State historian says Rogers Tavern can be restored to 1800 appearance

Jeff Bobo • Oct 9, 2019 at 1:35 PM

ROGERSVILLE — A new report by the state historian, as well as a recently revealed connection to Lewis and Clark, has Rogersville officials feeling optimistic about the possibility of receiving grant funds to restore the 220-year-old Rogers Tavern.

Tennessee state historian Dr. Carroll Van West stated in his recently completed report that Rogers Tavern, which is one of Rogersville's oldest structures, has the elements necessary to be restored to its 1800-1810 log building appearance.

Now the Rogersville Heritage Association, which owns the property, needs to find grant funding to pay for the restoration.

West, who heads the Middle Tennessee State University Center for Historic Preservation, visited Rogersville in June to conduct a study on Rogers Tavern, which is believed to have been constructed in the 1790s by city founder Joseph P. Rogers.

The building, located at 205 S. Rogers St. adjacent to Crockett Creek Park, is divided into three sections: the original tavern in front; a 1870-82 Victorian section built while famed Tennessee journalism pioneer Frederick Heiskell lived there; and a 1900-20 addition at the rear.

“Potential to be restored”

West's assessment report, which was completed in September, makes the following conclusions:

1. “The original tavern hall-parlor space of 1800-10 is intact and has the potential to be restored to its 1800-10 appearance.”

2. “We recommend keeping the 1870-1882 Heiskell addition because it too has interpretive value.”

3. “The 1900-20 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.”

West notes, however, that the June study was “non-evasive,” which means potential interior structural flaws are still unknown.

“If we remove both exterior and interior treatments, a better architectural history of the building can be achieved,” West states in the report. “We have questions about changes to the facade and to the gable-end elevations. Have windows been remodeled on the first floor? Have chimneys been removed? An invasive exploration of the building — meaning the removal of materials — needs to take place before final restoration decisions are made.”

The history of the tavern

West cites the historic significance of the tavern, not just on a local and state level, but also on a national level due to recently discovered evidence that William Clark of Lewis and Clark fame stayed at the tavern in 1809.

Joseph Rogers, the founder of Rogersville, had the tavern built around 1800.

Many notable historic figures are said to have stayed in the tavern aside form Clark. For example, Andrew Jackson is said to have stayed there and made a man who complained about the accommodations sleep in the corn crib.

Upon his death in November 1833, Rogers passed on the tavern to his family, who kept it until the mid to late 1870s, when Col. Frederick Heiskell (1786-1882) was 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.

“During the Heiskells’ residence 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 said. “Later in the 19th century and/or early 20th century, two additional wings were added to the rear of the building, one to provide an interior kitchen with indoor plumbing.”

“A level of national significance”

Entries in a William Clark journal indicates that he spent the night at Rogers Tavern on Nov. 9, 1809, while traveling with his family from St. Louis to Washington, D.C., on federal government business, part of which related to the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

“This documented fact means that the Rogers Tavern is one of perhaps a half-dozen extant historic buildings in the nation that is directly tied to Clark and the expedition,” West states. “The Clark visit in 1809 adds a level of national significance to a building that has long had local and state historical significance.”

“We'll start looking for a grant”

Rogersville building inspector Steve Nelson, who oversees historic building restoration in the city, said he will present West's report to the RHA when it meets again Nov. 4.

“I'm going to recommend to take off a little bit of the siding on the north side to see if we can get a rough idea of what the logs look like,” Nelson told the Times News on Tuesday. “Then we'll start looking for a grant.”

Nelson added, “That's one of the projects I've been wanting to do since I was on the Heritage Association board 20 years ago, and it always got put on the back burner. But with this tie-in with Lewis and Clark, I just feel optimistic that maybe we can get something going.”

Nelson's plan would be to remove both rear additions and return the structure to its 1800 log building appearance.

Although West's report suggests keeping the Frederic Heiskell 1870-82 section, Nelson said he and West later had a conversation in which they agreed that the tavern should be returned to its original appearance.

“We talked about how we would document and assess everything on that Victorian addition but take it off and take the tavern back to its original form,” Nelson said. “The biggest thing is trying to find grants that don't have too much of a match because the Heritage Association doesn't have a whole lot of money.”