Colonial Christmas tour of Amis House to raise funds for historic dam restoration

Jeff Bobo • Updated Dec 4, 2017 at 10:16 AM
ROGERSVILLE — Jake and Wendy Jacobs will be opening their historic Amis House to the public for guided tours this weekend because, frankly, they “need some dam money.”

At least that’s what Jake jokingly tells folks when advertising the annual Colonial Christmas tour of their home, which was built in 1781 by Revolutionary War hero Capt. Thomas Amis.

The tour costs $10 per person and 100 percent of the proceeds will go toward restoration of of the Amis Mill Dam, which is located on the historic settlement and actually predates the house by a year.

“The dam was the first structure that Thomas Amis built here in 1780 upon arriving here on his land grant,” Jake told the Times-News Thursday. “It’s the oldest laid stone dam in Tennessee, and it was built to feed his mill, which was just downstream. The dam is laid stone, so it has seams and cracks. A lot of the mortar that was in those has washed out. Water is leaking through the stones, and it’s eroding, and it’s just a matter of time before it erodes and collapses.”

The Jacobses have inquired about grant funds to repair the dam, but the fact that it’s on private property has been a hindrance.

A few years back, Jake hired an engineer who conducted a study and formulated a plan to repair the dam, but it will cost about $150,000 to $200,000.

Last year’s Colonial Christmas tour raised about $4,000, and although Jake has had other fundraisers over the past year, he’s still nowhere near $200,000.

“I jokingly tell people I need some dam money,” Jake said.

He added, “We need to drain it, clean it, and reface the upstream side of the dam. They were smart enough when they built it to actually put a drain in it. So it can be drained, but it then has to be dredged, cleaned and sealed. It’s going to be a costly process.”

Jake said he hopes folks will come out for the Colonial Christmas event Saturday and/or Sunday and help support the project. The original Amis House will be decorated for Christmas, as will an 1830s cabin that Jake recently dismantled on Brown’s Creek Road and rebuilt on the site of the old Amis blacksmith shop near the house.

On Saturday and Sunday beginning at noon, there will be guided tours through the house beginning at the top of every hour until 5 p.m.

Visitors can wait by the fire in the new cabin and have refreshments, walk the grounds, visit the dam, or explore the Big Creek Visitor Center.

The Visitor Center offers an elaborate history lesson about the region’s people and places in the late 1700s and how the Thomas Amis settlement fit into that picture.

What you learn at the center will provide a good foundation of knowledge for what you will learn on the tour itself.

Wendy is a direct descendant of Amis, and Jake and Wendy each lead different portions of the Amis House tour, offering a fascinating history lesson in every room.

Without giving away too much, visitors will learn that everybody who was anybody in Northeast Tennessee during the late 1700s stopped and either spent the night at the house or bought supplies from Amis.

“Built in 1781, the original house is the oldest stone house in Tennessee,” Jake said. “(You will learn about) the significance of this property in the settlement of this area, but Tennessee and the West. The more that we study and find out and the more information we uncover, the more significant this specific site becomes because of the road system at that time. One road came to this area, and it stopped at the creek, right here — end of the road.”

Jake added, “Eventually Thomas Amis hired Elijah Wallen, who was Daniel Boone’s sidekick and ax man, to actually blaze a trail from here to Bean Station to Cumberland. All the North Carolina Revolutionary War troops got land grants for their payment, and all the land grants were in this area, and west into Tennessee. This was the last place they could get supplies before they trekked off into the wilderness to find their land grant.”

Amis House is located near the intersection of West Bear Hollow Road and Burem Road about two miles south of Rogersville.

You can access the property from the Amis Mill Eatery, 127 W. Bear Hollow Rd., which is where the dam, ruins of the mill, and Big Creek Visitors Center are located. A gravel road behind the eatery will take you to the Amis House.