Peter Taylor House owners say ‘We tried’

By Crystal Burns

The day before a backhoe stirred up the dust tearing down the Peter Taylor House on South High St., owners Bob Wilson and his son Bryan posted a sign over the gaping hole where the front door used to be.

“We tried,” it said with two frowning faces drawn on each side of ‘we.’

The historic home at 206 S. High St. was built in 1900 and features a multi-planed roof, encircling porch supported by round posts, weatherboarding, and wood shingles. It was the boyhood home of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Peter Taylor (see related story).

The home had been in disrepair for some time, but Wilson admitted he wasn’t able to inspect it before buying the tax deed at an auction in April 2016. He described the conditions when he got into the house, saying it was clear that people had been squatting there.

“The place was completely trashed,” Wilson said.

The roof was taking on water, so Wilson had a tarp put on as soon as he got the tax deed.

“Then I proceeded to get back to basics,” he said.

Wilson found a reputable company in Clarksville to inspect both the Adams House, which he also purchased next door, and the Taylor House. The contractor found a broken beam sitting in dirt at the front of the Taylor House, which caused the wall to start caving in and the roof to collapse down on top of it. There were a number of beams that had broken loose and were not attached to anything.

The contractor told Wilson he was looking at about $100,000 to repair the foundation, and the company declined an invitation to bid on the project.

“Then the weather set in, and that made things worse,” Wilson said.

Wilson said the layout of the home was impractical and would have been difficult to restore in order for someone to live there comfortably. Still, he did not relish tearing it down.

“It was painful to make that decision,” Wilson said. “I’ve taken a lot of interest in trying to bring things back to life [in Trenton]. This was painful.

“My intention was to fix it,” he said. “I was looking at a real mess. Unfortunately, I didn’t know that until I bought it.”

Wilson has salvaged several elements from the Taylor House including the transom interior doors, pocket doors, hardwood flooring, the front door with stained glass, most all of the clapboard siding, and a small dormer. He plans to use the hardwood floors in the Adams House, which he is restoring. Wilson also plans to build a baker on Church St. and envisions using the front door, dormer, and siding there. His working title is Pulitzer Pies.

Wilson also wants to erect a plaque and possibly a gazebo at the Taylor House site in tribute of Peter Taylor, who won the Pulitzer for fiction in 1987 for “A Summons to Memphis,” one of three novels he wrote. Taylor was better known for his short stories and won a PEN/Faulkner Award in 1985 for “The Old Forest and Other Stories.”

“We’re going to try to do something even though it’s private property,” Wilson said. “Pieces [of the house] will come back on other projects as much as possible.”

Wilson said he plans to keep the Adams House, which was also built in 1900.

“I want it to be a nice estate,” he said. “I want it to be right up there with the other estates that are here.”

Wilson purchased the Adams House before the Taylor House.

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