Calhoun Witness House

Written by Joe Bryan with edits by Laura Spann

Located on Main Street, in the older part of Calhoun, Tennessee, is the Taylor - Maddox home place. The unique architectural elements, reminiscent of a country farmhouse, are subtle reminders of a by-gone era. Perhaps the oldest surviving building in Calhoun, locals refer to it as their “witness house”, a structure that has seen and experienced much of the early history of Calhoun.  Recently the Mike Myers family became the 5th and 6th generations of the Taylor-Maddox families to return to their roots and take up residence in this Calhoun landmark.  Mike’s great-grandparents, Dr. and Mrs. H.F. Taylor purchased the house in the early 1900’s and brought their family there.  A great-great-great aunt also occupied the house at one time.  Mike’s grandmother, Mrs. Fannie Taylor Maddox grew up in the house, as well as Mike’s mother, Ruth Anne Maddox Myers.  Mike, his wife Sandy, and daughter Julie are now experiencing the memories and history of the house as it has become their home.  

The house sits on Lot 46 of the original Cherokee reservation granted to John Walker by the Treaty and Hiwassee Purchase of 1819.  The town of Calhoun grew up around it with early merchants, settlers, and military personnel from Fort Cass across the river.  One of the earliest records indicates that I.H. Bond, an early merchant, built a small home on the lot, the beginning structure that later became the Taylor-Maddox house.  Descendants of the Taylor family recounted that the Bond house was assimilated into a larger structure as new owners enlarged the home over the years.   

Throughout its existence, the house has witnessed significant events in the history of Calhoun.  On the night of April 29, 1909 most of the business district of Calhoun was destroyed by a fast moving fire.  The Taylor-Maddox house was spared, but sat just a few feet from many of the buildings destroyed.  In 1920 the house saw the first section of concrete highway appear in Tennessee, as Main Street was paved with this new material.  This roadway still exists today and is part of the National Historic Highway designation and was also the route 3,000 North Carolina Cherokees traveled on the Trail of Tears in 1838.  Before TVA began their flood control of the Hiwassee River, residents of the house frequently watched from their porch as flood waters engulfed the lower sections of Calhoun.   In 1935, a destructive tornado came up Main Street, just feet from the house.  Although damage in Calhoun was extensive, the home was spared.  Bess Taylor Cofer, (a teacher, now deceased) grew up in the house and told her students how she ran outside as the tornado passed and saw a large funnel of fire at the north end of the street.  Mike’s great grandfather, Dr. H.F. Taylor, had his doctor’s office and practice on the site and for decades provided medical services to thousands of people throughout the area.  In August 1946 the town honored him by proclaiming “Dr. Taylor Day” with a huge celebration near the old school.  During his career, Dr. Taylor delivered 9,000 babies, and on this day hundreds returned as adults to honor him.  

Perhaps the most historical event the house has endured was a disastrous fire at the structure itself in January 1994.  On that cold winter day, Ms. Fannie Taylor Maddox, then in her 80’s and resident at the time, built a fire in the dining room fireplace and returned to her living room.  Speculation is that an ember from the fireplace started the blaze which traveled to the attic.  Employees of Padgett Furniture Co. down the street noticed smoke coming from the house and rushed to the scene.  One employee, Terry McGuire, rushed into the burning structure and found Ms. Maddox, disoriented and trapped in the rear of the house.  He quickly picked her up and started carrying her towards an exit when an explosion knocked them to the floor.  He crawled on his back with Ms. Maddox on top of him until they reached the door to the porch.  Once outside he collapsed and was taken to a local hospital.  Ms. Maddox was only slightly injured.  By now, the dining room, kitchen and upstairs of the entire structure were engulfed in flames.  Local residents, employees of Padgett Manufacturing and members of the Calhoun Fire Department entered the burning structure and were able to save many valuable family heirlooms and antiques.  Firemen were able to stop the fire before it consumed the entire house. 

 Calhoun’s witness house could have vanished at that time, but Mrs. Maddox chose to rebuild the destroyed sections of the house and make it appear much the same as it had been before the fire.  Six months later, Mrs. Maddox was once again living in the house and its destiny of being a witness house continued.  She remained there until her death in 1999.  

Today, Mike, Sandy and Julie Myers continue to enjoy the large wrap around porch of the home.  No longer can they see the many stores, bank, depot, female academy and boarding house across the street.  These have vanished though the witness house remains and stands in testament of what once was a thriving community.  The Myers family are the new caretakers of this historic structure.  Inside, several of the rooms remain the same as 150 years ago.  Some still bear the scars of the fire in 1994 while others destroyed have been rebuilt.   History abounds, not just within the walls, but the entire vicinity of the house.  The Myers family, representing the fifth and sixth generation family members now continue to watch events unfold in the town as the witness house gathers more memories for future generations.

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