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Getting the dish on the Dishner home

When walking through the door of the Dishner’s historic home on Main Street in Jonesborough, one can literally feel the love that Nancy and Harold have put into restoring it.
“In many ways an old home is kind of like cat; it owns you,” Nancy said. “If you think you have interest in an old home, you have to really give some strong consideration to the fact that you’re not only buying the house, you’re buying the legacy, and you have a responsibility with that.”
The Dishner house was built around the turn of the 20th century, and rests on the site of the first abolitionist publications, as is evidenced by the historic placard in the front yard. Its late Victorian era style is less ornate than structures built earlier in the period, but its simple, stately beauty is still jaw dropping.
When the Dishners took possession of the home in 2002, it required time and patience to get it ready for occupation.
“We actually had the house for almost a year before we moved into it, because we totally renovated. The house had to be jacked up, so literally from the ground up we started,” Nancy said. “We feel like we have restored the home, and made it very capable of living on into another generation.”
All the ceilings in the house were dropped acoustic tile when Nancy and Harold arrived. So, they replaced them with period materials such as tin-patterned molding in the kitchen, and dark stained bead board in the upstairs bedrooms.
The furniture and accessories were carefully selected by Nancy, and most are germane to the early 1900s.
All the bathrooms had to be restored, too. Rotting wood floors in all the lavatories were replaced with tile. The Dishners also installed a tankless hot water heater, and put in a geothermal heating and air conditioning system, to replace the one that a former owner, Mr. Umpston, installed for his family.
“Mr. Umpston worked for the TVA, and at the time the geothermal heating systems came into existence, he was intrigued with them and installed one in the home,” Nancy explained. “It’s a nice feature, because you don’t have any outside heating and cooling units, and that adds to the historic structure of the house. But we love it because it is just so economical.”
They also replaced wallpaper and fixtures throughout the home, and installed a second sink in the hall just outside their upstairs bedroom to make the morning rush a bit easier.
According to Nancy, the house was first occupied in 1904 by the May family.
“He built it as a wedding present for his new bride, and so they spent their wedding night here in 1904,” she said. “It is the first house in Jonesborough to have running water and electricity. So they were very much on the cutting edge, and ahead of their time.”
Nancy believes the house was actually constructed in three separate stages with the original kitchen located in the basement. The kitchen was likely relocated to its current first floor location when the indoor plumbing and the large downstairs bathroom, unusual for the era, were added.
And Nancy had a strong desire to install a claw foot tub in the capacious water closet downstairs, which acquainted her with an intriguing part of the history of her home.
“So I added in the claw foot tub when we redid this bathroom. We took this one all the way back to the studs- we redid this whole room completely,” she said. “But then later I learned from one of the May family members that Mr. May actually died in a claw foot tub in that room.
“The claw foot tub had been there at one time and I put (it) back. (But) I am not spooked by that, it’s part of the history of the house.”
And the glassed in porch that gave the house its former name of Windows on Main Street wasn’t part of the picture in 1904- it was constructed later to be of service during the tuberculosis, or consumption era, likely in the 1920s or 30s.
“As was common at the time, part of the porch would be taken to create a sunroom, but they called them consumption porches,” Nancy said. “And this would give them a chance to have plenty of light and heat from the sun without having to go outside.”
The oak and pine floors throughout the home are original, as are the windows that provide the sunroom with its signature look. And Nancy loves her sunroom; she talked about spending time there with obvious joy.
“For us it (is) the best place in the world to have brunch,” she explained. “Or when Storytelling Festival is going on, and we’re sitting here having breakfast and watching the crowds- it’s just a tremendous place to be. And (it is) the perfect place to read the paper on Sunday afternoon.”
Just off the sunroom is the women’s parlor where Nancy keeps her piano. This is the room where ladies would have adjourned to sew and chat. But it was also home to a piano in the past.
“Mrs. Umpston, I found out from her son, actually gave music lessons,” Nancy explained. “So I thought it was ironic that I had chosen to put my piano back in the room where she used to give her music lessons.
“It’s a wonderful place to play, and very inspirational to look out on the town.”
The oak and ceramic tiled fireplaces in the women’s parlor, dining room and in the men’s parlor are also all original to the house. Nancy believes someone probably came through Jonesborough in the early 1900s selling those fireplaces in sets. And all three fireplaces now operate with gas logs, offering heat and good cheer on a cold, dark night.
The dining room required the least work since it didn’t sustain as much wear and tear as other rooms. But the Dishners replaced the ceiling and wallpaper, polished the original chandelier, and added one detail to a room they use constantly to entertain family and friends.
“We did put the molding in this area, because there was no molding, so we added that for the character of it. We felt like this house deserved that,” Nancy explained.
“We love having our friends here, we love to entertain, and we love to open the house.”
The men’s parlor sits just off the dining room where period furniture helps you imagine a group of gentlemen gathering to smoke cigars and pipes, and enjoy some after dinner repose.
Upstairs you’ll find the guest bedrooms, a compact, customized library, and the Dishner’s bedroom tucked in the rear corner of the second story. “(When) they came in with the indoor plumbing and the (newer) kitchen was built, (directly) above it was the servant’s quarters, which is now our bedroom.
We figured we were the servants of the house, so it’s only appropriate that we take the servant’s quarters,” Nancy explained laughing. “I call it the unfortunate room because it is an unfortunately difficult space. It’s long, it’s narrow, (but) it’s open with the servants’ stairs.”
The staircase winds down into the kitchen directly from their bedroom, which allows the couple to privately go about their morning routine, even when they have a house full of guests.
“The beauty for us is, as we often have houseguests, we can close the door, we’ve got our space, and we can get to the kitchen to start breakfast without disturbing anyone,” Nancy said.
True to the period in which it was built, the house had very little closet space. But the Dishners got approval for an addition which added a walk-in pantry in the kitchen, a coat closet, and a large closet for their bedroom.
“We only have one closet, but it is a room sized closet. So it works well and those are so special in an old house because (they are) so rare,” said Nancy.
The kitchen is spacious and inviting, and it was aggressively renovated. “There was no cabinetry in the house. It was really just a utilitarian kitchen,” Nancy explained.
“And so we gutted the entire kitchen, except we kept the vent. (And) we built the bead board covering to put over it, so it would mask that huge vent. We kept the commercial stove, we kept the commercial sink.”
And they added cabinets that hark back to the early 1900s in appearance, which overlook a kitchen table that is likely more than 100 years old.
“Harold and I love to cook,” said Nancy. “So it’s not uncommon for our friends to get together (here.)”
The garden out back is filled with edible herbs and flowers. They use the old outhouse – which was built to accommodate four people at once- as a potting shed. Nancy explained that the yard is divided into “rooms” for entertaining and relaxing outside as the original pond burbled softly in the background.
The walls, ceilings, stairs and even a few pieces of furniture throughout the house are peppered with hand painted words and images created by local artist Sharon Stone. And Nancy said her absolute favorite space is the front porch, where she and Harold often swing until bedtime, looking happily at the original quote Nancy conceived, and Stone painted.
“Every minute spent sitting on a front porch swing adds one hour to your life,” said Nancy, quoting herself. “There’s almost never a night we don’t end the evening on the front porch swing.”
Nancy’s passion for her home and its history make her house a veritable homage to the past. And despite its palatial appearance, she seems both humbled and thrilled to live there.
“I think houses know you love them, and they have that sense of you too,” she said. “I think they choose you as much as you choose them.”