You’ve heard it said before: “This house looks like it’s in rough shape, but it’s got good bones.” Or, “There’s a lot of charm and character here, it just needs a little bit of love.” It’s relator speak for, “This place is a total redo, and I’m really trying to convince you to buy it. Because no one else will, and you’re my last shot.” Some buyers hear those words as a challenge, riding the wave of optimism that they’ve stumbled onto a real estate diamond in the rough, that they’re that extra special person this particular piece of heaven needs to be brought back to life. That the “good bones” will be their foundation for a masterpiece and that they’ll be able reclaim, rework, and refinish every square foot to create a home that has “charm and character” blended with their modern sensibilities.
For Trevor Dean and his wife, Susan, the house with “good bones” and “charm and character” did not have to be repackaged or propped up by thinly veiled real estate jargon. In fact, their unloved and forgotten dream home sold itself to them, simply by virtue of being just what it was, where it was, with every bit of dust and dirt and brokenness that carried with it a story of the many people who had lived here, loved here, worked here, and died here. As the oldest standing home in not only Clarksville, but in Montgomery County as a whole, the Greek Revival home that the Deans purchased in 2005 had within its walls more than 200 years of history. And those good bones buried beneath it all are not simple beams and bricks, but the carefully laid timbers of the log cabin that served as the home’s original structure when it was built in 1790. Since then, time, tastes, and necessity have transformed it into a much larger, much grander home more suited to the elegant lifestyle of Southern society, a home befitting that genteel way of living so vastly different from the rough-hewn frontier life of the intrepid settlers who built its original walls.
Over the years, the home transferred hands many times, moving from owner to owner who had their own ideas of what the home should look like to suit their particular vision, its humble log cabin bones covered over by bricks, beams, and mortar to transform it into a stately Southern lady, a Greek Revival inspired architectural masterpiece appropriate enough for the upper echelons. By the mid-1800s, it had been given its new façade, laying claim to a higher rung on the social ladder.
Since then, it has become a landmark, a familiar sight to citizens of the Clarksville community as they drive past it on their daily commute, never giving much thought to the many years and many changes that the home has seen in more than two centuries of life. And as so often happens to these massive homes whose beauty was once so celebrated, the house fell by the wayside, seemingly forgotten as time and progress shifted its sight onto more modern homes, constructing McMansions that are pale imitations of the structures that once lined the streets and held pride of place in the city.
It was progress, in fact, that was edging the home out, putting it deeply in danger of being demolished as plans pushed forward on a subdivision that was being built all around it. But even as its fate was hanging in the balance, its future seeming grim under the looming shadows of bulldozers, the house was given another chance, its deed passing hands yet again to be claimed by someone who had loved it for a lifetime.
Granted, as a transplant to Clarksville, London-born Trevor wasn’t initially as enamored of the home as his wife, who had been born in Clarksville and fallen under the spell of the house as a small child. But as the saying goes, “Home is where the heart is,” and his wife’s heart pulsed with love for the forgotten Southern lady. So the couple purchased the home, looking past its flaws to see where they could make their mark and how they could re-instate its grandeur as they revived the Greek Revival to its former glory.
“My wife that was born here; and when she was a young girl, she used to walk by and dream of living in a house like this one day,” Trevor says. “We had just moved back here after having lived in Arizona, and we were looking for a house in Nashville, closer to the Nashville Airport,” he explains. The move was job related, as Susan was working for Northwest Airlines at the time and had just taken on a new position at the company. But it was also a move that was a homecoming of sorts for her, a chance to return to the area to which she had been born. “One day, as Susan was on her way to visit some family, she drove past the house and asked me if we could go and ‘look’ at it. It had been sitting empty for quite a long time, so when we went inside, it was in pretty bad shape,” Trevor recalls. “Still, we decided to put in an offer; and later on, we found out that if we hadn’t bought it, it would have been torn down and absorbed into a new subdivision that was in the midst of being developed.”
Standing at two and a half stories, the house claims 5500 square feet, holding within its walls nine rooms that each bear signs of the past in their beautiful finishings. Solid heart of pine flooring runs throughout, their natural grains imbued with the history of the home. The floors are actually original to the house, with the exception of certain areas like the kitchen, where the Deans had to source out new boards that would match the wood that has been so long in residence. “This is an area of the house that was added and updated in the 1950s, so the flooring wasn’t the same. We searched everywhere to get wood that would match and finally found it in Knoxville, then had it installed by a local specialist. It’s such a perfect match that everyone thinks that it’s the original flooring,” Trevor says.
As one might assume, the spacious kitchen and dining room are used the most, offering the ideal place to gather for a couple that so love to cook and entertain. Its large open fireplace has been converted from wood burning to gas, an update that sacrifices none of the period appeal that the Deans adore. “Period” is actually informative of the home’s décor, as well. With three bedrooms, two and a half baths, and multiple other rooms to play with, the couple chose to maintain the look of the 1800s in their furnishings, recreating the sense of refinement so classic to that era with antique pieces that might once have graced the homes of denizens of society much like those who once lived here. It’s a reflection of the pride that the couple takes in owning the home and of their knowledge that they live in a priceless piece of history. There’s ownership, but there’s also acknowledgement of the responsibility they feel in preserving it. “We feel blessed to live in a house that is more than two centuries old, and we’re so proud that we have the opportunity to preserve for future generations,” Trevor says. “This is such a special place, with so much history, and that’s one of the things that we love most about it. We feel like this house was meant for us and that we were meant for this house.”
Fate has indeed smiled on the Deans and their home. And as they spend their days in rooms once lived in by people who have become part of the community’s long history as it crept from a frontier settlement to a bustling modern city, they create new history of their own, reviving the house with life, with love, and with a new sense of purpose. Its “good bones” have a heartbeat once again, and its “charm and character” has been given the chance to shine anew.