Maryville College in 1819, Isaac Anderson’s family moved to East Tennessee from Abingdon, Virginia in 1802. A two- story log cabin was constructed in the area where the Shannon Valley Farms Subdivision currently exists in Knox County. Anderson lived in and used the structure as his first Union Academy School or the “Log College” until he was asked to become pastor of New Providence Presbyterian Church in Maryville in 1811. He moved the academy here, and later founded the seminary that became Maryville College.
As one can imagine though, the cabin was in bad shape by 2010. Then covered in overgrowth and rotting from underneath its siding, a nonprofit group focused on preservation, Knox Heritage, declared Anderson’s cabin as one of their “Fragile 15.” For a few years, it was unclear whether the cabin would make it or face what seemed like impending demolition.
It wasn’t until 2017 that decisions and the funds to save Anderson’s cabin finally materialized thanks to Cole Piper, a Maryville College alum. Piper, who served on the board for the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center explained to the center’s director, Bob Patterson, just how important saving Anderson’s log cabin was.
Previously, ideas about placing the cabin on the college’s campus were considered, but it was decided that rebuilding the cabin at the Heritage Center would allow more people to visit the cabin and understand its significant role in local history as well as Anderson’s individual impact on the community.
Today, Anderson’s cabin is in front of the Heritage Center, where it has been angled to face the road. Patterson plans to have the cabin open during the day free of charge and hopes to use the structure’s history to place emphasis on early education throughout Blount County. Returning Anderson’s cabin to its former glory is not an easy feat though. So, I went up to the Heritage Center to speak with Andy Simon, Operations Manager at the center, about the cabin’s progress.
As the cabin was taken down, the salvageable logs had to be tagged with identifiers, so they would later fit back together correctly. Numbered from the ground up, the system combines letters that coordinate to sides and numbers that match each log such as A4 or B3.
Anderson’s cabin was originally comprised of about 60 logs, but nearly half of them were far too rotten to be utilized in the reconstruction. Luckily, Freddie Haun, a log cabin expert from Walland, knew of other cabins that could provide replacement logs. The cabin stands two stories tall, and the fact that Anderson was able to build his cabin with two floors rather than one is significant in itself. During the time, everything was manually built, so he must have known quite a few people who surely aided in construction.
Although Anderson’s cabin had previously had its original roof replaced with a metal or tin style roof at some point, the recently finished new roof completely represents what would have historically been in place, a shake roof.
Simon explains that shake roofs are “built to last a lifetime” and made to be completely waterproof due to the layering of the wooden shakes themselves, which are about 28 inches long but overlapped on one another at least 14 inches. Because the shakes are treated, the roof will also be fireproof in this case.
“We’ll be able to burn fires in the fireplaces,” he adds.
With two floors, Anderson’s cabin did have two fireplaces made of marble, which was readily available around East Tennessee at the time. The center hopes to have both of the fireplaces reconstructed to original form and working function as well. When it comes to the cabin’s flooring, it will be both old and new.
“We have gotten donated wood from David and Marty Black. So, we’ve used taken freshly harvested 200-year-old timbers to make a base floor. Then, we’ve taken the old floor that was not supportable and attached it to the new floor,” explains Simon. Though the windows, doors, and chimneys are not intact yet, they are surely on their way.
When the cabin is completely finished and opened, it will become an exhibit to tell Anderson’s multiple stories through informational signage and possibly some physical artifacts. The Heritage Center also plans to plant chestnut trees near the cabin in conjunction with efforts to reestablish the species, but not much of any other landscaping will be done around the cabin. Of course, it wasn’t likely that Anderson had any form of landscaping comparable to today’s standards. From displays such as original flooring nails to possibly an old Maryville College loom, Anderson’s cabin will clearly represent a great piece of Blount County history to visitors and our own community members alike.
It couldn’t be more perfect timing either. The Heritage Center is planning on holding a ribbon cutting ceremony for Anderson’s cabin come next February, which will fall right in line with Maryville College’s other bicentennial celebrations. To see the cabin in person while it’s still in progress, feel free to visit the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center in Townsend.