Visiting Tazewell’s two historic buildings

A Day Away by Mike Steely

If you’re headed north toward Middlesboro, KY, or that region you may want to stop in the little town of Tazewell. That old and historic community has a lot going on this fall that might interest you.

Tazewell predates the Civil War and may have the oldest standing original jail in the state and possibly the third oldest in our nation.  The town may also claim the oldest home and that house is undergoing a huge renovation.

Old Jail being opened for brief visits

The Claiborne County jail was built in 1819 and operated until 1931. The Claiborne County Historical & Genealogy Society is repairing the building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and inviting the public to tour it as progress continues.

The jail’s “hanging doors” lured large crowds during its operational period and folks crowded into the lawn with picnic lunches to watch a prisoner hanged.

The first floor was an entranceway with stairs leading up to the main part of the jail. On the upper floor was a single main “bullpen” cell in the middle with open hallways on each side of the steel bars.

Carolyn Lambert, secretary and treasurer of the historic society there, told The Focus that the public is invited to visit the jail for tours on Saturday and Sunday, October 29 and 30, between 1 and 5 p.m. followed by a Halloween event there on Oct. 30th with a “Trunk or Treat.”.

She said that as the restoration of Old Jail continues the addition of the prison cells is expected.

The Old Jail is located on Highway 33 beside Tazewell’s First Century Bank. Research continues on the history of the structure. The Claiborne County Historical & Genealogy Society is located at the intersection of Hickory and Old Knoxville Road, across from the Claiborne County Library. For more information, call 423-526-5737 or email your research questions to:


Historic Kivette House being restored

Back many years ago I had the pleasure of visiting John Kivette, the last of his family members to live in the historic Kivette House. He gave me a quick tour of the home and showed me all the historic artifacts and documents he had saved over the years.

Since John’s death several years ago, the house remained empty for a number of years, while the executors of the will figured out what to do with it. Due to a lack of maintenance, the masonry is in need of work, the foundation is sinking on the right side of the building, and wood is beginning to deteriorate due to rot. The porch roof and possibly the standing seam metal roof on the main portion of the house are in need of replacement. Portions of the interiors are beginning to deteriorate due to dampness, and paint and wallpaper are peeling from the walls.

The Graham-Kivette House, built circa 1810, is the oldest home in Tazewell and one of only a few buildings that survived a disastrous fire in 1862. It was built by William Graham, a merchant and one of the founders of Tazewell. James Kivette acquired the home at the turn of the 20th century from William Yoakam. Kivette was a lawyer and coal mine operator. His daughter, Louise Kivette Redman, was a novelist and had several books published.

The Eastern Tennessee Preservation Alliance hopes that listing the house will help draw local awareness to the historic value of the house and the necessity of action before the house is lost due to neglect, deterioration or fire. ETPA will work with the Claiborne County government, Claiborne Historical Society, and the East Tennessee Development District to determine the most effective strategy to protect this community resource.

The home is located at the corner of Main Street and Kivette Drive near downtown Tazewell. You can find information on the internet or call the chamber at (423) 626-4149.

The old rock home is not open for visits during restoration.

After visiting the two structures you may want to stop by the restored Rose Gulf service station near Highway 25W and then journey on to the Lincoln Museum in Harrogate, Cumberland Gap, the National Park there, and on into Middlesboro, KY, where a town was built in the middle of a meteor crater.