By Mike Steely
We’ve had a weird winter and it seems it is ice and snow every other week with very little sun and warmth in between. It’s a good time to take a day away from the house and get downtown to visit some of the city’s by-gone days. There are lots of things to do and much to see, so gather up the family and get downtown on a weekend when the parking is free and so are many of the sites.
The winter has also been an odd time at the historic Blount Mansion, with the estate closed since September for renovation. It looks like it will be reopening soon and the staff has been busy during the closing.
Katie Stringer, Director, and David Hearnes, Assistant Director, have been watching the renovation work and sorting through items, old correspondence and official records. The current repairs and upgrades were much needed to the 222-year-old house, which may be the oldest frame house in Tennessee. It shares that claim with the John Carter Manson in Elizabethton. The Blount home was built in 1792 and the Carter house was built between 1775 and 1800.
Hearnes told The Focus that improvements, which are about 98% completed, include new mechanical and electrical systems, doors, and a new security system. The mansion has also had new underground work to run utilities. He said that previous work done to stabilize the building actually did the opposite and severely affected the structure. A timber specialist was consulted and made recommendations on how to best repair the old home.
Stringer says that stage two involves painting, woodworking, repairs and carpentry. She said that Governor Blount’s birthday is March 26th, and she hopes the mansion will be open by then and welcoming visitors. Stringer added that the public reopening will take place without the furniture, so that visitors can see the original interior.
The small mansion was built by William Blount, the first and only governor of the Southwest Territory, as his home and seat of government. Blount was appointed Governor of the territory by President George Washington and also acted as Indian Agent, so treaties and talks were held at the home. He was also active in preparing Tennessee for statehood and, afterwards, served the state in other capacities including as U. S. Senator. Senator Blount was the first senator to face impeachment for dealings with the notorious John Chisholm in an attempt to secure Florida and Louisiana from Spain and deliver it to England. The impeachment was later dismissed.
Over the years several owners and residents have lived there, including Blount’s half-brother, Wiley, the Mc Clung Family, and John Mason Boyd. It was visited by many Cherokee Chiefs, Andrew Jackson, John Sevier, Andrew Michaux, and John Chisholm. Another visitor to the house during the Civil War was Bell Boyd, a noted Confederate spy.
The mansion was acquired in 1926 through the efforts of Mary Boise Temple and the Bonnie Kate Daughters of the Revolution. Today it is operated by the Blount Mansion Association. You can help preserve the area’s first capitol by becoming a member and contributing and you can even use PayPal at http://tinyurl.com/BMADonate.
Although the mansion has been closed, the Visitor’s Center is open Tuesday through Friday each week and features an exhibit of furniture from the frontier period and a Civil War exhibit. The Blount Mansion is located downtown at 299 West Hill Street. You can call for information at 525-2375 or email the director at Director@blountmansion.org.
While you’re there you might want to walk up the hill to the Old Knox County Courthouse and pay your respects to Tennessee’s first governor and patriot John Sevier. He and his first and second wife are buried there and, in the walls of the building, are the tombstones from their original graves.