Skip to content Skip to left sidebar Skip to right sidebar Skip to footer

A return to its glory days

For five years, Charles and Dona Lewis spent every weekend, holiday and vacation at the Franklin House — not living there, but working on bringing the old Jonesborough home back to what it was in its glory days.
Even after the five years of renovations, the couple lived in the home’s downstairs apartment until the upstairs was ready to be inhabited.
“Once we got started, we couldn’t quit until it was finished, so we just kept working on it,” Dona said. “Anybody who restores an old house knows what it takes. I love this house. You have to love it to do this.”
Most likely built around 1830, the house held several families through the years, including those of Daniel Kenny, John Ryland, John Mathes and A.J. Brown.
The Babb family purchased it in 1869 and members of that family occupied the house until 1923, when the Denton family bought it and lived there until the mid-1970s.
The house’s original configuration was typical of 1830s to 1860s style — a classic “I” architectural style sometimes called “Tennessee Vernacular” or “Plantation Plain.”
The floor plan had two rooms on each side of a central hallway, with working fireplaces at each end.
At some point, the kitchen was added to the middle level, making the house into an “L” shape.
The Lewis’ renovations included much more than that of most houses. During the five years it took to restore the house, it was lifted off its foundation so the foundation could be rebuilt to retain as much of the original structure as possible.
Instead of using today’s tendency to level the land to accommodate a structure, the ground floor of the old house was literally built into the landscape below grade on three sides.
“At the time this house was built, it conformed to the hillside,” Charles said. “If you let your eye follow the windows from side to side to side, the house is off by 11 inches.”
The Lewises removed over 300 wheelbarrows of dirt from the ground floor alone during the restoration in order to make enough space to be able to stand straight up without hitting the ceiling.
Stones from the wall downstairs were moved to the side yard to frame a lovely patio that leads to the wooden structure, which houses the original cistern.
“The house had to be gutted and rebuilt after we bought it,” Charles said. “We even had the four layers of brick framing the windows downstairs removed, cleaned and put back.”
“Believe me when I say there was almost nothing to renovate and restore when we first walked in here,” said Dona of the interior of the house. “This house had been gone through. We even had to get mantles for the fireplaces. There was a claw foot tub upstairs that’s now downstairs in the apartment and a wood burning stove in the kitchen. That was all that was left.”
Upstairs the rooms have been adapted to accommodate the need for private bathrooms for all three bedrooms, and the architectural details have been carefully retained in the dormers adding an element of charm to each room, which are named for the families who once lived in the house.
The house is now a bed & breakfast, and members of the Babb family, which owned the house for 54 years before moving to Corbin, Kent., continue to stay in their old family home when they come to the Jonesborough area.
Much of the information about the house and the family was supplied to Charles and Dona by them.
“Some members of the family have come from as far away as California and Idaho,” said Charles Lewis. “And they continue to send us information about the history of the family and the house.”
One of the most interesting things the Lewis’ found during restoration was a piece of wood with Ellen Babb’s signature in it, Charles said.
“We weren’t sure if it was her name written on it or if it was her original signature. A member of the family verified it as her signature, because they had her signature on a railroad pass and it matched perfectly,” he said. “We saved it for years and now it hangs in the Babb room upstairs.”