling — the whole nine yards. But we’ll do it historically, and of course we’ll have to find a grant to do all of that.”

The west side of the building abuts the old Presbyterian Church cemetery, where several of Rogersville’s leading historical figures, including Samuel Powell, are buried. 

The contract with RJR includes steps to protect the adjacent cemetery plots during the project.