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Signature of Edward B. Walker Genealogy of Edward B. Walker
1756-1838, Duplin County, North Carolina - Sullivan, Claiborne, Hancock Counties, Tennessee

 

Edward Walker Jr.'s House


Edward Walker Jr house on Mulberry Creek
Edward Walker Jr. house at 8826 Mulberry Gap Road, Sneedville; photo taken by Roberta J. Estes.

Note: Many additional photos are posted in the Piscasa Web Album.

Edward Walker, Jr.offsite link to WorldConnect, known as Ned, and his wife Mahala, known as Haley, settled on Mulberry Creek around 1816; both died there, and Ned's second wife continued to live there for almost two decades after his death. Remarkably, the home is still standing and has been carefully restored.

Soon after purchasing the property in the early 1990s, the then-owners received a call from a person they remember as a heart surgeon in Houston, although the name has now been lost. He described to them details of the house, including the fireplace, that they themselves did not find until they restored the home. He also described the exact locations of the graves, which the homeowner was able to find after more than a day of searching in the weeds. The identity of the caller of course would be of great value to know, but clearly, whoever he was, he knew details passed down by someone who had been in the house before the 1920s.

Age of the House

The Houston caller traced the home and the Walker possession of it to a land grant issued to an Elijah Walker in 1789, who the caller claimed was the father of Edward B. Walker, Sr. Such a land grant has not been found and does not appear in major indices; in addition, Edward B. Walker was not even married until a year later and was married in Sullivan County, and Ned married a woman from Sullivan County as well. Quite possibly, the grant mentioned by the Houston caller had been issued to Elisha Wallen, a name easily confused in the old handwriting as Elijah Walker, and was sometimes even written that way; he was not related to the Walkers, but he was a long hunter and a land speculator in the area and had a large number of early land grants in the Mulberry area.

Still, the house itself may well date to 1789 or around that time. Log houses, of course, could be as individual as their builders, and sometimes older building techniques were used in newer houses according to the curator of the Museum of Appalachia. There are several facets to the Walker house, however, that do suggest a very early date. According to Mike Walker, a descendant who has restored a number of these types of homes, people began using saws in the very early 1800s to finish the squared-off logs; quite clearly, the logs at the Walker house were finished with an axe, a very labor-intensive process that presumably the builders would have avoided if at all possible.

Other construction techniques, such as the design of the windows, indicate that the house, or at least the bulk of it, was built in the late 1700s or very early 1800s at the latest, being consistent with the 1789 date. Several layers of flooring were found, including clapboards and even a dirt floor; dirt floors were rarely found after 1800 in that part of Tennessee. Finally, the homeowners found Kentucky papers from 1823 lining a wall, indicating a very early occupation in any event. The University of Tennessee or other research group could date the logs in the house exactly by analyzing the tree rings or with carbon dating.

Walker Occupancy

When the Walkers first settled the area, presumably around 1816, Ned and his brother Joseph were married. If emerging research can be confirmed, brother William was also married and moved to Claiborne County about the same time. Martha may have been; in fact, evidence is accumulating that Martha never left Sullivan County, although proof is lacking. All of the other children of Edward Sr. and Jane Horn were unmarried and ranged in age from 17 to 3. It may have been Edward Sr. and not Ned who first settled on the land, or they may have settled together. Married couples often lived with parents the first few years of their marriage, especially before children were born.

So who built the home and when are certainly questions, but the newspapers in particular prove a very early date, making the house probably one of the older still-standing log homes in all of Appalachia. Adding to the mystery, though, is the fact that the house was probably not built entirely at the same time in any case; according both to the owners and even the untrained eye, one side of the house is different from the other and may even reflect different builders. Both sides, though, use American chestnut wood with an occasional poplar log.

Dogtrot Style

The house as it currently stands appears to be the dogtrot style, namely two different houses that shared a chimney and were later connected. The original front of the house is now the back; in the 1920s, a paved road was laid where the current road runs, but the older road known to the Walkers ran along the creek. When the owners in the 1920s started using the back as the front, they also built an addition on to the original front which destroyed many of the architectural details of it.

By the time that the Walkers presumably settled the land, neighbors on both sides had been well-settled for about 10 years, suggesting that they moved to an established farm regardless who established it and whether relatives had owned it earlier. Typically, when a family settled on new land, they would build quite hastily a log cabin where they would live for a few years until they had the time to build a more permanent home. The current Walker home, both sides of it, are clearly the latter and would each have taken months to build; both sides are two stories with finished logs on full limestone foundations.

The late date established by the Kentucky newspapers, 1823, seemingly would have given the Walkers the time necessary to construct their finished house after having occupied the land for some time. However, one side if not both may have already been built when they moved to the property; perhaps the Walkers themselves bought the house and then built the second side immediately given that Edward Sr. and Edward Jr. may have been sharing the home, or they built it later as other children married. In any case, both sides were clearly constructed and connected by the Civil War, as that connection was necessary to form the secret room they used to hide food and valuables from the soldiers of all stripes passing through the area.

Assuming that the original house was only one side of the existing house, it may have been built in the English "hall and parlor" style, with two rooms on the first floor separated by a staircase and a single room on the second floor; nearly every two-story home of the era was built in this fashion. The only known early staircase, though, was in front of the chimney, possibly external to the first side of the house built.

Fireplaces and Spring Box

Fireplace in Edward Walker Jr house on Mulberry Creek
One side of the double fireplace; the other side is similar but now contains a wood stove. Photo by Phillip A. Walker 9/2/2005.

The chimney is made of limestone cut from the yard and was located at the back of the original house between the two halves of the house; two fireplaces, one in each half of the house, open to the same chimney. Presumably, when the second half of the house was built, the existing chimney was opened up to create the second fireplace. To the untrained eye, at least, the stone appears to be roughly cut and the construction quite old.

The hearth on the original left side of the house was quite large, taking up much of the room; it then curved around to the other fireplace on the other side of the house. This design begs for further research as to the possible uses of such a large hearth. According to the Houston caller, Ned was a leatherworker, and the homeowners found evidence of leatherworking in the house near the hearth. Ned's son William was definitely a leatherworker.

Spring box in Edward Walker Jr house on Mulberry Creek
Spring box. Photo by Phillip A. Walker 9/2/2005.

One of the more interesting features of the house still exists but is not currently operational. According to the homeowners, at least six natural springs flow from the ridge across the creek from the original front of the house. They had not yet found evidence of the actual piping, but the Walkers or some previous owner had tapped one of those springs to keep a supply of water running through a spring box inside the house.

Such a supply of spring-fed water would help to keep items cool and may have been used for drinking water as well. Evidence of various outbuildings has been found on the property as well, as would be expected.

Occupancy Document Chain

Proof that Ned Walker at least lived in this house does not rely on an unknown caller from Houston. The house is clearly on the land that Ned owned at the time of his death as mapped from the 1852 survey and the 1881 Bishop deed; the Bishop deed still referred to the land as the Edward Walker place as the restorers indicate that their deed still does; they own 100 acres of the original farm.

Deed map for Edward Walker of Mulberry Creek
Deed map; click for larger view

Not only is the house clearly on his land, other evidence provides overwhelming proof that this particular house was exactly the house in which Ned lived and was not a replacement house built after a fire or some other catastrophe. Census records including neighbors are always consistent, but Sallie (Crumley) Walker talked about the house specifically in her 1878 pension application. In that application, she said that she was still living in the same house where she was married in 1848 and where Haley died in 1842, although Haley actually died in 1844 apparently.

Additional evidence extends the existence of the original house into the 20th century. Melbourn Green Walker, one of Ned and Haley's grandchildren, wrote in a 1929 letter that he had had dinner in Ned's house when he lived no more than a mile from there and had even eaten from his table. Meb lived at Mulberry, practicing medicine there from 1898-1902, dating his visit to that era. Although the house had left Walker hands about 20 years before, no reason exists to doubt his identification; Bill, Ned and Sallie's son, still lived nearby, and Meb's own father, John Gilmore Walker, the son of Ned and Haley who also grew up in the house, was still living as were other children.

No further documentation has been found that specifically references the house after that period, and, in fact, local residents in the latter half of the twentieth century came to believe that Ned's son Bill or perhaps his brother James had built it. However, the house itself provides two bits of evidence proving that it is the original Walker house. James' granddaughter, who knew him only briefly but his wife much longer, was told of a secret room where food was hidden during the Civil War. The house most definitely has that secret room, including two shotgun holes, perhaps a later addition.

Signature of John Gilmore Walker on Edward Walker Jr house on Mulberry Creek
John Gilmore Walker signature. Photo by Phillip A. Walker 9/2/2005..

Overwhelming and unexpected confirmation, however, was found on the outside of the house on one of the logs on the original back of the house: the signature "John G. Walker" carved into the log. John G. was John Gilmore Walker, and the carving closely matches his known signature; in addition, extensive tracing has found no other John G. Walker ever living in the area; the signature was covered up in the renovation in the 1920s but is now fully visible.

The house is privately-owned and not open to the public; it is readily viewed from the street, and the cemetery where Ned and Haley are buried is on a hill across the creek behind the house.

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All original material © 2007-9 by Phillip A. Walker or by cited authors. Submissions are welcome. Reuse allowed under limited conditions. Page last modified Saturday, 26-Jun-2010 17:46:16 MDT .