Stencil House Moved to Ames Plantation for Preservation

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Stencil House in Grand Junction, TN

One of the state’s most historically significant homes, the Stencil House is much more than a remarkably old structure – it provides a glimpse into early 19th-century Southern culture, serving as a touchstone to the past.

The Stencil House’s name stems from the stencil paintings on its interior walls. It was built in the 1830s, and stenciling was not uncommon during this time period. “Stenciling is sometimes referred to as the poor man’s wallpaper,” says Jamie Evans, cultural resource manager at the Ames Plantation. “People had to make do with what was available. Their desire was to upgrade their living conditions, so they did what they could afford to do. At that time, wallpaper was very expensive and stencil painting was not.”

Detail photo of a tree stenciled on the wall at the Stencil House in Grand Junction, TN

What is uncommon, however, is for a home this aged – approximately 170 years old – to have stood the test of time. “Stenciling wasn’t rare, but the vast majority of the stenciling done in this time period is no longer with us,” Evans explains.

The home was originally located just outside the city of Clifton, a small town in Wayne County in the southern part of the state. While in this area, the Stencil House was home to a variety of people.

“The Stencil House is thought to have been built by Nathaniel Johnson,” Evans says. “From there it was passed to the Dillon family by marriage and then to Mrs. Jean Smithson, again through marriage.”

The home remained in Clifton until 2002. Now, it rests on the Ames Plantation in Fayette and Hardeman counties.

“We were approached in the spring of 2002 by some concerned individuals about the Stencil House,” Evans says. “They wanted to know if we could help them save this house.”

The first step was to move the house to a safer, more protected area. “The house simply could not be restored where it was,” Evans says. “There was no one there to take care of it. It was already being vandalized, and part of the stenciling was being removed.”

After being transported about 100 miles southwest, the Stencil House arrived at the Ames Plantation and was placed in the Heritage Village with several other historic homes. Soon, the restoration process began.“Once we got it to Ames, through grant funding by the Tennessee State Legislature, we were able to restore large parts of the home’s exterior,” Evans says. “We rebuilt fireplaces and chimneys and repaired flooring and weather damage.”

So far, no new or modern additions have been made to the Stencil House – and Evans plans to keep it that way. To ensure the home remained as close to the original as possible, replacement windows and shutters were handcrafted, designed to replicate the distinctive early 19th-century style. “We have taken great strides in the restoration process,” Evans says. “We want to not just make the house sound again, but to keep the original integrity of the house intact.”

Jamie Evans, cultural resource manager at the Ames Plantation stands inside Stencil House

The next step will include rebuilding the back porch and reassembling the upstairs portion of the house. “As funding permits, we will complete the architectural phase of restoration,” Evans says. “Then we will turn our attention to the stenciling.”

After 170 years of collecting dirt, dust and grime, cleaning the stenciling will be no easy task. In addition, the paint must be stabilized. This project will be pricey, costing about $100,000 – money that the Ames Plantation does not currently have. The funds will be acquired through grants and donations, a process Evans is familiar with. “It took $10,000 to move the house, and all of that was donated,” he says. “We’ve received a huge amount of support from local businesses, local historical societies and interested parties. It’s a labor of love for a lot of people.”

Ultimately, the Ames Plantation hopes for the Stencil House to be fully restored so others can enjoy, tour and learn about the home. “Our objective is to share the house with the general public,” Evans says. “The Stencil House is a Tennessee home, and it belongs to all of the citizens of Tennessee. It’s a part of the heritage.”

A few thousand people have already experienced the home through tours, but access is still very limited. “We must be extremely careful,” he says.

Though the Stencil House is considered a Tennessee treasure, its impact reaches beyond the state. “The Smithsonian Institution approached the original family about buying the home, but they did not allow it,” Evans says. “They [the Smithsonian Institution] had a keen interest in the house and wanted samples of the stenciling in their museum.”

Coveted, admired and desired, the Stencil House stands as one of the state’s most historically significant structures. “The Stencil House contains the most complete form of stenciling in the southeast,” Evans says. “Tennesseans should be proud of it and glad it’s being saved.”

A great time to visit the Stencil House is during the annual Heritage Festival at Ames Plantation in October.

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