Patrick Stern and his wife, Patricia, didn’t set out to buy historic homes; it just seems they stumbled upon them.
They now own three, two of which are on the National Register of Historic Places.
Merely looking for a house to buy in 1999 — preferably one made of stone — they ran across their current home, the historic Elihu Embree house in Telford. Built in 1791, it was the home of the publisher of the abolitionist publication, The Emancipator.
After working to restore the Embree house, the Sterns learned the property across the street — the Kyker farm with its vintage 1950s farmhouse — was available. They decided to buy it as well, restoring it and using it as a bed and breakfast.
So, in 2015, when Patrick Stern heard the old Wassom property next door was for sale, complete with its circa 1828 house, he couldn’t resist checking it out.What he saw made him question why he was there in the first place: a cellar filled with 2-3,000 jars of dust-covered canned goods, peeling wallpaper, boarded up fireplaces, and extensive water damage.
There were still many of the original items in the house, including mid-century appliances (which still work), stacks of boxes filled with ephemera and even old fabric and clothing.
“They (the former owners) had just walked out and left it as it was. You couldn’t take a step without tripping over or bumping into something. It was like walking through a time capsule,” Stern said.
But yet, there he was — actually considering purchasing the old home, a two-story Flemish bond red brick I-house located at the corner of Matthews Mill Road and the Norfolk Southern Railroad.
The house was in sad shape, and had it not been on adjoining property, Stern says he would probably never have given it a second look.
“You get a taste of it now, and you think it’s bad,” Stern said, as we toured the house together, stepping carefully to avoid sections of badly damaged floors. “You should have seen it three years ago. It had been abandoned for 50 years and sadly, it had a leak in the addition for 20 years. As I walked through it, I was asking myself if it made sense to buy it.”
That’s when Stern invited local historian, Dr. Bill Kennedy, to come and take a look. His advice was a determining factor.
“Bill Kennedy wasn’t the realtor, but he most certainly was the one who sold me the house,” Stern said. “I’ll never forget his words.
“He said, ‘Even at my age, if I lived where you live, I would buy it. There are two reasons I would do that: First, this is a three-brick structure — not only on the outside but the three-brick construction runs even through the inside walls.
‘Also, this house was in one family for almost 200 years. It is very rare to find a 200-year-old house where all the original woodwork – doors, wainscoting – is all there. You just don’t find that.’ ”
Kennedy was right. The house really turned out to be a diamond in the rough — especially its architecture — duly noted when it recently became one of the most recent Tennessee properties added to the National Register of Historic Places.The property is also rich in history. Stern has found a bayonet and a Union officer’s belt buckle in the shed next to the house, and he will tell you he believes there are more historical treasures yet to be discovered. Union and Confederate forces clashed on or near the property on Sept. 7, 1863, where Union troops surrendered to Confederate forces. In the fighting that led to the final clash at the Battle of Limestone Station, forces from both sides passed through the farm surrounding the Wassom house.
Work is currently under way on the 2,500-square-foot, eight-room house and its eight fireplaces. Stern says he hopes to complete the renovation within two years, turning the lower level into an area for receptions, and the upstairs into a bed and breakfast.
One can see the progress. The old aluminum siding that had been added to the home’s addition has been replaced with barn wood. The water-damaged addition has been gutted and all of the windows have been replaced with ones acceptable by historic register standards.
“Even with all we’ve accomplished so far, there’s still a lot of work to be done,” Stern said, adding with a chuckle, “Sometimes I ask myself, ‘What were you smokin’ when you bought this house?’”