The Log House LeNora Built - Part Two

As we walked through the place that was once a beautiful flower garden, there was hardly a sign that anything had ever grown there. Nothing looked as it once did. Just last year hardy hibiscus with blooms the size of dinner plates greeted us on an earlier visit. That same day, crepe myrtles as tall as trees in several different shades showed their pretty colors, and brightly colored Impatiens were an explosion of color in beds in front of the house. Pebble pathways that once lead to small benches in a front flower garden aren’t there anymore. Now, the only thing left of that flower garden is an occasional multi-colored stone that hadn’t been picked up earlier as LeNora Mitzing prepared for her cherished log home to be moved once again. This is a follow up story on the one I did earlier about LeNora’s long, drawn out battle with the State of Tennessee Department of Transportation. Here’s a look back at her situation: LeNora was visiting in this area in 1992 when she noticed a "For Sale" sign on property that included the one room log cabin. After stopping to investigate, she knew then what she wanted to do. She told me the first time she drove down the lane onto the property, she felt like she "was home." Her only regret was that her mother, who many years earlier said she wanted to build a log cabin for LeNora and her siblings, was no longer around to share her dream. After the purchase of the property was completed, every spare minute of the next five years was spent on the hard work involved in getting the one room log home moved to another location on the property. Many weekend trips were made from Indiana to work on the property, and most holidays were used for that purpose too. LeNora’s grandson, Nate, often accompanied her from Indiana to help with the work. He also helped LeNora bring a camper down from Indiana so they might have a place to live in while the work on the log home was underway.

Everything seemed to be going along pretty smoothly, until one day in 1993, when LeNora noticed some surveyors nearby. She made inquiry and was told about the possibility of plans for a new highway coming through. After learning of the historic nature of her home, department officials told her additional property might just be taken from her neighbors across the highway, sparing her home, but she didn’t want her neighbors to suffer because of her situation. Thinking she could solve the problem herself, she decided just to move the log cabin back further to insure her home would be out of harms way. Taking on this additional work was certainly unexpected, but she tackled the job thinking once it was done, she would be that much closer to accomplishing her dream.

In 1997, LeNora retired from her regular job which allowed her to devote more time to getting the property transformed into a real livable home. After getting the one room log home moved to a place she believed to be away from any more involvement with a highway that might or might not be coming through, her next project was the purchase of dog trot from another log home. This structure was built around 1840 and belonged to the family of a Civil War officer. Getting it moved and added to the house was the next step in the work plan. The third purchase was an old log structure originally used as a community smoke house that had been saved from a watery grave at the bottom of Dale Hollow lake. It too was moved and added on as another bedroom. Slowly but surely the two-story home came together complete with a front porch and comfortable rocking chairs to sit in and admire the beautiful flower gardens. When the grandchildren and great-grandchildren come to visit, a spacious loft with it’s own balcony overlooking the nearby woods is their favorite place to spend time in. Bunk beds made by one of LeNora’s daughters provide a good place in the loft for the great-grandchildren to sleep when they are there for a visit. LeNora pointed out special rocks the grandchildren and great-grandchildren placed in the construction of the stone fireplace.

It’s so obvious that a tremendous amount of work has gone into the building of this historic log home, and most of it done without a lot of outside help. After all she’s gone through getting her home just like she’s always planned for, she gets word once again that new highway is in the works. But this time, she learns her home is right in the middle where the highway will be constructed. Because she’s gone through this once before and did everything in her power to make absolutely sure her home would be located where a situation like this could never happen again, it’s really unbelievable that once again, she’s right back to square one.

LeNora's log home
LeNora's log home is made ready to be moved to a new location for the second time.

Even though LeNora is almost 81 years old, she’s still got a lot of fight and determination. She knows this is going to be a real battle in more ways than one if she is to save her home once again. She does everything in her power to let her opinion about the plans the Department of Transportation has in store for all the property owners in her neighborhood. She attended and spoke at open meetings, she wrote letters to state representatives, to the Attorney General’s office, and to the Governor himself. She also consulted with a number of lawyers about taking her case, but decides just to stand alone and deal with the State as best she can. The fact that this is the second time she had to move her house is bad enough, but that doesn’t figure in with the Department of Transportation folks. In fact, LeNora was not only given a deadline to meet, but she had to pay the Department of Transportation the sum of $10,000.00 just to move her house off of their right-of-way, which happened to be her property before it was condemned. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. The small home she bought to live in while her log home was being made ready for the move required a lot of renovations. And then there’s the house movers to be hired to not only do all the work involved in the actual moving of the log house, but to do all the finishing work in getting the it back together once more. But LeNora’s faith and determination have seen her through thus far, and she believes she’ll overcome these obstacles as well. On my most recent visit to LeNora’s, a new foundation under the log house had been partially completed.

Not far from LeNora’s property is an area that is an absolute treasure chest. It is known by some as Sycamore Hollow and contains literally thousands and thousands of wildflowers that each spring must be seen to be believed. Part of the places where the wildflowers grow are also falling victim to the Department of Transportation. Heavy equipment has already begun to plow through those hillsides without ever giving a thought to the destruction of some of nature’s most beautiful creations, some of which will never be seen again because their habitat is destroyed, all in the name of progress.

LeNora's log home
LeNora's log home, ready to be relocated with chimney still in tact, shows in the background.  The moving of the house was done by H & H House Movers, a third generation family run business.  Pictured left to right:  Jason Gunter, employee; Terry Holman, co-owner of H & H House Movers, LeNora, and Luther Randall Stamps, employee.

While LeNora’s log house slowly gets put back together again, she has also been focusing on her wonderful flower garden. She moved all of the plants she could to another temporary location with the hopes that everything would all make it through the unusual winter we’ve had. But sadly, many plants died over the winter months. I certainly hope by the time summer rolls around things are getting back somewhat to normal for her. Hopefully she will be living in her log home once more in spite of the fact that nearby, the new highway continues to take shape. The woods behind LeNora’s log house was once the place where she went to find serenity and was a place to meditate. It is slowly becoming part of the new highway. Noise from the construction going on has already taken the place of her once peaceful surroundings, and eventually, it will be the noise from traffic on the new highway that will pick up where the construction left off. And it seems that no matter how often property owners might be faced with this type situation, our government’s attitude seems to be that it’s just part of the price tag included in the name of progress, and there’s very little that can be done about it.

This brings to my mind a person who calls himself Two Wolves. When I interviewed him several years ago, he shared some interesting theories, and one of the things he stresses is that we have all been given the responsibility to care for the earth and all the growing things on it, as well as the creatures who share our world. He was very concerned, and rightly so, about the lack of interest and could-care-less attitude most people have about the state of the natural world around us. I just wonder what his opinion about all this so called "progress" would be. Personally, I can’t help but believe there’s something terribly wrong with this picture. While most would have thrown in the towel long ago, LeNora has been continually steadfast in her struggle to save her home. Her attitude is reflected in a quote from Thomas Edison that says: "Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time."