Restoring historic Tenn. cabins a family hobby

Ralph Martin dismantles the pre-Civil War Daniel Yarnell cabin in Clinton, Tenn. The structure is to be moved and restored on property owned by Harry and Libby Baumgardner, who have a collection of historic cabins that are open to the public and school groups. (AP Photo/Knoxville News Sentinel, Bob Fowler)

— Libby Bumgardner has cabin fever.

She and husband Harry are in the process of dismantling a pre-Civil War cabin off Clinton Highway and moving it to their Claxton community residence.

When the Daniel Yarnell cabin is relocated and restored, it will join four other structures from East Tennessee’s distant past that are now on the Bumgardners’ property.

“I don’t know why I do this,” Libby Bumgardner said at first. But then she reconsidered and offered a compelling reason: “I’m doing this for future generations and to preserve the past.”

All of the cabins on their property are open to the public, and school groups are welcome. The Yarnell cabin should be restored and ready for viewing late this summer, she said.

The Bumgardners’ passion for the past started in 1996 when they bought their Claxton property, which included a dilapidated two-story clapboard building.

Libby peeled back sections of clapboard on what she called that “funny-looking old house,” saw logs beneath and realized she’d uncovered a diamond in the rough.

Records show it was owned by Revolutionary War soldier David Hall and served as a tavern and inn on what was part of the main road between Knoxville and Nashville.

Built between 1798 and 1803, the property was purchased by Hall in 1803, and he and his wife and their 12 children lived next door in a similar cabin separated by a dogtrot.

David Hall’s daughter Elmira Hall married Daniel Yarnell, and they raised a large family in the cabin now being restored. The structure will be moved from Clinton to the Bumgardners’ property to become part of their collection.

The Yarnell cabin is steeped in lore and legend, and the exact date it was built is unknown, says Ralph Martin, another local history buff and member of the John Rice Irwin Chapter of the Sons of the Revolution.

The best guess, he said, is it was built around 1800.

One popular rumor is that Andy Jackson owned the cabin while he was a land speculator and before he became president, Martin said. Another local historian, Sam Jennings, says it’s more likely that Jackson may have stayed at the cabin while on his way to Middle Tennessee.

Regardless, this is an established fact, Martin said: Five of the Yarnells’ sons joined the Confederate army on the same day: Sept. 27, 1862.

For years, Mike Overton, who operates a large farm nearby, owned the cabin. In March, a large oak tree fell onto its roof, extensively damaging it. A deal was struck with the Bumgardners.

They were at work on the Yarnell cabin recently, with Martin perched precariously on top, tossing down old wood and odds and ends salvaged from what’s left of the second floor.

Cabin logs worth saving will be numbered and lowered down one at a time so they will be restored in sequence. Libby said there are some 15 to 20 logs that can’t be restored due to damage and the ravages of time.

The Yarnell cabin should complete their collection, Harry Bumgardner said, but he said his wife still enjoys “driving around looking for old logs.”