Hawthorn Hill, located in Sumner County, Tennessee, is a significant example of southern backcountry vernacular architecture. Built circa 1806 by John Bearden, an early settler in Castalian Springs, Tennessee, this two-story, brick Federal-style dwelling embodies many of the traditional building and construction methods seen throughout the Tennessee frontier. The significance of the home’s material culture and design is not limited solely to the frontier era. In 1817, John Bearden sold the home and property to the Bate family. The house remained in the family for more than one hundred years, becoming associated with the significant country music performer Humphrey Bate in the mid-twentieth century. This thesis relies on literature from the fields of vernacular architecture studies and material culture studies, as well as the more recent field of the southern backcountry, to analyze and interpret the property’s several changes and alterations. Primary sources include local government records such as probate, inventory, and tax records; federal census data; oral histories and memoirs from owners and residents; family papers; and the house itself as a primary material culture source.
Many view buildings, like Hawthorn Hill, as physical representations of culture; because of their endurance over time they serve as an effective means of understanding the lives of the people of the past. This study takes a vernacular architecture approach to Hawthorn Hill because it stands as an illustrative example of common architectural types of the Sumner County area. This close exploration of a two-story, brick hall-and-parlor plan dwelling in its geographic and thematic contexts uncovers important new evidence and perspective on backcountry life n Tennessee.