The log cabin in which the Rev. Isaac Anderson lived before founding Maryville College was just weeks from demolition in Knox County just a couple of years ago.
On Friday, the reconstructed cabin will be dedicated at its new site, in front of the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center in Townsend, in time for the college’s bicentennial.
The two-story cabin sits close to the road and will be open to the public the same hours as the Heritage Center but with no entrance fee.
Built in 1802, the Anderson cabin is now the oldest at the Heritage Center and is the only full two-story cabin there.
Inside panels will tell the story of Anderson and the school he started with the Synod of Tennessee in 1819, first under the name Southern and Western Theological Seminary.
Visitors can imagine the life of the man who founded Maryville College, which now is the 12th-oldest institution of higher learning in the South.
In 2010, Knox Heritage, a nonprofit preservation group, had named the cabin one of its “Fragile 15,” a list of the most threatened historic buildings and places.
Already the “Log College,” the name sometimes given to the Union Academy school Anderson built on the same property, had been torn down.
Located in a wooded area behind the clubhouse for the Shannon Valley Farms Subdivision, the cabin where Anderson’s father housed his family after moving from Virginia to Tennessee was overgrown, unused and rotting beneath siding.
Unable to generate the interest and funding needed to restore the cabin, the members of the homeowners association were planning to tear it apart, toss it in dumpsters and haul it away in the summer of 2017.
When Maryville College alumnus Cole Piper heard that, he contacted the director of the Heritage Center, where Piper served on the board of directors.
Once Bob Patterson understood the significance of the cabin, he was enthusiastic about bringing it to the center.
Maryville College also endorsed the plan, with President Tom Bogart noting it is an important artifact of Tennessee history, but it didn’t make sense to place it on the college’s campus.
With help from an anonymous donor, work to dismantle the cabin and move the logs began, while efforts started to raise the necessary funds to complete the project.
Maryville College alumni, community and business leaders and even the Second Presbyterian Church in Knoxville — which Anderson organized the same year he founded the college — all chipped in, raising about $150,000, Piper said.
“It’s both amazing and gratifying,” Piper said of how the effort came together to rebuild the cabin and give it a new home in Blount County.
“Almost everyone I talked to understood the significance and importance and was willing to contribute,” he said.
Anderson was more than the founder of the college, he was a prominent figure in the history of East Tennessee, Piper said.
“This was a collaborative effort,” he said. “A lot of people really stepped up to do it.”
Dismantling and reconstructing the cabin fell to Freddie Haun, who has worked on all of the cabins at the Heritage Center, and two others who worked with him.
Because of the urgency of moving the cabin, Haun juggled his schedule to clear several weeks starting in September 2017 to take it apart and move the wood.
Each log was tagged with a number, and Haun took dozens of photographs so he could see later how to reconstruct the cabin.
Some of the poplar and oak logs in the cabin are nearly 18 feet long, but only about 20 percent of the original logs were in good enough condition to reuse, according to Haun. He substituted logs from two other cabins.
The chimney is marble about three-fourths of the way up, and then brick. One change made during reconstruction was putting cinder block beneath the marble, so the Heritage Center safely can have fires inside the cabin on occasion.
All the rafters are original to the cabin, Haun said, but the new shake shingles are fireproof and weatherproof.
Today, building a new log cabin is so easy, he said, “You can build them in your sleep.”
Haun seems to appreciate the challenge of bringing an old cabin back to life, like figuring out how to fit the dovetail joints on the Anderson cabin.
And while the workers used plastic buckets filled with a flexible chinking compound, when they had to hew a log, that work still had to be done by hand.