yesterday's tennessee

Yesterday's Tennessee

Red House

from the research of K. Donald Keeton and William H. Martin III
updated August 17, 2011

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Red House Inn

Surprisingly few people of our generation, and especially younger generations, know anything about the Red House or the major role it played in the early history of Decatur County and surrounding areas.  Historians have written very few books about Decatur County.  A librarian at the Tennessee State Library and Archives in Nashville told us that TSLA has only a limited number of published county histories for Decatur County and none of those histories has more than a few sentences about the story of the old Red House.  We believe the Red House story is important and worthy of the time and energy we have put into researching and writing it for future generations.  Accordingly, this article represents our best efforts to share the things we have learned about the old house.

Early years; a stagecoach inn

The house that would become known as the Red House was built sometime early in the 19th century.  West Tennessee was Indian land until it was purchased from the Chickasaws in 1818.  As the Indians moved out of west Tennessee and there was less fear of ambush or attack, pioneer white families began arriving and settling west of the Tennessee River in large numbers.  Decatur County historian, Lillye Younger, places the house’s birth date as 1805.  She added, "The Red House, an early stagecoach stop, is another pioneer building of historical importance.”  Family researcher, Anita Sparks, whose Sparks family ancestors are said to have been the first residents, says the house was built in the 1700s.

In an article published in The Jackson Sun of December 10, 1964, Mrs. E. H. Wylie, Sun Correspondent, stated that the house was built in 1805 for a hotel and stagecoach stop and that a family named Sparks was the first residents after the house was no longer used by stagecoach passengers.  The book, Decatur County, Tennessee - History and Family 1846-1996, gives the date of construction as the late 1700s and was a stagecoach inn at Bath Springs. Stagecoaches would stop there to spend the night and rest their horses.  Robert Livingston, who said he was in the old house numerous times between 1969 and about 1980—the house was only partially standing when he last visited it—and he personally observed that the few nails used in its construction were hand forged, which is a strong clue that the house was built before 1820 because forged nails “died out” about 1820.

By every account, the house was said to have been built long before Decatur County was formed from the portion of Perry County lying west of the Tennessee River in the mid-1840s.

One of the first families said to have lived in the house was the rather large Samuel Sparks family—they had a total of14 children.  One of Samuel Sparks’ 3rd great-grandsons, Ron L. Sparks, said that, according to family oral history, the Red House was the initial location for the family in Tennessee, they having previously lived in Virginia.  Samuel Sparks is buried at the nearby Red House Cemetery and cemetery census takers recorded his burial as “d. Dec. 13, 1841 (eroded; any other information eroded away....)”  Two of the Sparks children are said to have been the very first buried in that cemetery, which was called Akin Cemetery before it was renamed Red House Cemetery.

Constructed of hand-hewn, dove-tailed yellow poplar logs harvested from the nearby forest and probably snaked by mules out of the woods and onto the building site, the house was a rather large, impressive structure by 18th and 19th century standards.  It definitely was not a typical log house.  In her book Decatur County, Lillye Younger described the house, which had two hand-fitted limestone chimneys--one gracing each end of the house.  She said the first floor of the two-story structure had one big room, hallway, kitchen, and dining room, with a back porch on the ell and a smoke house adjoining.  The upstairs consisted of one big room with homemade beds nailed to the walls.  Those same beds probably are the ones wounded soldiers lay on when they were brought to the Red House to have their wounds treated during the Civil War.

Long time local resident Carl Butler, Jr., who has visited inside the Red House--and whose Uncle Richard Blount was living in the house in 1918 when his first daughter, Willie R. Blount, was born on August 4, 1918--shared some of his recollections.  He said the house was a story and a half log design.  He recalls that the lower level had about seven-foot ceilings but the upper story extended into the roof line.  The side walls of the upstairs were only about four feet high.  You could stand in the center of the room upstairs.  The beds were placed around the walls under the roof.  He also remembers the kitchen was in a smaller, single story log building with a covered connection between the kitchen and the main house similar to a dog trot.

Bill Martin (co-author of this article and the surviving one of the three William Haywood Martins) lived and grew up in a frame house facing present-day Tenn. Highway 69/114 about 200 yards from the Red House.  He remembers that the separate kitchen of the Red House had its own fireplace.  It is not known whether all of the rooms were included in the original construction or if some of them might have been add-ons for a hotel and to accommodate a stage route.  In any event, all of those rooms were incorporated in the structure at some point in time.

A typical 18th or 19th century Tennessee log house started with one room, called a pen, about 16 feet to 18 feet square, because that was about the maximum length log a man and a mule could handle.  The pen had a fireplace on one wall and the entry door on the opposite wall.  When there was a need for more space, a second pen, of mirror image--with the two entry doors facing each other--was built, leaving a space of about 10 or 12 feet, called a dog trot, or breezeway, between the two pens.  Usually, at some later date, the dog trot might be enclosed to form a hallway.  Thus, they then had a rectangular house, consisting of two large rooms and a hallway, with a fireplace in each end of the house.

The location of the house, near the point that might be considered the crossroads of present-day Highways Tenn. 69 and 114, was well suited for a stagecoach route.  Centered between the nearest four towns, the Red House, also remembered as Red House Inn and Red House Hotel, was roughly half way between Clifton on the east and Scotts Hill on the west.  Saltillo is about the same distance south while Decaturville is a dozen miles or so to the north.  Carl Butler’s father told him that the road used to go along “Martin Ridge” from the Martin’s Landing area to the Red House.  There apparently are some large, exposed rocks that were supposed to be part of the route.

By about 1820, the Indians had pretty much left west Tennessee and white families began moving westward in large numbers.  Trails that previously were nothing more than buffalo paths were being widened and opened up to wagon traffic although many of them still were a challenge to navigate, especially through the marshy prairies and the dense wilderness areas because of so many stumps, deep ruts and mud holes.

One of the main wagon routes between Nashville and Memphis was via the Tennessee River crossing at Clifton.  The house that became known as the Red House was on that east-west route between Nashville and Memphis as well as the north-south route to Decaturville and Saltillo.  Many of the early pioneers, including some of our own ancestors, arrived from North Carolina and middle Tennessee by way of the Clifton river crossing in covered wagons traveling in wagon trains.

The long journey was generally made by several families—as many as 50 or more--traveling together in covered wagons pulled by teams of oxen or mules.  The wagons formed a caravan called a wagon train.  Most men with families drove their own wagons.  Single men rode on horseback, perhaps leading a pack mule or two.  They herded the group’s livestock or rode alongside the wagons helping the wagon drivers stay on course.  Some families also tied a milk cow behind the wagon to provide milk.  The families helped each other and some even shared supplies.

Each family’s essential belongings--a rifle for protection and food, an axe for clearing a road or making a raft and a skillet or pot for cooking, for example--were loaded into the wagon which was no more than about 50 or so square feet in size.  The family also slept in the wagon at night. 

Some of our early ancestors traveled in a wagon train from Anson County, NC to the Scotts Hill, TN area, a dozen or so miles beyond the Red House, about 1825 and it took them three weeks to travel that distance.  One could make the trip by car now in a long day.  It has been reported that some of the wagon trains, after crossing the river at Clifton, stopped to rest and perform maintenance on their equipment before moving on.  It has been said that some of those pioneers stayed in the Dunbar area, just west of Red House, for as long as two weeks before proceeding on their journey.

Early settlers in the area found plentiful wild game and fish for hunting, good, fertile bottom land for farming and an abundance of fresh, clean water.  For most of the earliest pioneers, and even folks living in the community as late as the late 19th century, there was very little or no money and they had to rely on their success at farming and hunting just to survive.  The nearest trading posts where chickens, eggs and butter could be traded for such staples as coffee, sugar and coal oil might have been several miles away.  By the middle of the 19th century, several medical doctors had offices up and down the river and even made house calls on horseback.  If they were compensated at all for their services, it frequently might have been with a free meal or a sack of fresh vegetables from the garden.

Not more than a hundred yards from the Red House was a large spring that supplied water for drinking and household use.  A branch flowing from the spring kept the livestock watered.  The branch flows into nearby Turnbo Creek which empties into the Tennessee River.  Deer, wild turkeys and other fowl were harvested for meat, while people had to put tin on their chicken roosts to protect their chickens from such predators as mink, weasels, ‘possuns and other critters.  Nevertheless, even the lowly ‘possums became the centerpiece, or main dish, on some dinner tables.  An abundance of fish was available for catching in the nearby streams, including the Tennessee River.

About a mile away, there is a sink hole that has water flowing at the bottom of it.  Nearby residents built stairs down into the sink hole to access the water.  There is lots of ground water in the area and one local man even reported an unending water supply from his well.

At some point in time, either when it was first built, which is unlikely, or later, the house did become a stagecoach terminal and crew change point where horses and drivers changed as well as a layover hotel for passengers.  The Red House has the distinction of being the first stagecoach terminal in the southern end of Decatur County and quite possibly the first in the entire area that became Decatur County.

The house may have begun functioning as a hotel at the time that nearby Bath Springs was in its glory as a resort area before the Civil War.  Bath Springs, which is about two miles east of the Red House, gets its name from a sulfur spring that was behind the Hancock place.  It is believed that Dr. Hancock was the one who promoted the sulfur spring as a resort.  Sulfur springs were considered therapeutically beneficial in those days and they were scattered over the state.  Few of the therapeutic resorts, or spas as they were sometimes called, functioned following the war.  Old timers living in the area today still remember the location of the sulfur spring and its drainage (and the odor) as well as some remnant buildings.  The buildings are long gone now and the spring may no longer exist.  The site was farmed in the 1950s and it may still be farmed.

Historians have been reluctant to specify a start date for stagecoach service at the Red House.  Henderson County historian, Auburn Powers, stated in his book, Henderson County, Tennessee, 1930, that the last stagecoach to pass through Scotts Hill was in 1870.  That could be a strong indication of when the last stagecoach pulled out of Red House, since Scotts Hill and Red House were on the same route.  As to when the first stagecoach rolled through Scotts Hill, Powers said only that it must have been very early.  In her book, The Development of Early Roads and Basic Occupations, Lillye Younger tells us that the Red House was on the first stagecoach route in the southern end of Decatur County.  Eventually, that route became the Clifton-Lexington segment of the longer Nashville-Memphis stagecoach route and thus the need for a terminal where drivers and horses changed and turned around. 

The stagecoach made the entire trip from Clifton to Lexington--on dirt roads all the way--in one day and then returned the next day.  Initially, the local route did not extend across the river to Clifton.  It began at Carrollville, a small town and river landing, located in the Clifton Bend across the Tennessee River from Clifton.  The line followed on or very close to the buffalo trails and went by the Cades place, then ran past Lone Chestnut to the Dr. Hancock place, which was located near the center of Bath Springs.  From there, it went past the Shannon place just off present Highway Tenn. 114, thence in front of the Red House stagecoach stop and on by the Stevens place and McCorkle place before ascending McCorkle Hill and on to Keeton Store at Dunbar.  After leaving Dunbar, the route went on through Scotts Hill, where there was a small inn to accommodate stagecoach passengers.  Leaving Scotts Hill, it crossed the road that is now Highway Tenn. 100, then crossed Cane Creek near Sugar Hill and continued on into Lexington.  Although not initially part of the Clifton-Lexington route, there was another line added from Lexington to Jackson via Wolf Ridge, which, incidentally, was said to have been a very lonely and desolate road to travel.

Not only was the Clifton-Lexington stagecoach route the first serving Red House, it was also the first stagecoach route to serve Scotts Hill and Lexington, according to the book, Henderson County, by G. Tilman Stewart.  In his book, he wrote that a stagecoach route between Lexington and Perryville was established about 1845.  Therefore, the Clifton-Lexington stagecoach route, which was the first to serve Lexington, must have been in operation before 1845.  Furthermore, the Lexington-to-Clifton road was one of the most traveled of all roads leading to and from Lexington.  Stewart’s book offers another interesting tidbit about stagecoach service from Jackson to Nashville, which would have been by way of the Red House:  “In 1850, I. W. Norweed advertised a reduced round‑trip fare from Jackson to Nashville for $16 or a one‑way fare for $9 via Lexington, Scotts Hill, Clifton, Waynesboro, and Columbia in 34 hours.  The advertisement concluded with the following sentence:  ‘This line is now successful, being stocked with new four‑horse tray, superior teams, and careful sober drivers.’"  Tickets for the trip were sold by the Jackson Hotel.

A stagecoach traveling from Jackson to Nashville on a 34-hour schedule might have started from Jackson on Monday morning at 7:00 AM, arrived at Lexington, changed drivers and teams and departed Lexington by mid-day.  During the afternoon it would pass through Scotts Hill, go by Keeton Store at Dunbar, arrive at Red House by 5:00 PM and lay down for the night.  The next morning the stagecoach would roll out of Red House at 7:00 o’clock with a different driver and team.  It would swap drivers and teams one more time, at Columbia, before arriving at Nashville at 5:00 PM on Tuesday, 34 hours after leaving Jackson.  Meanwhile, the drivers and teams that were replaced along the way would have taken other stagecoaches back to their respective origin terminals.

It would not be hard to imagine that the Red House hotel/stage terminal was a welcoming sight for weary travelers after riding all day.  It is also easy to conjure visions of stage coaches such as we have all seen in early western movies.

If the stagecoach line ceased operating on the Clifton-Lexington route in 1870, it might have been because Perryville had become the preferred Tennessee River crossing for traffic between Nashville and Memphis.  Both freight and passenger traffic was increasing via Perryville while Clifton was experiencing decreases. 

By 1889 the Tennessee Midland Railway Company had completed building 135.6 miles of railroad from Memphis through Jackson and Lexington to Perryville and had planned to extend the line all the way to the Virginia state line.  However, due to lack of financing, the railroad was never built any farther than the west side of the Tennessee River at Perryville.  Nevertheless, most of the Nashville-Memphis stage traffic was diverted away from Clifton in favor of the Perryville river landing and crossing.  Stagecoaches were no match for the railroad.  The first train pulled into Perryville on June 30, 1889 with six coaches--two passenger cars, a baggage car and three freight cars.  Trains operated continuously over that route for more than 47 years.  The last run over the 24-mile Lexington to Perryville branch line, affectionately dubbed the "Pea Vine," was on October 31, 1936. 

Note:  The Town of Parsons, currently the largest town in Decatur County, was developed on land donated by the Tennessee Midland Railway Company. Henry W. Myracle, a visionary anxious to get a town built on land he owned, gave one hundred forty-three and one-third acres of flat land to the railroad for the purpose of starting a town (Recorded in Decatur Co. Deed Book ft II, Pages 85-86).  The town was named for the Parsons family.  Eula Parsons was Henry W. Myracle’s daughter-in-law.  His wife was Sarah Catherine Keeton, daughter of Dr. John Lawson Keeton.  She grew up on the Keeton Farm at Dunbar, about three miles or so west of the Red House.  Her cousin, Gordon Keeton, was a fireman on trains running on the branch line between Lexington and Perryville until he was transferred to work on the railroad’s main line.

Civil War years

In a section of the book, Decatur County, about the Civil War, Lillye Younger states, "Being isolated from the great lines of travel, except for the Tennessee River, Decatur County was comparatively free from the march of the armies.”  Nevertheless, Tennessee native and Confederate General, Nathan Bedford Forest, and his cavalry troops traversed the breadth of our county and passed by the Red House on at least two occasions.  After crossing the Tennessee River at Clifton on December 15, 1862, they moved eight miles on the Stage Road before encamping for the night a half mile west of the Red House, at the foot of McCorkle Hill.  The perimeter of their camp that night probably was within hollering distance of the Red House.  Then after the Battle of Parker’s Crossroads on December 31, 1862, they returned to the river at Clifton via the Stage Road on January 1, 1863.  In his report to General Braxton Bragg, Commanding, Army of Tennessee, on December 24, 1862, Forrest wrote:

“GENERAL: In accordance with your order I moved with my command from Columbia on the 11th instant, reached the river at Clifton on Sunday, the 13th, and after much difficulty, working night and day, finished crossing on the 15th, encamping that night 8 miles west of the river. . . .”

On that return trip to the river, on January 1, 1863, a contingent of then-Brigadier General Forrest’s 1800-man cavalry brigade encountered the enemy at McCorkle Hill and a skirmish ensued.  The 8th Tennessee Cavalry (CSA), under the command of Colonel George G. Dibrell, moving east toward Clifton on the Stage Road (now known as Highway Tenn. 114), met and engaged the enemy, 6th Tennessee Cavalry (US), commanded by Lieutenant Colonel William K. M. Breckenridge, moving south toward Saltillo on the Decaturville Road (now known as Highway Tenn. 69).

Fighting broke out, with shots being fired over (across) the Red House.  Both sides suffered casualties--15 to 20 Union soldiers killed or wounded and about six Confederate soldiers.  The wounded--and possibly the dead—Confederate soldiers were taken to the Red House for treatment.  Thus the Red House hotel/stagecoach terminal was also used as a military hospital during the Civil War.

There also is the story passed down through the generations in the Martin family that General Forrest was in the Red House area on his way to Shiloh in April, 1862 (The Battle of Shiloh was fought on April 6-7, 1862).  According to the legend, the soldiers wounded from the battle were brought back to the Red House hospital for treatment after the first day of fighting.  The blood stains on the floor and stairs were a result of those soldiers wounded at Shiloh.  Bill Martin said this story was told to him by his grandmother, Mittie Martin, who was born in 1865, so she had to have heard the stories when she was growing up.

More evidence of significant war-related activity in the area of the Red House and on the Martin farm has been uncovered by local farmers.  Some of the evidence might be from the New Years Day skirmish while other pieces could be the result of undocumented bickering among marauding soldiers.  Bill Martin recalls that while cultivating land near the Red House farmers turned up weathered pieces of Minnie balls.  He found an old gun that was made in London, England when he was a boy.  He still has it.  An antique arms dealer says it is a Civil War piece that was modified to be a shotgun following the war.  It cannot be determined whether the gun was from the Union or the Confederate side.  Both armies—Confederate and Union--bought weapons from the same source in England.  The antiques dealer says that after the war, the guns were then sold by the wagon loads for $1-2.00 apiece for several years.  The guns were turned in by veterans, the battlefields and ordnance depots of both sides.  Bill Martin also said his father told him that there were numerous pieces of military equipment (cups, buttons, belt buckles, etc.) that he found as a boy around the turn of the twentieth century.

Danny Butler, a self-proclaimed relics hunter, has searched the area around the Red House looking for memorabilia.  Near the spring that was the source of drinking water for the Red House and not far from Turnbo Creek he found twelve Union bullets, causing him to wonder if Union soldiers might have camped there.  This is also the site where we believe General Forrest and his cavalry troops (CSA) were encamped on the night of December 15, 1862, after moving eight miles from Clifton that afternoon.   

McCorkle Hill (now known as Nebo Hill, referring to Mt. Nebo church beyond the top of the hill) was named for the McCorkle family who lived in a house at the foot of the hill.  According to Mrs. E. H. Wylie, the McCorkle family owned slaves.  Mose McCorkle, a Negro—and presumably one of the slaves--helped carry the wounded soldiers to the Red House for treatment.  The living room walls and the stairway became stained with blood.  The blood stains could be seen for many years afterwards, until they were finally painted over.  Interestingly, the skirmish, the wounded soldiers and the slaves carrying them to the Red House all occurred on exactly the same day—January 1, 1863—that President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing all persons held as slaves within the United States.

The house may have been about 60 years old before it got its name:  Red House.  There are several different versions of how the name caught on.  One, reported in Decatur County, Tennessee History and Families, 1846-1996, says, “A large creek runs to the side of the hotel. During the Civil War it was said that bands of soldiers skirmished near the hotel and that the wounded went to the creek to drink.  The creek then became known as Red House Hole, and that is how the inn got its name."  Another version goes like this:  In a Civil War skirmish between the Yankees and Rebels on Nebo (McCorkle) Hill, shooting over the Red House, a stray shot accidentally hit and wounded a man working in the field nearby.  He was carried to Red House and his blood stained the wall of the living room and stairway and the stains remained there until 1915 when they were painted over.  Historians have been silent about whether the field worker might also have been one of the slaves and, if so, whether he lived to celebrate his newfound freedom. 

It is generally believed that slaves are buried in several graves--unmarked except by ordinary field stones--at the Red House Cemetery.  A third, and possibly the most likely, tale of how the Red House name caught on, proclaims that the name comes from the fact that boards covering the logs were painted red.  Bill Martin remembers clearly the faded red paint on parts of the clapboard siding that had been protected from weathering.  He does not know when the boards were added onto the old house.

When folks refer to Red House today, they may be referring to the old house itself or they may be referring to a place or location on the map.

Post Civil War; 20th Century

In addition to the Sparks families, who, apparently, were the original owners of the property, and presumably the builders, the house and its farm land have been in the Martin family at least since 1880 or before.  William Haywood Martin, the first one, built a home near the Red House in the early 1890s and had a large general store nearby.  The store fronted on the old Stage Road.  The two-acre site on which the old Red House once stood is presently owned by Lionel D. Martin and Ronald M. Martin.   

As mentioned earlier in this story, Richard Blount also lived in the Red House during at least some of the teen years of the 20th century.  He worked for the Martins caring for their cattle on the property, possibly in exchange for the rent.  It is speculated that Richard Blount may have been the painter who painted over the blood-stained walls and stairway in 1915.  Richard may have done this when he moved in the house.  He was married in 1916 and would have been getting the house ready for his new bride.  At least two other families rented the house from William Haywood Martin, Jr. as late as the 1940s:  the Cletus and Louise Cordle family and another family whose name was Haggard.  Grady and Cora Martin’s family used the house as their summer vacation home in the 1950s.  After that the house was neglected and soon began sagging and falling to the ground, some 175 years or so after it was built.

The Bath Springs post office was housed in the Martin general store for a number of years.  Both William Haywood Martin, the first, and William Haywood Martin, Jr. served as Postmaster of the Bath Springs Post Office at different times.  The first served until his death, in 1922. 

In addition to the general store and post office, there also was a mule powered cotton gin not too far from the Red House.  It was located at the point where a road went from the highway (Tenn. 114) to the Red House.  The location was convenient both for farmers bringing their cotton from the fields to the gin and also for shipping the ginned and baled cotton to the river to load onto boats.   The gin was owned and run by the first William Haywood Martin.  Historian Jerry L. Butler, who has done extensive research of people and places in Decatur County and elsewhere, tells us that his great grandfather, Austin Butler, worked at the gin as a muleskinner.  The cotton gin is believed to have been gone from the Red House location by the 1940s.

Following the Civil War, the old house gained a reputation for being haunted because so many people who lived there seemed to die young of diseases such as typhoid and malaria.  The average life span was said to have been from 30 to 32 years because of so many illnesses. Impure drinking water from the sink hole is suspected of being a contributing cause of the diseases.  People sometimes referred to the house as the “Haunted House.”  If there were ghosts, they must have been friendly.  Not everyone living in the community could even remember having heard any ghost stories.  The stories that we have heard in preparation for writing this article were not particularly frightening. 

When Mrs. E. H. Wylie saw the house, presumably about 1964, she said it looked as if it might be haunted.  She tells the story of a Mr. W. Kendrick Brooks who, incidentally, lived in a house with the Brooks-Turner family on the Dr. Hancock place at Bath Springs in the 1950s:  When he was a young boy, Kendrick Brooks, whose father also was a local physician, visited families living in the Red House and slept in the room where Civil War soldiers died.  “I would lie awake at night listening for ‘haints’ and could imagine hearing sounds and groans,” he said.  Especially in his adult life, Kendrick Brooks was said to have been a very likeable person—witty, talkative and a good story teller.  He once ran for a seat in the U. S. Congress.

Anita Sparks reported that the house had been called the “Sparks Haunted House.”   She tells the story of early residents reporting that they could hear horses being ungeared in the yard and the gears thrown into the hall and voices outside.

Paul Montgomery is the Bath Springs rural mail carrier.  He remembers a time when he thought for a brief moment he was being visited by one of the ghosts.  One quiet day, he stopped at the now vacant site of the old Red House just to walk onto the property and look around.  He was contemplating the stories he had heard about the haunted house when the solitude of the moment was abruptly broken by a rustling noise in the tree branches overhead, followed by a thud on the ground directly in front of him.  He thought for an instant that he had encountered one of the ghosts.  It turned out, it was only a squirrel.

Grady and Cora Martin planned to restore the old house upon his retirement but he died in 1960 and the plan died with him.  Grady was the brother of William Haywood Martin, Jr. and Eula Martin Rogers; he was born and reared at the family home near the Red House.  At the time of Grady’s death he and Cora lived in Durham, NC with their two sons, Lionel and Ronald.  Bill Martin recalls that in the early 1950s his Uncle Grady, Aunt Cora and the boys would come to Bath Springs in the summers and stay in the old Red House.  They were the last to occupy the house.  Grady enclosed the dog trot, replacing it with a screened breezeway.  When they stayed at the old house they really roughed it as there was no electricity and they got water from the spring a hundred yards or so from the house.  Electricity came to Bath Springs in 1948, one of the last areas electrified in the Tennessee Valley Authority system.

The storied old house is gone now.  Bill Martin said that it still was standing into the 1970s.  He went to see it when he came home to visit in the ‘60s and ‘70s but when he last visited the site in 1998 with his son the house was gone.  There were few chimney stones at that time because people had taken them in the ‘80s.  He said he was lucky to have found two chimney stones, which he took home to Kentucky and uses them now as book ends.  There is hardly any tangible evidence left of the huge imprint the old house made in history--maybe just a lonesome chimney rock or two or a few rusted nails hidden under a pile of debris waiting to be found and carried off to become a souvenir for one of  the house’s many admirers.  But, hopefully, this article will help ensure that future generations know at least some of the history of the incredible old Red House.

About the authors:

Bill Martin and Don Keeton are natives of Decatur County, Tennessee. They grew up on neighboring but separate farms in the Bath Springs area--not far from the Red House--and are graduates of Decaturville High School.  They have now lived away from Decatur County for a combined total of more than 100 years.  Bill lives in Kentucky and Don in North Carolina but they say there will always a special place in their hearts for their beloved native Decatur County.  When the opportunity came along for them to team up and write the Red House story, it was for them akin to going back home.  To paraphrase a familiar old saying:  The vicissitudes of life can take a boy away from home but they can't take away the memories.  

Publications of this article

Published Online July 16, 2010 at

Published in the Decatur County Chronicle, Decaturville, TN, February 15, 2011.

Samuel Sparks Family

from the research of Ron Sparks

Samuel Sparks was born about 1782 and is buried in Red House Cemetery with a marker bearing the death date of December 12, 1841. Samuel is listed in the 1840 census in Perry Co. TN.

Samuel Sparks had 14 children by two wives:

Elizabeth (West) Sparks--
Rebecca (Hudson) Sparks (born ca 1807)--

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