Wheatlands - One Of Tennessee's Oldest Homes - Coming Back To Life At Sevierville

Sunday, August 18, 2013

One of Tennessee's oldest houses on Boyds Creek Road at Sevierville is seeing new life.

John Burns and Richard Parker have brought a multitude of changes to Wheatlands Plantation in the short time they have owned it, and more are on the way, including rebuilding its historic distillery.

Still at the site are the Federal-style, three-story brick home that was built in 1825 as well as the separate kitchen and dining building to the rear, a loom building and a smokehouse.

When the overgrown seven-acre property was recently cleared of years of overgrowth, they found Cedar Spring and a pond it feeds, the slave cemetery near Boyds Creek and the mound where it is believed that Cherokees were buried who were killed by John Sevier on his way back from King's Mountain. An archaeological team also found the thick stone floor of a shed that was believed to have held the distillery product.

They were able to purchase boxes of fascinating Chandler family documents going back to the earliest days at Wheatland when 3,700 acres were planted in wheat for the distillery operation and another 1,000 were for other agricultural pursuits and timber.

Timothy Chandler had been granted land at the site for his Revolutionary War service. The Chandlers had been among the first settlers at Jamestown in 1609, with the first immigrant coming as a stowaway. They later lived at Wilkes County, N.C. Timothy died in 1819.

John Chandler, son of Timothy, came to the Boyds Creek area in 1791. His original house burned when three Chandler girls were using a lantern in an upstairs bedroom to teach a slave girl how to read. The girls perished along with a Chandler boy. The new house, featuring a "coffin door," single hall, double parlor and other interesting features, was designed after a house at Williamsburg.

Andrew and Rachel Jackson were among the famous visitors at Wheatlands, paying a call on the wealthy Chandler who had 188 slaves and loaned money over a wide area. 

Benjamin Chandler, a son of John, floated 6,000 hogs to Chattanooga from Wheatlands. His excursion started "at the bend" of Boyds Creek near the Indian mound and slave cemetery, then on to the nearby French Broad River and eventually to the Tennessee River. Benjamin Chandler married a daughter of the teacher that Col. James A. Whiteside had hired, and they stayed on in Chattanooga.  

As the Civil War approached, the crafty Southern advocate John Chandler arranged a hasty marriage with a Unionist wife, Anne Wayland Erwin, and left her in charge of the plantation. Union soldiers camped out on the property and occupied the mansion, while sparing it. Two Confederates trying to murder the master of the house were killed just inside the front door. 

The plantation remained in the family for seven generations. The last direct descendant of the Chandlers, Blanche McMahon, died at the house in 1966. Most of the historic outbuildings stayed intact, though, unfortunately, one family member during a drunken spree burned down the distillery and a couple of very old barns. A more recent barn remains. A slave dormitory for the "elite" slaves was lost in the not-too-distant past.

The new owners are from Eastern Kentucky and came to the Sevierville area in search of "an old house." When Wheatlands came on the market, a realtor told them he had just the thing for them. They at first were unable to reach a deal with the owner. He later called with a better offer and told them they had three days to take it or leave it.

The new owners have outfitted the Wheatlands mansion with period antiques of the day as well as Chandler family photos, including one of Benjamin they acquired recently. A bed that belonged to a doctor friend of the early Chandlers and which had been in storage for the last 70 years is now in an upstairs bedroom. A number of Chandler descendants have returned to visit the homeplace, and many have shared some family heirlooms.

They learned that a folk art portrait of Timothy Chandler, a son of John Chandler, was for sale, then found that the East Tennessee Historical Society had acted quickly to acquire it. The society, however, arranged for a close facsimile to be prepared, and it now hangs in one of the Wheatlands parlors. Timothy Chandler married Mary E. Smith Chandler, the widow of his brother, William Chandler. She was from Pikeville. Timothy's only daughter, Adela ("Miss Dell"), lived at Wheatlands until her death in 1936.

The owners also display some interesting artifacts that have been unearthed or found recently with metal detectors. These include coins, buttons and bullets dating back to the Revolutionary War and Civil War. There's also an early brown Coca-Cola bottle from the Knoxville bottler. 

A prominent UT archaeologist is helping with the excavations and the overseers of Mount Vernon are giving advice on the project to bring back Tennessee's first legal distillery.

They also discovered that the mansion is apparently built on a very large geode. Portions of this interesting rock formation are visible jutting out in the spacious basement.

Wheatlands is now available for weddings, receptions, showers, parties, teas and other special events. Overnight accommodations are available in two upstairs rooms.

Individual or group tours are also available. Call 865-365-1052 for times.


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