Historic Jenkins home demolished

Erin Edgemon, The Daily News Journal, June 13, 2006

Civil War-era enthusiasts and others fighting to preserve a historic house on Gresham Lane were saddened to learn the 153-year-old structure was demolished Saturday.

“It is truly a loss for the city of Murfreesboro and for the state,” said Kay Morrow, of Spike Lane, who started a grass-roots effort to save the Hiram Jenkins House in February.  “There is no other way to describe it.”

The value of the 11.5 acres, where the 4,000-square-foot house stood at 1556 Gresham Lane, is likely to increase considerably with the home’s demolition and removal of some 30 trees later this week, said Larry Sims, of Sims Realtors, Auctioneers.  Sims’ real estate company has the property, zoned commercial fringe, listed for $2.9 million, but he said Monday he wasn’t aware the house was to be razed.

The white two-story house was on the National Register of Historic Places for its architectural significance.  The Tennessee Preservation Trust listed the house May 31 on its annual “Ten in Tennessee Endangered List,” based on the threat of commercial development.

“We were obviously shocked,” said Patrick McIntyre, executive director of the Tennessee Preservation Trust, of the demolition.  “This is an attack on Tennessee’s heritage.  “Murfreesboro’s historic landscape has been diminished very severely by the loss of this landmark,” he said.

McIntyre said it was a loss that could have been avoided.  His office received numerous calls from developers interested in purchasing the Hiram Jenkins House since it was listed on the endangered list.  In five years, he said, the nonprofit preservation organization has lost only three properties it placed on its Top 10 list.

Apparently, property owners Roy Yeager and Char Fontane had the house demolished.  A permit to demolish the home was issued by the city of Murfreesboro on April 15.  The permit was valid for 60 days. Attempts to reach Yeager and Fontane Monday were unsuccessful.  The couple purchased
the house and 11.5 acres almost 13 years ago and ran a wedding and reception company there from late 1999 to 2002.  The property has been up for sale for a few years.

In an interview with The Daily News Journal in August 2005, the couple said they had attempted to give the home to the Christian Life Church and the Stones River National Battlefield and have the house moved to another location.  Sims said removal of the house and trees will likely make the commercial property bordering the Murfreesboro Gateway Center — a 400-acre master-planned commercial area running along Medical Center Parkway and Thompson Lane — more attractive to developers who don’t want to get involved with a controversial property.  The owners are considering dividing the property into as many as 10 lots.

With The Avenue, a more than 800,000-square-foot retail development, poised to begin construction this summer on Medical Center Parkway, the Gateway Center has become a hot area for retail development.

Some are questioning why Yeager and Fontane decided to demolish the house just three days before members of the Save the Jenkins House Campaign and the Tennessee Preservation Trust were supposed to meet with Murfreesboro City Manager Roger Haley to share ideas on how the save the property.

Morrow said the city of Murfreesboro could have done something over the years to save the property.  Mayor Tommy Bragg said the city of Murfreesboro is “sympathetic” to preservation efforts, but it doesn’t have any funds available to purchase historic properties.  He said the city would have joined with a private fund-raising effort to save the house or worked with a developer.

Morrow wanted to take her preservation campaign to the City Council, but Bragg said not all petition requests make it onto the council’s agenda.
The Save the Jenkins House Campaign collected more than 300 signatures on petitions to present to the city of Murfreesboro and had about 25 members.

Dan Deal, of Cimarron Street off Old Nashville Highway, said he was horrified when he noticed the machinery tearing down the house Saturday morning.  He had gotten involved with the Save the Jenkins House Campaign due to his love of historic structures.

“It was torn down to make the property owners some more money,” he said.  “I can’t put into words how disgusted that makes me feel.”

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