- [S106] The Mountain Press, 30 Aug 2015.
Upland Chronicles: Temple house reflects illustrious past
If walls could talk, the old house at 209 Court Ave. could perhaps tell more history than any building still standing in Sevierville. Now known as the Temple house, the two-storied white frame dwelling was built before the Civil War by Wellington McMahan. His son, Robert Bruce, was born in the house on May 28, 1855. Therefore it is at least 160 years old.
The home was originally located approximately where the Ogle Building is today. In front of the home stood a large pecan tree that probably was planted in the early 1800s. Wellington McMahan was a son of James McMahan, owner of a 400-acre land grant. In 1795, James McMahan donated 25 acres along the south bank of the east prong of the Little Pigeon River to establish the county seat.
Wellington McMahan inherited a portion of his father's estate that included the site where his father's original log cabin stood. His driveway ran from Main Street, the only street in town at the time. A bridge crossed the old town ditch, which was underneath what is today Commerce Street and ran in a straight line east to west, marking the town's southern boundary. The driveway later became Cross Street and is today Court Avenue.
When Wellington McMahan died in 1877, his son, Bruce, inherited the property. It was for Bruce McMahan that Bruce Street was named. Bruce moved the house to the back of the lot when he sold the front lot to a group of businessmen who wanted to build a building for First National Bank, now the Ogle Building. He had considered tearing the house down but was persuaded by M.B. McMahan Jr. that it would be better and less expensive to move it. The house was later moved across the street to its present location.
In 1915, Stanley McMahan built a new building on the south side of Bruce Street, across from the courthouse and next door to the house, in which to relocate Walker Milling Company.
Known around town as Uncle Bruce in his later years, Bruce McMahan lived in the house until he died Nov. 21, 1933, at 78.
At the request of mortgage holders, John E. and Effie Benson Temple began operating Stanley McMahan Milling Company next door, and were so successful they soon purchased the business and decided to move from Oak City to Sevierville. They purchased the house and moved in Oct. 31, 1934. At that time their oldest daughter Frankie was 8, their son Jimmie was 6, daughter Patsy was 4, and their youngest daughter Mary Joyce was only 2.
The deed described the property as follows:
"Fronting 70 feet on said Court Street, and extending back between parallel lines two hundred (200) feet more or less; and adjoining the property of Stanley McMahan on the south-west; Court Street on the east; E.E. Conner on the west; Temple Milling Co. (formally, Stanley McMahan Milling Co.) on the north; being the house and lot in and upon which R.B. McMahan and daughter Ora McMahan formally resided."
Many repairs and additions have been made to the home, and it now stands as the only home on Court Avenue. When the Temple family moved there, the street was lined with beautiful white houses on both sides of the street. In time, the Temples added a lovely front porch with a marble floor and enlarged the kitchen on the back.
Since Effie Temple worked each day in the office at the mill, it was necessary to have someone with the children and to do the cooking and housework. Josie Hatcher was the first to perform these domestic duties. Later, Julia Frazier rode from Boyd's Creek every weekday with her brother Ed Thomas, the miller, and went back home each evening, as she had family to care for there.
In 1953, Flora Tipton Swann began working for the Temples and remained there for the next 47 years. The family always ate in the kitchen, and friends and salesmen were welcome to join them. Mrs. Swann was dearly loved by the Temple family.
John Temple managed the mill until 1948, when his son Jimmie took over his job. John wanted to spend time farming his two farms, one at Boyd's Creek and the other, the McMahan farm, just across the river from town. However, he lived out his days residing in the house until he died in 1975 at age 83. Effie Temple was active in the office until the late 1970s. When John suffered a stroke in 1966, she still managed the office business and kept an eye on him at their home next door. She continued to make out the payroll at her desk in her dining room until the early 1980s.
On the evening of Oct. 20, 1980, tragedy struck the Temple family as a disastrous fire destroyed the historic mill in spite of the heroic efforts of the Sevierville Fire Department. Effie Temple, then 80, was moved along with many of the furnishings across the street to Rawlings Funeral Home in case the fire spread to the house. Fortunately, no lives were lost, and the surrounding buildings including the courthouse and the family residence were spared.
By April 1982, a new facility was open for business on the same spot. Effie Temple lived in the house until Christmas Day 1996, when she died at age 96. After her passing, the family still gathered there frequently. Mrs. Swann continued to cook a hot lunch daily until she had to finally quit due to health issues.
In addition to operating the family business, Jimmie Temple had a long public service career that included serving a term as mayor of Sevierville and 48 years as a county commissioner His terms as county commissioner gave him an opportunity to perform civil marriage ceremonies. With his business located opposite the courthouse, many couples came to him to be married.
After the business closed in 2001, he performed these ceremonies in the office he opened at the family home. He married approximately 28,000 during the years, the last on Dec. 31, 2013. Before his death on May 11, 2014, he spent countless hours in one of the rocking chairs on the porch of the old house, reacquainting himself with old friends some whose marriage ceremonies he performed.
Recently, the Temple heirs made the difficult decision to sell the property, bringing to an end a long, memorable era in the history of the historic house.
Carroll McMahan is special projects facilitator for the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce and serves as Sevier County historian.
The Upland Chronicles series celebrates the heritage and past of Sevier County. If you have suggestions for future topics, would like to submit a column or have comments, contact Carroll McMahan at 453-6411 or email@example.com; or Ron Rader at 604-9161 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- [S94] Sevier County, Tennessee Census, 379a, 6 Jun 1870.
- [S94] Sevier County, Tennessee Census, family 699 page 436a, line 33, 4 Oct 1850.
- [S94] Sevier County, Tennessee Census, 372, 1880.
- [S34] In the Shadow of the Smokies, Smoky Mountain Historical Society, (1993), 306.