Should the Thomas Amis historic site near Rogersville become a state park?

Jeff Bobo • Jun 5, 2019 at 10:30 AM

ROGERSVILLE — When Jake and Wendy Jacobs purchased the old Thomas Amis plantation near Rogersville, it was run down, overgrown and covered with trash.

Today it is a premier historical venue in East Tennessee.

But what will it be 10 or 20 years from now?

That's a question that has been weighing heavily on the minds of Jake and Wendy.

They don’t want all their hard work to be erased because there wasn’t a plan to keep the property going when they’re gone.

Jake believes the most plausible option is for Tennessee to eventually take over the 60-acre property as a state park.

“While the devil is in the details, and I haven’t seen fine print or anything like that, we’re certainly amicable to talk about that, pursue that, and head that direction,” Jake said.

The property was settled by Revolutionary War soldier Capt. Thomas Amis in 1780. Around 230 years later, his X8 great-granddaughter, Wendy Jacobs, and her husband Jake, purchased the rundown property and launched a preservation effort.

“The Lord brought us here for a reason,” Jake said. “We rescued this place from obscurity. It was a grown over dump when we got here, and nobody knew anything about it. Nobody cared. Through my wife’s diligence she has dug up history on this, the most significant Revolutionary historic site in Tennessee.”

Today the property is a functioning farm that hosts multiple cultural and historical events every year. Among the main attractions is the stone dam built in 1780 on Big Creek; the stone house built in 1781 on the hill above; and the Amis Mill Eatery which was opened to help finance preservation efforts.

For a time during the westward expansion of the late 1700s, the Thomas Amis property was the last stop on the Old Stage Road and the last place to stock up on supplies before heading out into the wilderness.

The Jacobs’ vision for the property is to take it back to the late 1700s and early 1800s.

“I’d like to see somewhat of a re-creation of his original farm,” he said. “Thomas Amis had the dam and the mill and the forge and the foundry and the blacksmith’s shop — a wheelwright’s shop, a black powder mill, a tannery, a harness and saddle shop, boot and shoe shop. Those period things that they had to have to survive.”"

Jacobs added, “That was my long-range objective when we first moved here, and I just ran out of money. I see this as an educational, historic venue. We need to teach history, and we also need to preserve history.”

Jacobs built the Amis Mill Eatery to generate enough cash flow to make his vision come true. Although the eatery does generate enough revenue to maintain what they already have, it’s not enough to complete their vision.

Their two sons probably aren’t going to take over the property because they have their own careers, and the Eatery doesn't generate enough income to support upkeep of the historic site and make a living.

The question now is, what happens to the Amis historic location when Jake and Wendy are gone?

They’re both in their mid-70s and, based on family history, predict that the number of productive years they have left is between 5 and 10.

“Wendy and I poured everything we have into this place — heart, soul — and every dime we had,” Jake said. “There's absolutely no regrets. We have enjoyed and continue to enjoy every minute of it. In a perfect world I would like to see this continue as a historic education spot to teach future generations the wonderful history of this area. This was the funnel for the settlement of not only Tennessee, but the west. And, through Thomas Amis’ journal and other writings, we can verify many Revolutionary troops who were actually on this spot. Plus, we had a Civil War battle fought on this property.”

Jake added, “I don’t know how else to keep it going. If not a state park, maybe Eastman, Tennessee Valley Authority or some other large entity who is in the area may want to take it on as a philanthropic cause. But the state is already in the park business. Davy Crockett Birthplace is a state park, Sycamore Shoals is a state park, Martin Station, and the course is already set on those so that wouldn't be totally plowing new ground to make this a state park. We need to begin planning for the future. I think the best possible scenario would be a possible state park in the future.”

Meanwhile, the Thomas Amis Historical Site is moving forward and planning for a big summer. They have several events scheduled including the Fourth Annual Native American Gathering, and they are also working on a new festival to replace the Hope Community Church’s “Hawkins County Fair” which won’t take place this year.

They’ve also started a new wildflower field, and have increased their honey bee programming.

The Amis Mill Eatery is open for lunch and dinner Thursday through Sunday, and the property is available for tours, weddings and private parties.

The property is located at 127 W. Bear Hollow Rd., about two miles south of Rogersville. For more information, call (423) 272-7040.

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