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Renovations bring new life to Tilford Estate

By ZOË HAGGARD - zhaggard@t-g.com
Posted 3/29/22

Despite being an architect and an engineer, John and Jensie Trail are okay with the crooked ceiling and floor lines of the old Tilford Estate at 1996 Wartrace Pike.

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Renovations bring new life to Tilford Estate


Despite being an architect and an engineer, John and Jensie Trail are okay with the crooked ceiling and floor lines of the old Tilford Estate at 1996 Wartrace Pike.

They’re the new owners of the iconic Victorian farmhouse located on the corner of highway 41 and Wartrace Pike and are in the midst of renovations to bring one of Shelbyville’s oldest homes back to life.

“It’s not like we’re trying to turn it into a new house either...If anything, with this one, we’ve exposed some things that have been covered up over the years and we’re trying to bring as much character as possible back to the house,” John said.

John and Jensie moved from Murfreesboro into the Tilford estate to pursue their interest in historic home remodeling. They officially closed on the house in August of 2020 and began their renovations the following month. After a year of renovations, the young couple moved into the farmhouse in September 2021. Their now six-month old daughter was born two weeks after moving in.

Being over a year into the renovation process, the couple says they’ve never had a moment of doubt or regret. They have a total of 5,050 square feet, around 4,000 of which are now livable. And they’ve actually enjoyed the process of researching the house and adding their touch to it.

“The original family owned this from like 1848 to around 2010,” John said. The house belonged to the Moore Family. Henry Tilford, who bought the home after World War II from his mother’s sister, passed away in 2008. The house passed through a couple of different owners but mostly lay vacant until the Trails bought it that August.

The original structure on the estate was a log cabin building built in 1848. After unloading more than 42 tons of material, the Trails have peeled back the decades of layers that have been added on to the house to reveal the original hardwoods and walnut walls.

They’ve also found neat pieces of history, such as the original log cabin wall, complete with horsehair plaster and newspaper pieces as well as writing on the walls. It only adds to the house for them.

“We’re modernist at heart,” John admitted, which means they like clean lines and simple structures. “But we really like the detailing of these historic homes because you can’t really recreate that now.”

So even though many of the gaudy Victorian light fixtures and wallpapers are contrary to the young couple’s ideal style, they make it work. They incorporate several antiques, such as chairs, and add pops of their favorite color, cobalt blue.

That’s the fun part of the renovation. The challenge, however, has been trying to get internet to the 170-year-old home. Both work from home. Jensie is an electrical engineer for ground test facility development, while John is an architect with a firm in Murfreesboro.

Their work contributes to the renovation process. But John said he has learned to filter things through a funnel. “I know how to pick my battles,” John said.

“You have to start looking at the whole picture, then funnel your way down. If you concentrate on any one super-small task, you’ll get lost in the details and never get finished.”

“People see this place and kind of run,” Jensie joked.

“It definitely takes someone who is patient and diligent,” John added. The couple jokes the house is a “woman” because she has responded well to being taken care of.

This summer, they hope to begin the long process of scraping and repainting the exterior, sprucing up the landscape with Mexican heather and white hydrangeas, and maybe even one day adding a pool in the back.

“I love the land...The lawn takes really well to maintenance,” Jensie said. They own six and half acres that stretch back to the river and are covered with magnolias and pecan trees to name a few.

Big picture, the couple is creating a forever home where they can host and entertain friends and family for years to come. Much like how many long-time Shelbyville residents remember the Tilford Estate as a place where many Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration parties were hosted, so the couple hopes to continue the tradition of keeping the house a family home.

“No one wants to live in a museum. None of these old houses were museums. The owners of this house, the family, changed it and modified it as suited their needs at the time,” John said.

“We want to make it look like it has always been well maintained and taken care of,” Jensie added.

They hope to be done with all major renovations in the next three years. From then on, it will just be maintenance.


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  • Anne G Sanders Sanders

    Happy to learn that this house is being restored. Great article.

    Friday, April 1 Report this