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Tennessee's Oldest House: The Carter Mansion
June 7, 2021

Tennessee's Oldest House: The Carter Mansion

by The CE Shop Team

Turn Back Time in Tennessee

Historic properties and Tennessee go together like biscuits and gravy. The Volunteer State boasts over 2,000 historic properties — but one such structure leads the pack in terms of architectural and historical significance. The legendary Carter Mansion in Elizabethton, Tennessee, is recognized as the oldest standing framed house in Tennessee. It’s so old, in fact, that it’s the first framed structure to be constructed west of the Appalachian mountains — and it’s still standing to this day.

The History of Carter Mansion


Thought to have been completed between 1775-1780, the Carter Mansion was built by John Carter, a successful entrepreneur and Revolutionary War officer, who lived there with his family. It sports two stories of beautifully ornate interior space along with a detached kitchen. According to Tennessee State Parks, a staggering 90% of the interior is original, including many of the fixtures and moldings that still adorn the property. In fact, two over-mantle paintings that continue to decorate the mansion’s walls are considered to be the oldest paintings in the entire state.

What makes the Carter Mansion unusual, however, is that it was exceptionally high-end for its location. The property features a limestone foundation, wooden floors, floor-to-ceiling hand-carved paneling, an oak shake roof, multiple fireplaces, and millwork more commonly found on the coast. The main bedroom walls were even painted to emulate pink Italian marble and faux wood paneling. In stark contrast, other frontier homes that subsequently sprang up were much more rudimentary, often featuring dirt floors.

The property remained in the Carter family until the 1880s when it was purchased by William S. Thomas. Thomas then upgraded the home with modern plumbing and electricity, and he lived in the mansion until 1968. Sadly, the house was left unkempt for several years and fell into disrepair. That’s when the State of Tennessee — recognizing its historical importance — purchased the home from the Thomas family in 1973.

The state then spent two years (1976-1978) restoring the property to its current state. Today, the Carter Mansion is part of the Sycamore Shoals State Park. Here, history buffs, the architecturally-inclined, and the general public can get a glimpse into the past through a guided tour.

Historic Properties and Preservation

By owning a historic home, you not only own a slice of history but also enjoy a slew of additional benefits. To begin, the home is unique in that builders aren’t likely to recreate that particular style of architecture when constructing new builds. Next, historic homes are often in very desirable locations — which is why they’re likely still standing. They also tend to sell faster and fetch higher asking prices than your run-of-the-mill property. Lastly, homes listed on the National Register of Historic Places are oftentimes eligible for tax credits, grant money, and preservation loans if they meet certain rehabilitation standards. As always, check with both federal and state agencies or preservation networks to see if you or your client can help save a piece of the past with your next property purchase.

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