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Historic cabin’s caretakers discuss structure’s importance

Unicoi History Group members Gina Clark, Gaye Norman, Jean Mull, Leisa Willis, Claudia Langley and Mike Langley stand inside of the Bogart-Bowman Cabin.

By Richard Rourk

The Unicoi History Group has been working to preserve and pass on the history of Unicoi to future generations.

Leisa Willis, the president of the group, explains that the Unicoi History Group has been teaching the history of Unicoi while providing the community with family fun and a lifetime of memories.

“We have hosted Easter Egg hunts, Ice Cream Socials, Christmas at the Cabin and, of course, Heritage Days,” Willis said. “During Heritage Day, we host two days filled with live reenactments and activities of the late 1700s and early 1800s.”

At the center of the history group’s events is the Bogart-Bowman Cabin, located at 5012 Unicoi Drive in Unicoi.

The Town of Unicoi purchased the cabin and the surrounding property in 2008. 

“The cabin was covered by siding and the inside was covered with sheet rock,” Willis said. “What was hiding under the modern exterior and interior wall coverings was the original log construction. The fireplace had been covered over in the main room and the second floor had been sealed off.”

Workers revealed that once the sheet rock on the interior was removed, newspapers from the late 1800s and early 1900s were revealed. The papers had been plastered to the logs. 

“This was a common practice of the period in an effort to ward off the cold,” Willis said. “The chimney and fireplace in the main cabin were constructed of the native Tennessee limestone. Based on the architectural details and the craftsmanship of the carpentry, it is believed that the two-story log cabin, dog trot and adjoining kitchen were built in the late 1700s to early 1800s.”

Unicoi County History Group member and former town mayor Johnny Lynch explains the historic significance of the cabin.

“The earliest record of the land where the cabin is located dates back to a land grant issued to Evan Shelby in 1782,” Lynch said. “This land was comprised of 640 acres that extended along the banks of the Buffalo Creek.”

Shelby rose through the ranks of the Washington District of North Carolina militia. 

“This area was part of Carter County, North Carolina, back then,” Lynch said. “Shelby died on Dec. 4 of 1794.”

The property changed hands from the Shelby family to the Bogart family. From there the property was acquired by the V.S. Bowman family by marriage in the late 1700s or early 1800s. 

“The Baptiste McNabb is intertwined there,” Unicoi History Group Gaye Norman said. “I’m actually related to the McNabb family. My mother used to play in the cabin as a child.”

The cabin has been the meeting place of some of the important moments in regional history. “There has been a lot of effort by historians like Pat Alderman, Martha Erwin, David Byrd and several other historians from Milligan College to preserve the history here,” Lynch said. “We found out in the Battle of Flint Creek, future first governor of Tennessee, John Sevier, and his troops came through and set up camp here on their way back to Fort Watauga.”

Unicoi History Group member Gina Clark noted that it’s the group’s responsibility to preserve the cabin as well as its history. 

“We are the voice of the cabin,” Clark said. “We want to serve the community but be mindful of its history.”

Anyone interested in learning more about the Bogart-Bowman Cabin or joining the Unicoi History Group is  invited to attend one of the group’s meetings. The group meets on the second Tuesday of each month at 6 p.m. inside the Bogart-Bowman Cabin.  Refreshments are served and a history presentation usually accompanies the meeting.