Robert Burleson is working to restore one of the oldest homes in Roan Mountain, one built by a renowned general Photo by Brandon Hicksand industrialist.

Burleson working to restore second Roan Mountain Wilder house

Published 8:16am Thursday, May 22, 2014

If that sounds familiar, it should.
Burleson recently bought and has begun work on the home at the corner of Johnson and Main streets in the Roan Mountain village. The home is one of two built by former Union Gen. John T. Wilder on Main Street while he lived in Roan Mountain.
Burleson previously restored the other home built by Wilder on Main Street, one which is listed on the National Historic Register. The current project is actually the larger of the two homes, which were built in the late 1800s. Burleson noted the church across the street from the homes was also built by Wilder.
Wilder is remembered for his leadership of the Union Army’s “Lightning Brigade” of mounted infantry, and for his post-war work to create the East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad and to develop the iron mines at Cranberry, N.C. The railroad hauled the iron mined at Cranberry to Johnson City. Wilder also built the Cloudland Hotel on top of Roan Mountain, which offered relief from the summer heat of Eastern cities.
“This is supposedly the oldest house in Roan Mountain,” Burleson said of his new project. “I restored the house next door, and it was in worse shape than this one.”
He said the white frame house is in poor condition. The property is overgrown with trees, plants and weeds. The structure is dilapidated and needs work both on the interior and the exterior.
“I don’t know how much of the house is going to survive the restoration,” Burleson said. “It is going to be a major overhaul. I don’t know what I will be able to retain and what I will have to let go.”
While the home was showing decline, Burleson marveled at the original features still in place. He pointed out the tongue-and-groove ceilings and floors that were found in the home. He was especially impressed with a crystal chandelier that can be found in the entrance of the house.
“What I am most concerned about is if this is going to make it,” he said. “It is possible this is original to the house, but it is a great piece.”
The original fireplace can still be found in the home.
The rock structure takes up most of one of the walls in the kitchen, with the chimney extending through the second floor.
“It has two sides,” Burleson said. “It would have heated both the kitchen and the room on the other side of the wall. I don’t know what that room is now. It was probably a family room when they first built the house.”
An early examination of the house revealed Burleson will have to do a chimney and roof repair, along with new heating, electrical and plumbing systems. He said he will remodel the current bathroom and will likely add another on the second level. He is also considering removing additions not original to the home.
“I don’t know what it will be until I am able to really get in there and see what is what,” he said.
While the exact plans are not known for the house, Burleson said he plans to keep the final design as close as possible to what it would have been originally.
“I want to go down South, to New Orleans and Savannah, and get some ideas,” he said. “I want it to look like it is original. I want to go back to that era, but to still go along with the look of the community. In a couple of years I expect to be finished, if the good Lord lets me live long enough to see it through.”
Once the home is completed, Burleson said he will likely keep it, as he did with the Wilder home next door. He said he does not get started in renovation projects as a way to make a profit.
“I want to help Roan Mountain,” Burleson said. “I remember from my youth when Main Street really was the main street in town. It’s kind of funny the way you get to feeling for projects like this. It is like they are a part of the family after putting in all that effort and interest. I’m just doing what I like.”

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