A Day Away By Mike Steely
The little town of Tazewell is one of my favorite places and if you only drive along Highway 25E through Claiborne County, you’ll miss the historic town center. Tazewell is just south of Cumberland Gap and has existed since 1804.
Tazewell, not to be confused with its next-door neighbor New Tazewell, has less than 3,000 residents. The town is located on the hill above the highway and has a little historic downtown section, a renovated and interesting gasoline filling station, and a home that is being preserved and protected.
I visited the Graham-Kivett House years ago as a guest of a descendant of the family. The late John Kivett was a scholar of family and local history. He had many relics in his home and shared information with me. He was polite and friendly, helping me in some of my East Tennessee History research and putting me in contact with other local Tazewell people.
Kivett took me around the area, showing me the Confederate Cemetery, pointing out other historic buildings and sites, and taking me up above the town to a Union Army breastwork fort that still exists along with the grave of one of the area pioneers.
The Graham-Kivett House was built by Irish immigrant William Graham, who built other houses in the community including Speedwell Manor. That structure was purchased by a Knoxville doctor who moved it, brick by brick, to Knoxville. Both armies used the home during the Civil War and General Ulysses S. Grant reportedly stayed there.
John Kivett died in 2004. His family bought the home around 1900 and, unfortunately, Kivett had no living family members to continue the legacy. The house sat without repairs or upkeep.
The Claiborne County Chamber of Commerce and the Economic and Community Development Board in Tazewell have raised funds, including a $75,000 state grant, to help save the home. The home was purchased for the price of its delinquent taxes due. Restoration of the roof was first and then rebuilding the chimneys is next. Fundraising events are planned.
The final step is to restore the stonework and mortar at an estimated cost of $140,000. Plans are to relocate the Chamber of Commerce there and preserve local history in the stone home with a museum and meeting place. It will apparently be known as the Claiborne Heritage Center.
The Graham-Kivett House is located at the corner of Main Street and Kivett Drive. You can search for “Claiborne Heritage Center” online or contact the Chamber of Commerce there at chamberceo@claibornepartnership.com or (423) 626-1611.
While you are in the area you might like to visit the museum at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, the Cumberland Gap National Park, or come back to Knoxville by way of Bean Station and stop at the overlook atop Clinch Mountain.