By Dave Ongie, News Editor
When you set foot on the Rueben Brooks Farmstead in Stoney Creek in Carter County, you can almost feel the gravity of the rich history that has unfolded on the property.
A natural spring in the backyard babbles unabated as it has for hundreds of years, serving as a source of life that has drawn people to the property for centuries. This water source first drew Native Americans to the site before white settlement of the area.
Following his service in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, which included combat at Kings Mountain, John Michael Smithpeter was granted a wide swath of land that included the spring. In 1812, Reuben Brooks Sr. purchased the land and built a beautiful brick home on the property in 1820.
Since purchasing that home, which now sits on 14 acres of land, Dr. Dan Schumaier worked to restore the house to its original antebellum Greek Revival appearance. But Schumaier didn’t stop at restoring and preserving the Brooks home, which now holds a place on the National Register of Historic Places.
Instead, he has augmented the history of the property by adding a pair of buildings. The first was the Stover House, originally built near Stoney Creek, a white, two-story dwelling where President Andrew Johnson died after suffering a stroke on July 31, 1875.
From his back porch, Schumaier can gaze across a pond in his backyard each evening and lay his eyes on the two-story dwelling once owned by Johnson’s daughter Mary and her husband Daniel Stover. But that simple pleasure did not come without a lot of meticulous research and hours of labor.
By the time Schumaier purchased the home in 2004, it was in a state of disrepair. Using digitized versions of old photos, he worked to make sure each board was placed in its original position, a task that was somewhat akin to putting together the world’s most complicated jigsaw puzzle.
The attention to detail continued on the inside of the house, which Schumaier adorned with period-specific wallpaper and furniture. Items in the downstairs room tie the dwelling to the land it now sits upon. A spinning wheel in the corner was originally used in a home in Stoney Creek.
Upstairs is the room where Johnson died after suffering a pair of strokes in quick succession while visiting his daughters Mary and Martha. Schumaier went to great lengths to place the replica of Johnson’s deathbed in the spot where the 17th President spent his final hours.
While most of the furniture in the room was not there on the day Johnson died, there is a solemn feel to the space as you consider the weight of the historic event that happened here, Schumaier will tell you he owns “the last thing Andrew Johnson saw in his life.” As you wait breathlessly for him to reveal the sacred artifact, Schumaier points up at the ceiling with a hearty laugh.
As picturesque as the Stover House is, Schumaier couldn’t help but notice an empty plot of land across the spring. The spot had once contained a tennis court, a recreational space that sweetened the pot when he first convinced his family to move to the historic property in Stoney Creek.
But when the kids moved out and he quit playing tennis, he had the court removed, leaving a blank canvas that begged for another historic structure.
“We sit on this back porch back here a lot, so I said, ‘I need something to look at here. I need a log cabin,’ ” Schumaier said.
Proving that you can find anything on the Internet nowadays, Schumaier went in search of a cabin to buy and found one in Braxton County, West Virginia. The cabin was built about the same time as Brooks was building his house, making it a perfect match from a historical standpoint. The 16-foot by 20-foot dimensions also made it a perfect fit for the space Schumaier had available.
But the cabin came with more than Schumaier bargained for. Mark Bowe, the seller, was in the midst of hosting the first season of his reality show Barnwood Builders, which has now run for 10 seasons on DIY Network.
After Schumaier prepared a foundation for the building, Bowe and his crew arrived with the disassembled log cabin followed by a camera crew, which used Schumaier’s garage as a makeshift headquarters during a five-day shoot. During that time, Bowe and his crew reassembled the giant logs that served as the outer walls of the two-story structure before exiting stage left.
“They came in and they set the logs, stacked them up,” Schumaier said. “After they got them stacked up, then they left. Then it was up to us to put the roof on and to do the chinking.”
In the old days, folks used a combination of dirt and corncobs to seal the spaces between the logs. Schumaier opted for a new method called Perma-Chink, which provides the benefit of being flexible while providing long-lasting protection from the elements.
The chimney was reconstructed using stones from the original fireplace as well as slabs of Tennessee limestone, again tying the structure to the land it now occupies. The interior of the cabin is accented with authentic furniture and a treasure-trove of farming and logging implements from the 19th Century.
The buildings on Schumaier’s property stack up with what you’d expect to find at museums or historical sites, but there is nothing stodgy about the experience of visiting the property. The spring on the property has been a source of life for generations, and Schumaier goes to great lengths to ensure life is experienced to its fullest at his home.
“It’s kind of a playhouse,” he said of the cabin. “We have a lot of parties out here, and we’ve used that porch as a stage for a bluegrass band.”