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Open House: There’s No Place Like (the Dosser) Home

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fourth installment of Open House, a special H&T series
focusing on historical homes and structures in and around Jonesborough.

Quirky old houses demand a lot of the people who love and live in them — let your attention drift for a moment and the poltergeists will be taking all that specialized work apart at the seams. Carolyn Moore, owner of the Dosser House on Depot Street, knows all about that.
“We have been trying to keep the leaks out of the roof,” Moore said of the mansard roof atop her stately mansion. “The people working up there now are the Steels, and John Steel’s son George pretty much holds the house together.”
A majority of the masonry work at the home was done by the late master craftsman, Joe Grindstaff.
“When we first bought the house and 28 acres from Doll Walker, it was not that different from what it is now, but it hadn’t been restored,” said Moore, whose family has lived in the house since 1964. “I said to Doll, who was living in the house at the time, ‘How can you see your house sold off?’ She answered, ‘I’ve been drinking a lot of black coffee and eating aspirin.’”
When they bought the house, which is surrounded by wonderful old trees, a portion of it had been converted into three apartments that had to be removed for restoration and the ceiling was missing in the kitchen.
A friend, Jasper Calloway, commented to Moore’s husband Rick [a professor at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C.] that the house could be “torn down and built back for less than what we paid for it,” but the Moores chose restoration and all it entailed, saying it was the right thing to do by the house.
Until the work could be done in the kitchen, Moore suspended a silk parachute in the ceiling, which while not exactly conforming to 1877 standards, did contain the room in a certain style until the restoration work was completed.
“It takes time to figure out what you are doing with a house,” Moore said. “You must listen to what the house is trying to say to you. There were shadows of past color, particularly the green that we were looking for. George Steel, who lives in Knoxville now, did pretty much all of the painting, and he is a master with color.”
Moore’s home, known historically as the Dosser House, was built in 1877 by James H. Dosser for his son Charles. It is a close relation to the Reeves House, also built by Dosser.
The home is classic Italianate, and while it is imposing from the exterior with its towering rich red brick, and white and dark green trim, elongated, arched windows and bracketed eaves, inside it is warmed by rubbed wood surfaces, countless details down to stamped door hinges, luscious paint colors, fascinating artwork and an awareness of the outside brought in by those same windows.
“Someone once asked how many chimneys there were and I said, ‘I don’t know. Let’s go outside and count,’” recalled Moore.
The fireplace mantles and surrounds are particularly noteworthy, especially the one in the front room with its fine attention to detail and a painting of a peacock behind the screen.
“We used to have peacocks running around all over the place, at least four or five,” Moore said. “We loved them, but we never could convince the peacocks that Saturday we didn’t have to get up,” she added with a chuckle. “One time I got a call from somebody over across Main street, saying ‘we have a peacock over here and we think it’s yours,’ and I said, I suggest you tell him to come home . . . you don’t just go over and pick up a peacock!”
The second floor landing provides a particularly inviting nook in which to daydream, watch birds, write or possibly nap. High among the trees, one can almost imagine the peacocks that used to roam the grounds and hear that loud call only they can make. It’s a place for the mind to fly high on the wings of imagination with the kites that are suspended near the windows.

Dosser House inspires flights of fancy in a lot of people, not the least the storytellers who have been a part of Jonesborough’s history since the early 1970’s.

To use or not to use: this does refer directly and historically to her involvement in ST
“National storytellers Connie Reagan-Blake and Barbara Freeman always stayed with me from the very beginning,” said Moore, “first at my daughter’s home, Blue Iris, and then here.

“But during storytelling, I would occasionally come downstairs to find people asleep on the floor in this room where we are sitting (the kitchen, which is a light-filled interior room with arched transom windows.) It could get a little bit irksome at times; you’re stepping over people you don’t know and wondering, ‘where did you come from?

“It’s just the way it was,” she continued, “particularly at storytelling — suddenly, you’d have three friends that you didn’t know were friends and they all said they were coming to visit during the festival, and it’s very hard to say, ‘no, you’re not coming either;’ I can say this a little better than I used to and get away with it.”

A sign out back states firmly that the mansion is haunted, but the ghosts do not seem to be disruptive a presence.

“We have an agreement with ghosts in this house,” said Moore. “They can live here as long as they don’t reveal themselves too much. I am convinced some of them rode the rails and came back in time for the festival. Every year, at storytelling time, I would come downstairs in the morning and pictures would be on the floor with glass intact and other things would be dislodged or rearranged.

People always ask me if I believe in the Holy Ghost, and I say of course I do, I spend every Sunday at the Presbyterian Church, [chuckle] how can you say such things and not have such things happen.

Daughters — Cassandra, Diana and Susan — no sons, but you will find daughters will swap around and you get them that way.