Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

August 12, 2013

Pleasant Hill Ramblings: Wightmans left their mark on community

By Jean Clark
Chronicle contributor

CROSSVILLE — On a prominent knoll in the center of Pleasant Hill stands a house overseeing the town much like a venerable dowager might survey her descendents and their activities.

To quote from History by the Page, “The first historical marker presented by the Pleasant Hill Historical Society of the Cumberlands was set in place on August 21, 1977 at the Amos Wightman house on Main Street.

The large crowd of visitors was invited to inspect the renovated old house, escorted by the present owner, Post Master Carl Thompson (since deceased).

The weather that day was perfect and everybody was seated on the lawn to hear Mr. Thompson tell the story of this historic spot.”

In Pleasant Hill, the story of Amos and Helen Wightman is well known. Originally from Boston, Massachusetts, they moved to Illinois and eventually in 1868 to the mountain climate of Tennessee because one of their sons was ill with asthma.

Their reasons for selecting this particular hill in the heart of Cumberland County are unknown. Pleasant Hill was then no more than three log cabins and two burnt chimneys left in the wake of the Civil War.

“Pleasant Hill” was only the name of a post office a mile and a half further west. Perhaps they were drawn by the cheapness of the land at 25¢ an acre.

For whatever reason, they purchased more than three thousand acres and settled down to raising sweet potatoes and children. The first house was a one-storey log cabin, later enlarged to three stories with the present house built around it.

Concerned about the sporadic education of their 11 children, the Wightmans wrote to the American Missionary Association based in Boston asking for assistance for the children of the Plateau.

Helen Wightman made the long arduous trip to Boston in 1883 to present the plea in person. As a result teachers were sent to Pleasant Hill and Grandview, some thirty miles to the Southeast. They were known as “sister schools” and in Pleasant Hill as the Academy. Eventually the Wightman house contained 11 rooms on three levels, room for their children and also sometimes providing housing for Academy students.

There was a stove in every room. A second building in the rear and a finished third floor of the barn was also used for family or students.

Amos Whiteman sold the property to the American Missionary Association in 1906. Miss Alice Whiteman bought the property back in 1937.

Unfortunately after her death, the estate fell into a sad state of neglect and deterioration. The grounds became a wide tangle of thickets and knee-high poison ivy. The rumor that the house was haunted kept the children of Pleasant Hill crossing to the other side of the road when passing it.

It was declared off-limits to Academy students.

In 1966 Carl and Ola Dell Scarbrough Thompson both Academy graduates purchased the house and began the year-long monumental task of restoring the house and grounds.

For many years the Thompson family of six enjoyed their “southern plantation” with its gleaming wood floors, antique furniture, and rolling lawns under the oaks.

The Thompsons built the present Pleasant Hill Post Office on their land close to Main St. Both were Postmasters at different times and also ran a small grocery store from the building.

Ola Dell recently passed away at the age of 100 after a lifetime of involvement in Pleasant Hill affairs. The Thompson family still leases the land to the U.S. Postal Service to this day.

Cattle graze on those rolling lawns now, often right up to the fence surrounding the Post Office. PH citizens wonder what will be the next chapter for this historic house.

***

The Grab thrift shop at 1944 West Main Street in Pleasant Hill is again open and will be distributing 5 complete school outfits at no cost for Pre-School through twelfth grade through Aug. 20.

Store Hours are 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Reminder that if the schools are closed then The Grab will also be closed.