Preservation & People Report: Mel & Cheryl Thompson

harris-mcewen-houseThe ca. 1830 Harris-McEwen House was home to Franklin’s Civil War-era Mayor John McEwen, who helplessly surrendered the town to the Union Army in 1862. The first part of the home was built in 1830 by Kerry Harris—a one story home facing Fifth Avenue. In 1849-1850 John McEwen purchased the home and added a large addition. Here’s the story of how one local couple took the home back to its original structure…

It was during the Heritage Foundation’s 2009 Town & Country Tour of Homes that Mel Thompson overheard someone say that the historic McEwen home had been confiscated by the bank, and was for sale.

Now, just five years later, Mel and Cheryl Thompson own that same home–the one named the 2014 Overall Winner (Residential) in the Foundation’s annual Preservation Awards banquet on May, 2014.

The Harris-McEwen House, which serves as a monument to preservation in the context of residential restoration, is also one of the highlights of the 39th Annual Town & Country Tour of Homes, June 7-8.

“My wife and I had always admired the home, so as soon as I heard there was a possibility it was for sale I looked into it right away!” Thompson said. “I did some research, got in contact with the bank and a week later we bought the house.”

The couple immediately began renovating the bones of the structure, restoring it to its former glory. The process was a labor of love: it took over three years to complete, with the Thompsons taking it back to its original structure.

Mel says the home’s heritage became a hobby for the couple, as he began researching the historical architecture. He became fascinated with the process, and was adamant about terminating the additions that had been added to the house after 1867, and restoring rooms to their originals sizes and functions. He also paid close attention to detail in order to maintain the beautiful slate roof, as well as duplicate the original trim, molding and flooring of the building.

Dan Brown, a certified local government coordinator with the Tennessee Historical Commission who judged the 2014 Preservation Awards, gushed about the Thompsons work on the home

“This is a truly outstanding project,” he said at the awards ceremony. “On par with preservation work seen in Charleston and New Orleans. It’s exceptional.”

But paying homage to the past doesn’t stop at the door: the home also nods to its lineage through its exquisite interior décor. The Thompsons say nearly 90 percent of its furnishings are antiques, ranging from the 1780’s up to the early 1900’s.

Mel notes the light fixtures, which originated in the late 1800’s, to the design of the drapes in the living room and the upholstered fabric covering the furniture—all have a back-story. Even the rugs date back to the 1800’s.

When asked about one of his favorite features, Mel references the ceiling. During an 1867 renovation, an Italian artist was commissioned to paint it with medallions—a feature which today remain in tact, and will be a highlight for those guests on the Tour of Homes.

As for their participation in the annual fundraiser, Mel says he’s looking forward to being a stop on the circuit.

“We are excited to be able to share a part of Franklin’s past with the community,” he said.

To read about Mel Thompson and his Towne Creek Realty business in our “Faces of Franklin” series here.