A tour through Laurelmont, the three-story log home Jim and Barbara Leach built in Townsend, tells the visitor a story of the Leaches past.
The couple are opening their home to the public to help preserve the past of the place they live now.
The Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center is sponsoring their first Fall Mountain Home Tour, a fundraiser, on Friday, Oct. 28, and Jim and Barbara are one of four couples who are opening their homes to the public for the tours.
Laurelmont tells the story of the places the couple have traveled to or lived in since they married 44 years ago. In the bathroom, maps of the nine cities they called home adorn the walls. The wood flooring throughout the house is from Texas, the chandelier is from Alaska, the kitchen counter is from Kansas, the poplar bark trim is from North Carolina and the decking outside is from Indonesia.
Barbara is a homemaker and avid golfer. Jim is a retired executive vice president and director of logistics with J.C. Penney. When he’s not at home, there’s a good chance he’s hiking the trails in the Smokies or fly fishing in the Little River inside the National Park.
Jim and Barbara grew up in Knoxville where he graduated from Bearden High School and she from Holston High School. They left for 35 years as his career took them to various places, including a stint at the home office in New York City before the headquarters moved to Dallas. The couple lived in Dallas for 22 years and raised their family.
The couple split time between Dallas where Jim retired from the corporate headquarters and their log home near Townsend. Last year they spent their first full year in Tennessee.
The opportunity to buy the almost 9 acres of property situated on about 2,200 feet up on Kelly Ridge Road near Laurel Valley came when they were vacationing one holiday years ago.
“We would always rent a cabin and spend Thanksgiving here,” said Barbara. “One Thanksgiving, this property was being advertised, and we looked at it and bought it. Even before we built, the view was everything we imagined and more.”
Jim said they sat on the property until he retired. “We had always wanted a log home, but we liked the Western look,” he said. “This house is hand-crafted, and the logs came out of British Columbia. We took two years to design it.”
Barbara said they traveled all over the United States to get ideas for their home design and to pick up items they put in their home.
The floors are 100-year-old Heart of Pine that came from a house that was torn down in Texas. The counter in the kitchen came from a country store in Kansas. The antler-fixture chandelier in the stairwell going up to the second floor came from a saloon in Alaska. “I call it repurposing,” she said.
All the doors were custom built by Wade Richardson of Townsend, as was a Chestnut entertainment center in the living room. He also incorporated a stained glass window into their bedroom door.
There is poplar bark molding along the floor in the screened-in porch and on the tops of the vertical beams in the house. “We got that in North Carolina. The lodge where we were staying had it. We found out where they got it and went directly to the lumber yard. It is around the screened-in porch on the second level exterior, and we also have bark on the lower level of the house,” she said.
Instead of guttering, they installed rain chains. “The rain runs down the chains into a whiskey barrel. In the winter, it freezes and is beautiful,” she said.
There is a master bedroom and bath on the first floor with the living room, dining room and kitchen as well as a screened-in porch that leads to a deck and a “mud” room or utility room. The second floor has two guest rooms and a bathroom. The basement has a bunkroom, a small kitchen, a guest room and a couple of bathrooms.
Jim said the stone in the home is Tennessee stone and the deck is marabou from Indonesia. “We got it because of the longevity of the wood,” he said.
One of the bathrooms on the main floor tells a story of the different places the couple has lived, an idea Barbara had to honor their past.
Different street maps are situated at various places on the walls of the bathroom to note the nine different cities where they have lived in their 44 years of marriage. “We put the plaster over the maps,” Jim explained.
Barbara said one aspect she enjoys is that their views change throughout the day. “The views change with the weather, clouds and fog,” she said. “The sunrises are absolutely glorious. It is gorgeous.”
Jim said the company that built the three-story log home did so in a factory - just the logs without the doors or windows. They numbered the logs and took the home apart and put them on four tractor-trailers that brought them to Townsend from British Columbia. Each of the flat-bed trailers arrived four days apart. A crane was situated on the worksite and unloaded the logs. The trailer had to be unhitched before the driver turned the truck around, and the crane operator lifted the trailer up, turned it around and set it down behind the truck.
“It took us a year and a half to build this house,” Jim said. “We started in April of 2004 and finished in June of 2005,” he said. The home is 5,200 square feet.
Barbara said she and Jim didn’t hesitate when asked to be part of the home tour to benefit the Heritage Center. “We are such fans of the Heritage Center. Jim serves on the board, and I’m in the guild. It is a phenomenal place. We’re willing to help raise funds for the museum. We have always wanted to live in a log home and this truly is our dream home. We love to have friends visit, we love to show off our views, and we love the Heritage Center,” she said.
Jim said the money raised will help underwrite the cost of transportation for school groups visiting the facility. “I think it is great they provide educational services for students in Blount, Sevier and Knox counties,” he said.
Jim said he appreciates that the museum provides educational opportunities while at the same time preserving the history of the region and its people. “You have a two-pronged approach - education and preservation of heritage. They do an excellent job,” he said. “We are hoping this tour will be a real success for the museum. There are a total of four homes. The museum is a great place, and we want to do what we can to help them.”
Tickets are on sale now for the Fall Mountain Home Tour.
The other homes on the tour are Mike and Mary Crawford; Jim and Barbara Leach; former Tennessee Gov. and First Lady Don and Martha Sundquist; and David and Dale Cuthbertson (owners of the former Fred Lawson home).
The tour will be held Friday, Oct. 28, with tour times on the hour from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tickets must be purchased and tour times reserved prior to Oct. 28.
Participants are required to park (free) at the Heritage Center and ride shuttles to and from the tour. Tickets may only be picked up at the center just prior to boarding the tour buses. The center is at 123 Cromwell Drive, between the Townsend traffic light and the national park entrance on Scenic Highway 73 in Townsend.
Tickets are $65. They include the tour; transportation to and from the homes; a buffet meal at Laurel Valley Restaurant before or after the tour between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.; one-day admission to the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center, good until Oct. 28, 2012; and a one-time 10-percent merchandise discount in the center’s gift shop.
Tickets may be ordered by credit card at 865-448-0044; by sending a check to GSMHC, P.O. Box 268, Townsend, TN 37882; or by visiting the Heritage Center’s main office 9 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays.
The event will be held rain or shine.