Family Restores Local History

One doesn’t have to spend much time with Tanya and Chris Coombs to suspect they were born to be hosts. They’re quick to offer a cooling drink, a comfortable seat and conversation spiced with local history going back nearly 200 years.

So it should not come as a surprise that they plan to gradually move from their day jobs to making their “bed and breakfast,” the Concord Inn, their full-time vocations.

Chris, from an old Tippah County family, and his wife, the former Tanya Madden, live on a hill of Hwy 15 North, protected by both trees and distance. “It’s very private,” he said.

The property itself is steeped in history, but the Coombses have added even more.  “About 15 years ago, this was the old J.A. Barkley estate,” Chris said. “We bought it from Miss Kate Rogers and her sisters…It’s probably one of the oldest settlements in Union County.”

North of the present Coombs home once stood the Barkley house built about 1850. It burned, and is now gone, however the fireplace and chimney are still there, along with a double row of red cedars, planted by surviving Barkley sons after they returned from the Battle of Bowling Green, KY in the Civil War with the seedlings in their knapsacks. So is a very old crossing road cut through a hill running east and west and another former road that went to one of the area’s artesian wells at the bottom of the hill below the ridge.

That’s the same way Kate Rogers remembers going down the hill to ride the train up to the Rainey Estate where they watched movies out in the front yard.

Something else that is near the crest of the hill above the old cedar path is a restored and renovated home with its own history.

It’s a house built in Tippah County by his Great-Great grandfather nearly 150 years ago. This house is the heart, but not all, of the Concord Inn.

The Concord Inn, named after the Concord community where it is located, officially opened this year, but the Coombses have been thinking about it at least 10 years.

Tanya is a realtor and Chris is the CEO and Owner of AgSource LLC, having worked in the chemical industry for companies including DuPont and BASF.  Both know the value and qualities of a good country inn for tourist and business travelers and particularly for weddings and receptions, corporate outings and other events.

“Tanya had an interest in doing that. She has a lot of talent with crafts and decorating and she’s an excellent hostess,” Chris said.

That talent, coupled with having the space and resources, plus an interest in local history, has turned into the Concord Inn.

“It was the beginning of this year that we really started it,” Chris said.

They are already staying busy and perhaps their first big test was their oldest son’s wedding. “We had over 500 people here,” Chris said. “I think we can handle more.”

In fact they have large weddings booked starting in October and expect to get more.

Chris’ industry connections are drawing interest in the Inn, they are working to get connections in the entertainment industry and believe Toyota could be a good source of visitors as well.

“What we’re really focusing on is the type of traveler who likes to stay at a B and B,” he said.

“We expect to be eventually booked up just about full time,” Tanya said.

Another factor that is contributing to fuller use of the Inn is that the Coombses are becoming empty-nesters. “Our youngest is a senior at New Albany,” he said.

That means about a year from now they will be able to offer six rooms in the main house, one bedroom in the old Coombs house, and a couple of more rooms in saved other buildings that were on the old Coombs property as well.

But the whole idea stems from the Coombs house and history and that is what they are focusing on now.

Chris has an advantage that many Union Countians don’t in researching his family history: Tippah County tax and census records are largely intact while Union County lost many of their records when the courthouse was burned about 1900.

Chris found that his Great-Great grandfather, John Thomas Coombs, had married Catherine Wallace in South Carolina. She appears to have been the sister of a senator, which may have gotten John Thomas some help in obtaining land when the territory here opened up. In 1837, (when Ripley was one year old) he traveled to the area that is now Tippah County, paid the taxes on 3,000 acres of land and returned home to start a family.

Later, in 1848, he and the family came to this area to land he had established and, after the Civil War, the great-great grandfather built the house that is now officially the Concord Inn.

There was a Shady Grove and Ross Creek in South Carolina and Chris thinks the Shady Grove and Ross Chapel in Tippah County may be named after them by his forebear. With good luck and talking to the right person, Chris eventually found Ross Chapel, the location of which has been lost to the family for many years. He also found his great-great-grandfather’s grave in that cemetery in the middle of the woods, with its broken tombstone under about 6 inches of dirt along with others in the family cemetery.

Only his great-great-grandmother’s marker was not broken but he has repaired the others and hopes to have them moved to a family cemetery one day.

After learning the history, Chris got the idea of moving the house to their property and fixing it up, but that turned out to not be an easy process. The old structure west of Ripley in Tippah Bottom was almost lost in overgrowth and although it had been well-constructed, was in pretty bad condition. “One of the floors was almost up to one of the windows,” Tonya said.

But eventually, a couple of years ago, a local house mover was able to brace the house enough to get it on a truck and it was carefully transported to the hill where is rests now.

“We began the renovation and put back as much original as we could,” she said. One of the ceilings is still the original green, some the original wainscoting is still evident and one whole wall section inside the back door was left completely untouched. “I wanted to leave at least some the way it was,” she said.

In addition to the new house and the restored Coombs house, the Inn property comprises a one-room cabin (with nearly functional outhouse) saved from near Blue Mountain and constructed about 1895 as a tenant house, and another similar building. Chris was unable to save some other out-buildings on the family property, but, being a carpenter and wood worker of some skill, was able to recycle the timber and it is being used in other buildings and structures. He has done the same thing with cedar salvaged from the present property.

One of the buildings has served as a campout refuge and another just as a place for the children to go.

Although the Coombs house is filled with antiques and photos related to the family, the exterior appears hardly rustic and guests have such advantages as a microwave oven and flat-screen TV so they will hardly have to rough it.

And while the interior of the house may be attractive, so is the outside view. In the distance, guests can see a lake, livestock and even some burros, which are reputed to help keep coyotes away from the cattle.

Closer is evidence of the Coombses’ extensive gardening. Chris has worked with California companies that are very environmentally conscious and he has specialized in agricultural chemicals friendly to the environment.

“I’ve sold organic stuff for 27 years,” he said. “We do a lot of organic farming and gardening.”

“That’s what got our interest,” she said. “You know you ought to pay more attention to what you eat and what you grow.”

At first they thought their interest might seem odd to this part of the country but they are finding more and more people interested.

The couple is accepting guests now, but expect to stay booked most of the time – especially the Coombs house, Tanya says – once they complete work on their website and spread the word more among friend and business acquaintances.

In fact, their decision was due in part to the urging of some friends and business acquaintances who came to visit. “We’ve had quite a few people come through here, maybe even six or seven at a time, who maybe didn’t know each other and it’s kind of gotten us warmed up,” he said.

“We plan to be self-sufficient,” she said, and looks forward to increased activity. “It’s fun to get to know people from all walks of life.”

“You know we take this place for granted and then people come up and Ohh and Ahh and that gives us a greater appreciation for it. We really enjoy this place,” she said, and want others to have the same opportunity.”

Article by J. Lynn West, Union Co. the magazine

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