One of the benefits of having a long-established downtown area like the city of Paris is that there’s a good chance there will be many historic homes in the neighborhoods.
Paris has no shortage of these, with many stately houses that have historical significance located in the parameters of downtown.
A couple even have large political importance for the state of Tennessee, being homes of former governors.
The home of former Gov. James D. Porter is located at 407 Dunlap St. and is owned by John Van Dyck.
“It’s been a pleasure and an honor to live in one of Paris’ most historic homes,” Van Dyck told The Post-Intelligencer in 2009. “I like the big rooms and the spaciousness, all except for the upkeep. This house has really become sort of like a part of me now. It’s where I feel like I belong.”
He bought the home in 1985 and it was restored in 14 months.
Margaret Porter, distant cousin of the governor, occupied the house for more than 50 years before it was purchased by Van Dyck.
“She was the primary caretaker of the home longer than anyone else and is largely responsible for its preservation and registration as a historical site,” he said. “Her presence has an indelible print in this home.”
James D. Porter studied law in the office of Paris lawyer John H. Dunlap and later married Dunlap’s daughter Susannah in 1851. After Dunlap’s death, Porter purchased the home.
During the Civil War, Porter was attached to the staff of Gen. Benjamin F. Cheatham as a lieutenant colonel. He participated in the battles of Shiloh, Chickamauga, Franklin and Nashville. At the close of the war in 1865, he returned to his law practice in Paris. He was later elected Speaker of the Senate and elected judge of the 12th Judicial District. He became governor in 1875 and was re-elected in 1877.
Later he served as President Grover Cleveland’s assistant secretary of state and minister to Chile. He was also named president of Peabody College in Nashville. Porter died in 1912 and his funeral was held at the home.
The home was built in the 1840s by Thomas Crawford, and the bricks were made on site by slave labor. The former kitchen of the home was a separate structure until the home’s renovation after it was bought by Van Dyck.
Another former governor’s home that adds to the historical allure of downtown is that of Gov. Thomas C. Rye at 610 N. Poplar St., owned by local dentist Jeff Fletcher.
Fletcher said when he bought the home that he was glad to have room for a pipe organ that he had bought from an Episcopal church in New Jersey. The pipe organ is nearly 10 feet tall. A connossieur of historical artifacts, Fletcher also owns Fletcher’s Antiques and Architectural Salvage on Highway 79 northeast of Paris.
Rye served as governor from 1915-1919 when World War I was underway in Europe. He was born in Camden, but moved to Paris in 1888 when he married Betty Arnold. He gave up his private law practice here in 1910 when he was elected attorney general.
The Ryes purchased the two-story Poplar Street home in the 1930s where they entertained friends. Rye died at his home at the age of 90 in 1953.
While not intended to be an all-inclusive list of historical homes in the city, here are some other homes with rich stories behind them:
• The Atkins/Neal house, at 510 Hudson Ave. Crawford, the same man who built the Porter house, built this one in 1854. James S. Brown bought it, then sold it to Gen. John Dewitt Clinton Atkins.
His daughter Clintie married Dudley Porter here. After Porter was killed, she married Luther Matthews in the same parlor. From 1952 to 1969, the famous piano duo of Harry Neal and Allison Nelson Neal lived here with their children.
The white frame antebellum mansion has two-story columns supporting the balcony and a roof over the front porch with shutters on all the windows.
The floor plan is two large front rooms with a central hall, each with two windows facing the street and an L-shaped room in the back. Twenty-five feet from the main house is the servants’ quarters, one of the few remaining original slave quarters in Tennessee.
A wrought-iron fence still surrounds the property. The large kitchen addition was built in the 1880s.
• The Oliver home, at 504 Hudson Ave., was built in 1931 and was the home of Haynes Oliver and family.
Oliver was an engineer with the L&N Railroad and his wife was the daughter of the Crawfords, who ran the boarding house next door.
The construction is triple brick and decorative borders are included in the outer brickwork.
Sandee Green has owned the home since 2000 and has maintained stained glass and painting studios in the full basement. There are four 16-paned original bevel French doors around the living room.
• The Seawright/Clayton home, at 310 Lee St., was built in 1920 by W.G. and Emma Seawright. For many years, it was owned by Kenneth and Norma Clayton. The craftsman-style home is typical of the homes built in the early 20th century.
Carol Mannon now owns the home and has had the house painted in authentic 1920 colors and trim. It maintains much of the charm of the period with its oversized front windows, fireplace and inviting front porch.