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Tip-Top/ Patterson House overlooks Clarksville

Updated: May 6

Photo by Sbugsyk

Tip-Top/ Patterson House sits at 15 Trahern Terrace on five acres on top of a hill. Joseph Phillip (J.P.) Williams (1819-1862) and Sarah Williams (1821-1885) built the 2 story brick Greek Revival style mansion in 1859. The front portico has 6 massive square columns, and the estate boasted a long wide gravel driveway bordered by maple trees. Although both J.P. and Sarah were born and raised in Nashville, and J.P. had an Arkansas plantation, the couple moved to Clarksville.

According to a National Register of Historic Places document, he constructed Tip-Top on thirty-five acres after he moved from Arkansas to Clarksville in an effort to avoid the Civil War. (Tennessee was the last state to secede.) Williams was a prosperous tobacco businessman. He and others were prominent growers and promoters of dark-fired tobacco, also known as “Clarksville tobacco.” It is noted that Clarksville was a major center of international tobacco markets. After Joseph died, William’s oldest daughter, Martha “Mattie” Penington Williams (?-1900), married his friend, Hugh Dunlop (1811-1879), in 1865, and they had possession of Tip-Top although they did not reside there initially. Eventually, Dunlop paid off the very mortgaged Tip-Top property, and by the 1870s, the Dunlops did move into Tip-Top.

When the Dunlops moved into the house, her mother, Sarah, and the rest of the children moved into a large home in downtown Clarksville. In 1909, Dunlop heirs (W.B. Dunlap, Hugh’s son by his first wife; H.M. Dunlap, Joseph P. Dunlap; and Sadie Dunlap Snadon and her husband Frank Snadon) sold Tip-Top to Mrs. Mary G. Patterson, wife of Governor Malcolm R. Patterson (1861-1935). From 1884-1900, Malcolm was attorney general of the criminal court in Memphis. In 1900, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Seven years later, he was elected Governor of Tennessee - 1907. He implemented the State Highway Commission and helped improve public education. In 1909, Gov. Patterson stopped an uprising by the Night Riders of Reelfoot Lake. In 1910, Mary added seven and one-half acres to the Patterson House estate. Malcolm intended to live in Clarksville at Patterson House a long time, but his pardon of friend, Col. Duncan Brown Cooper, for the murder of former Senator Edward Carmack caused a tremendous controversy that prevented him from continuing in office. It also prevented him from remaining in the mid state. Gov. Patterson did not seek a third term and retired from office in 1911. So he left office and went back to his hometown of Memphis.

Thus, three years after the Pattersons bought the home, in 1911, they sold it to Elwyn Baxter Trahern (1873-1951) and Lilly Bell Sewell Trahern (1874-1962) They wed in 1897. E.B. was a tobacconist as well - in 1922, he built a nicotine extract plant which ran for years.

Their children Joseph Trahern and Margaret Trahern Patch inherited the property. Their son Joseph (1901-1983) and is wife Margaret Dancey Fort Trahern (1902-1966) had lived at the Queen of the Cumberland since 1947. Margaret's family were prominent, and her father a leading Clarksville banker. Trahern became a properous tabacconist with his companies: Trahern Tobacco Co. and Nicotine Production Co. After the Second World War, Trahern changed businesses and went into construction. His company, Clarksville Construction Co., built many of the original buildings at Fort Campbell. His concrete plant supplied materials for Trenton Road among others as well as for the Cape Canaveral launching pads in the 1950s. He also served on the City Council from 1963-1968 and as chairman of the Gas and Water Committee. He was a member of the board of directors of First National Bank from 1945-75. Margaret was an English and French teacher at Austin Peay St. Univ. After her death and in her honor, Joseph founded the Trahern Scholarship Fund for incoming freshman planning art majors. Now the Austin Peay fine arts building is named for Margaret Trahern. The Traherns also purchased the Smith-Trahern/ Queen of the Cumberland home from the City of Clarksville in 1947. When the home was originally for sale, The City had outbuild the Traherns, had purchased the building and planned to raze it for a new fire hall. Plans changed, and the Traherns were able to purchase the home - in very poor condition.

Joseph's sister Margaret Elwyn Trahern Patch (1899-1991) married William Green Patch (1896-1987). He was a professor at Austin Peay. In the later 20th century, the family sold off portions of the estate which changed the configuration of the old driveway from Madison St. The Patch's son Elwyn Trahern Patch and his wife Rubye Draughton Menees Patch (1938-2019) took ownership in 1998. They wed in 1962. Patch worked for Clarksville Construction Co., owned by his uncle and a friend. In 1960, he bought the company and renamed it Patch Construction and worked there until his retirement in 1999. His great, grandfather Asahel H. Patch invented the Black Hawk Corn shellar. Rubye was an important local historian and was involved in numerous civic activities: River District Commission, Friends of the Library Board, APSU Center for Excellence for the Creative Arts, and Robert Penn Warren Birthplace Museum. She also wrote the “Remember When” history column for the Leaf Chronicle, chronicling Clarksville history. Most of the forty-two acres were sold, and the house sits on five remaining acres. Tip-Top got its name because it sits on a high hill overlooking Clarksville, supposedly the highest point in town. NRHP 1998 See Chris Smith House/ Smith-Trahern Mansion/ Queen of the Cumberland


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