Late 2012 Brought A New Owner For Historic Residence Of Valentine Sevier
BY LAUREN HENRY
Stepping into a historical home is like stepping through a portal into the past, and Andy and W.T. Daniels now own their own portal to the 1820s.
The Valentine Sevier home on North Main Street is a three-story brown-brick house set back from North Main Street at the end of a walkway lined with large boxwood, with the Greeneville/Greene County Library and the historic Big Spring for neighbors.
"We are excited!" Andrea (Andy) Daniels said of her new purchase. "We are going to fix it up and live here."
Mrs. Daniels, a Greeneville native and downtown property-owner who is also the current president of Main Street: Greeneville, purchased the historic residence last month. She closed on the purchase on Dec. 21.
"We closed on the 21st -- the day the world was supposed to end [according to some interpretations of an ancient Mayan artifact], and [the day of ] Mom and Dad's anniversary," she said. "I will never forget that date."
Built in 1820-21, it was the second, much larger home of Valentine Sevier, a local political, business, and philanthropic leader in the early 1800s. Sevier's first home is located on South Main Street across and up the street from the Andrew Johnson Homestead.
Sevier was a member of a famous Tennessee family.
He was a nephew of General John Sevier, the first governor of Tennessee, and the brother of Robert Sevier, the father of Valentine.
Robert Sevier, along with John Sevier, was one of the "Overmountain Men" who fought and won the Battle of King's Mountain in October 1780. The battle is considered a pivotal event in the Revolutionary War in the South
Robert Sevier suffered a serious wound in the battle and died on his way back to what is now Greene County. He was buried along the trail.
Valentine Sevier was married twice, first to Nancy Agnes Dinwiddie Sevier, and, after her death, to Minerva (Vinerah) Cannon Sevier.
ATTRACTED BY HOME'S HISTORY
Andy Daniels said in an interview last week that, just out of curiosity, she had looked at the home originally two years ago with her daughter, Angela Taylor, and her grandchildren.
This year, around Thanksgiving, she and her husband, Mayor W.T. Daniels, looked at the house again.
She said she was drawn to it by the historical importance of this nearly-200-year-old local architectural landmark.
The bricks were made on the site, and the woodwork was the product of Irish craftsmen, according to the late Richard H. Doughty's "Greeneville: One Hundred Year Portrait," the definitive book on the town's history.
Andy Daniels said she was there just to look but was encouraged to do more. So she did.
"I made an offer so low [that] I didn't think they would take it," she said.
The $145,000 offer was accepted even though the list price was around $200,000 -- and has been listed considerably higher in years past.
"Then I had to tell my husband I had bought a house!" she said.
Fortunately, the mayor has quickly come on board with the purchase, too, and Andy Daniels said he is helping with plans for their future home.
The home was owned most recently by the Cowles and Brown families.
In 1928, Dr. Robert Sebastian Cowles Sr. was appointed the first director of the Greene County Health Department and moved to the area from Franklin
He purchased and renovated the Valentine Sevier home, and raised his family there.
Many years later, the house passed to his children: a son, Dr. Robert S. Cowles Jr., and a daughter, Nancy Cowles Brown.
Nancy Cowles Brown lived in the home for many years with her husband, the late Greeneville physician Dr. Robert G. Brown, and their two sons: Robert Gaylord Brown Jr. and Richard Cowles Brown.
Her nephew, Dr. Robert S. Cowles III, of Greensboro, Ga., inherited the home after her death and was the most recent owner before Mrs. Daniels.
Her obituary in 1999 said the home "became an anchor for the family and, family members said, a lifetime project of love for Mrs. Brown."
MANY GOOD MEMORIES
Dr. Cowles couldn't agree more with the sentiment of the house being an anchor for the family.
In a telephone interview on Monday afternoon, Cowles expressed his sadness at parting with not only a piece of Greeneville history but a very big part of his own family history.
He lived in the home only as an infant, he said, but was there for family dinners "at least a couple times a week."
Although his grandfather died when Cowles was only six years old, Cowles said he remembers sitting on his lap in the house in front of one of the many fireplaces.
Cowles' grandfather and father were both revered for their contributions to Greene County public health and the practice of medicine.
In addition to being the first director of the Greene County Health Department, Dr. Cowles Sr. served here during a smallpox epidemic and began what was called the "Blue Ribbon Parade" to reward and encourage good health practices.
Cowles III said he remembers both the home and Greeneville itself during what he called "the glory days" in the early years of the local movement [in the 1970s and 1980s] to preserve the old houses and add many to the National Trust's registry.
At times there were, he said, special tours with horse-drawn carriages taking people from one historic house to the next in the Historic District.
And the Valentine Sevier home was one of Greeneville's finest.
"In its day, that was a thing of beauty," Cowles recalled.
'HARD TO PART WITH'
The house has been on sale for three or four years.
"It was extraordinarily difficult to part with," Cowles said.
"The reason I put the house on the market to sell it was because I could not adequately take care of it. My duties down here are extensive."
Cowles has followed in his father and grandfather's professional footsteps and is extensively involved in the medical community in Georgia, where he has developed an extensive urological practice.
"That house was truly a part of our family, but it was time to let it go," he said.
Cowles said he hopes that the Daniels will be able to restore the home to its former glory. He also said Andy Daniels should be ready for a knock on the door one day (from him).
He said he would love to see how the home is transformed and pay homage to the place that still holds so many memories for him.
Real estate agent Brenda Parrish-Dickmann has dealt with the estate for several years.
Parrish-Dickmann said today that she was happy to finally see the home sold.
"I've seen it sit there, and it is just exciting to see that someone who cares is going to be there to fix it up.
"It is a matter a lot of people in Greeneville will be excited about," she stated.
Jann Mirkov, executive director of MainStreet: Greeneville, said she was excited to hear that the historic home had been purchased.
"It is nice to know the house has an interested owner that has saved it and is working to bring it back to its former glory," Mirkov said.
Greene County Heritage Trust President George Blanks agreed.
"I'd hate to see us lose these old homes," he said. "It used to be our pride and joy in Greeneville."
Blanks said he was glad to hear that the homeowner was Andy Daniels, MainStreet: Greeneville president and the facilitator for the "Revitalizing Downtown" action group of the town's 20/20 Vision project.
"She has the imagination, talent and enthusiasm needed," he said.
The home, which is featured on the self-guided "Walk with the Presidents" walking tour, has been vacant for several years and has fallen into disrepair.
Daniels said she would like to keep it as original as possible. This includes tearing down an addition that was not original to the home.
The addition on the back of the home is clearly visible, and its poor construction is a stark contrast to fine workmanship of the original structure.
Daniels calls the added back room her "waterfall feature." The floor is falling through the lower level, and rain pours through the damaged roof and floors.
The outside brick at that location is a putrid green, clearly outlining the separation of the original construction, of brown brick, and the poorly-built addition.
Daniels said the back room may be rebuilt as a back porch.
She said the damage is rooted in a large walnut tree butted next to the addition, which dropped leaves and nuts onto the roof for years.
The first order of business, she said, is to remove the trees that are causing damage to the house. She said she plans to capitalize on the timing of the Walters State Community College expansion and take out the trees while the campus is closed.
Then on to the roof, followed by the house's plumbing and electrical wiring. She also plans to install a security system.
Although the task before her is large, the plan is quickly taking shape, and her enthusiasm was clearly visible as she showed a reporter around her future home, which she estimates will take about a year to restore.
A FINANCIAL COMMITMENT
"One thing I know about Andy is that she does not let grass grow under her feet," Mirkov said.
Mirkov said she is pleased that someone so prominent in the future of the downtown area has made such a historically significant financial commitment to the Historic District.
"She has done what a lot of us wish we could, and that is put a financial commitment to the downtown area," Mirkov said.
However, Mirkov said she knows how "deep rooted" Daniels is in the Greeneville community.
"I think Andy is doing this as an individual. Her being president of MainStreet: Greeneville and [being] involved in the action group is just icing on the cake," she said.
In a separate interview, Daniels agreed. "I would have bought this even if I weren't president of MainStreet: Greeneville," she said. "I just love this home."
Both Andy and W.T. Daniels grew up in or close to the downtown area.
They have been living for the past 46 years on Brentwood Drive in a home Daniels says she never expected to leave.
She said it is "crammed full of antiques" and her baby grand piano. That history will need to be carefully transported once moving day comes.
However, Daniels is finding new pieces of historical interest that she values in her new home.
In the attic above the third floor, for instance, she discovered a lonely wooden rocking horse, which she suspects dates back to the 1800s.
The house has a fireplace in nearly every room, which Daniels said she would like to keep, but add gas logs for heating. And she is quite proud of the solid walnut handrail and original "Haymaker latches" on the doors.
Walking through the home shows evidence of the quality construction. There is no tell-tale creak in the hardwood floors such as is often found in old homes.
An overnight visit there with her grandchildren revealed no ghosts haunting the home, she said.
And if there are spirits still walking the halls, Daniels suspects they are friendly ones, welcoming the new homeowner.
She said when she visited the house prior to purchasing it, the door opened on its own. Daniels took it as a sign of welcome.
Daniels, with five generations of her own family history rooted in Greeneville, said she feels at home in the Sevier house. It is an investment for the family, she said.
Almost all of the original buildings during the life of Valentine Sevier are still there. The purchase includes the old brick law office at the side, which W.T. Daniels hopes to make his office someday, and a log smokehouse the Danels plan to restore.
What has been lost is gone, of course, but most of this Greeneville history has been rescued, and it is poised to begin yet another chapter.