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Saying goodbye: Family bequeaths legacy of historic childhood home

By LISA WHALEY

Publisher

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Standing on the front porch of her childhood home — the brick historic two-story residence once owned by her parents, Jonesborough’s Tobie and Baxter Bledsoe — Virginia Mattie is preparing to say goodbye. 

“Everyone in Jonesborough knows me as Sissy,” she explained, looking around the property. “We grew up in this house. We would play in the creek in the summer and catch crawdads and we walked to the library at the Chester Inn from this house.”

It was a touchstone where she and her brothers and sister gathered; where she walked down the staircase to marry her husband, Edward; and it’s the place both her parents loved.

But when Baxter passed away in 2017, followed by Tobie in 2018, Mattie felt like she had been handed a new mission for their historic home.

“Daddy loved this house,” she said. “Now mom, she loved the house. But Daddy lived this house. He lived it.” 


At top, Virginia “Sissy” Mattie stands on the porch of her family home, 100 E. Woodrow, like so many times throughout her childhood. The house will welcome new owners sometime late this summer. Above, the brick home awaits its new owners. (Photos contributed)

And he wanted his children to profit from its legacy.

Yet by 2018, it was something of a legacy that was badly in need of repair. Of all her family, Mattie and her husband felt they best had the means to tackle the project.

“When he got sick, it broke his heart that he could not fix the problems,” she said. 

Mattie also saw it as restoring her father’s dream.

“I was 10 years old when we moved in,” she recalled. “It was very scary. There was wallpaper on all the walls, the fireplaces were sealed.

“The house was heated by oil when we purchased it. I think the oil furnace had been installed in 1898.”

But her dad, she stressed, was more than ready for the challenge.

“My father had nervous energy,” his daughter recalled. “He was a full-time manager at Sears. He would come home and change into his blue jeans and start working on this house. 

“The kids were free labor,” Mattie added with a smile, followed by a reminiscent chuckle. “My grandmother called it the barn. She cried. She could not believe my parents had bought this house.”

For the Bledsoe children, however, 100 E. Woodrow Ave., became a magical place, and you can still hear the pride and wonderment in Mattie’s voice when she talks about the historic structure.

“John Sevier, governor of Tennessee, actually bought the property, but he died while he was in office, so the Shipley family purchased it and finished,” said Mattie of this brick building erected in 1840.

In 1848, John Sevier’s nephew, William Sevier, bought the house.

“He was an abolitionist,” Mattie recalled. “And he was for the Northern side. And he was a very educated man, very well spoken, and when he ran for Tennessee speaker, they basically said you are not going to qualify because you were not a rebel general.”

A physician, Mattie considers William Sevier a man ahead of his time. She still has his original shingle.

“His patients were at the Parsons Table in the time of cholera, 1870,” she recalled.

The shingle, by the way, is staying with the house.

All the Bledsoes, Sissy, Maria, Jonathan, and Billy, as well as Tobie and Baxter, worked for years to return the house on Woodrow to its former glory. 

In 1977,  Baxter Bledsoe tore off a double decker porch an added more rooms in its place, turning the building into a bed & breakfast, as well as a home, for the next 36 years.

Mattie remembers doing detail work with her sister, Maria.

“Maria had to glue every other block and I had to sand the pieces,” she said, pointing to dental work near the ceiling.”

In another room, Mattie stopped and smiled.

“I just loved this room because this is where the family gathered,” she said of a front parlor area. “Daddy had his desk there. We had a chess set. There was a TV and a stereo system. There were books. It was the catch-all room.”

Christmas, also her daddy’s birthday, was always a grand affair. Friends and family were always welcome, and — with a father who was the first state-certified building inspector in the Town of Jonesborough and a mother who was a nurse, yet went on to become both alderman and mayor of Tennessee’s oldest town— the children soon learned how very important it was to play a part in your own community.

These memories and more followed Mattie each and every day as she and her hus

band orchestrated once again the stripping of walls, the repair of floors, and the securing of history.

They tried, she said, to save every bit of original woodwork and architectural detail that they could and she dreamed of finding someone who could steer the next generation of the house.

Then one day, a retired fireman and ICU nurse from Colorado were exploring the town with the plan to buy land.

“They were driving by the house and they said, ‘Let’s pull in,’ ” Mattie said. “It was like it was meant to be.”

The couple closed on the house in March and will be moving in toward the end of summer. They paid full asking price, Mattie added.

“I knew as much as Daddy and Mom loved this house, there was somebody out there who would love it just as much,” she continued. “The renovation was important, but who was going to live here next was just as important. I wanted it to be someone else’s dream.”

For Mattie, the journey of letting go may be nearly complete, but she acknowledges that it has been both difficult and invigorating.

“It is all about very special memories of our family,” she said. “This house resonates with it.”

And she has sensed her father every step of the way.

“I have had some experiences, but I always felt the whole time Edward and I were doing this that Daddy was right here,” she said. “And all of his friends and his family have told us Daddy is so proud of us. This is what Daddy wanted.”

Mattie pauses, looking around her old home for one last time.

“It has been a labor of love,” she said.  “I just miss him every day.”