Graham-Kivett Home to morph into Claiborne Heritage Center

Published 1:06 pm Tuesday, June 13, 2023

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The public found out this morning that the much-anticipated restoration of the historic Graham-Kivett Home is moving forward with the help of a $750,000 grant. The announcement was made on the grounds of the building located at the corner of Main Street and Kivett Drive in Tazewell.

A good amount of sweat has gone into plans to develop the building and grounds into a Heritage Center/Welcome Center that will house the headquarters of the Claiborne County Chamber of Commerce/Economic & Community Development Board. The Center will also include a museum and meeting space for the various county activities.

Rob Barger, Chairman of the Claiborne Chamber/ECDB Foundation, broke the news as he detailed the history of the home in which the late county historian John Kivett had lived until his death in 2004.

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The house was reportedly built in the early 1800s by the Irish immigrant William Graham and was occupied by the family around 1810. Graham was an entrepreneur who was a founding father of the city of Tazewell. A builder by trade, Graham also constructed the historic Parkey home which is no longer standing.

Also built by Graham was the Speedwell Manor, which was located at one time near where the present-day First Century Bank now stands in Tazewell.

“That home was actually purchased by a doctor in Knoxville and moved, brick by brick, to Knoxville,” said Barger.

During the Civil War, the home was reportedly used as a hospital of sorts. Historic records support the rumors that Ulysses S. Grant stayed in the home during a visit to the area. The Kivett family often spoke of the visit through the generations. The Kivetts purchased the structure in the 1900s and continued to live there until the last descendant had died.

“We have found records where Grant traveled from Union County to Kentucky around 1864 – it would have been the winter, early January – and this sure would have been a nice place to stay the night,” said Barger of the property.

The Graham-Kivett Home sat in disrepair for quite a few years after John Kivett, who had no descendants, passed away.

“The Chamber and the Economic & Community Development Board got together and said ‘we’ve got to save this historic home’ and we formed a foundation to do just that,” said Barger. “We were able to purchase the home at a delinquent tax sale. That gave the Foundation a clear title to the home.”

Renovations began and the first to see restoration was the roof of the building via fundraisers like the Christmas Tractor Parade and the Fantasy of Trees.

Enough money was raised to repair the roof and to rebuild the chimneys which Barger says, secured the integrity of the home by keeping rainwater out of the structure.

The next step was restoring the stonework and mortar – at a cost of $140,000.

Barger says discussions were made about the need for a permanent Chamber of Commerce Office and how the history of our county was being lost.

“We said ‘how can we utilize this property?’ We came up with the idea to do a Claiborne Heritage Center that not only would preserve the historic home but include a new structure on the back of the property that would house the Chamber and also provide meeting space for Chamber members, the Tourism Committee and the ECD Board,” said Barger.

Cost estimates, he said, showed that the county would need $750,000 to complete the proposed plans.

A reach-out to State Representatives Gary Hicks and Dennis Powers resulted in getting the necessary funds included in the governor’s budget.

Hicks said he and Powers were enthusiastic about being “redistricted” into Claiborne County.

“As Rob (Barger) began to talk about this project, we realized real quick that this was the project that we wanted to focus on,” said Hicks.

Powers said he had been reading up on the history of the house. He referred to William Graham’s Irish ethnicity.

“Having been in Ireland before, it’s amazing how much our beautiful area around here looks like Ireland and why he wanted to come and settle here,” said Powers.