John Martin may have been the first to arrive in what is now Athens when he settled his family along Laurel Creek. His son-in-law, Benjamin Fanning, moved with his family to the area and build what is now the oldest house in Athens. (By 1866 a Post Office was established in Fanning's home and he was appointed as the first Postmaster. Fanning was asked to name his new office and he entered "Concord Church" on the form since that was the only landmark in the community at the time.)
The James R. Vermillion family arrived in 1845, having relocated from Pulaski County, Virginia. The house of Dr. Vermillion began as two log cabins, one that served as living quarters and the second, built later, as a kitchen.
Another early settler was Colonel William H. French. Colonel French had sufficient resources to have his house near Athens framed by processionals. Over the next decade, other families established their homes in the area. These included the Barberies, Barbors, Birds, Bowlings, Garretsons, Holroyds, Killeys, Oxleys, and Pritchards. Below are brief descriptions and links to photographs of the Fanning, Vermillion and French houses. Some of the houses built by families which arrived later are covered in the next section.
The Fanning House
The Fanning House is the oldest house in Athens. Since the above photograph was taken, probably in the 1960s, the house has fallen into disrepair. A series of photos taken during a visit in August 2012 is here.
The Vermillion House
When Dr. James R. Vermillion arrived in 1845 to settle on a 1,575-acre land grant, he first built a one-room log cabin to serve as the family's main living quarters and then built a second log building behind the first to house the kitchen. As the need arose for additional rooms to accommodate a growing family, the two log structures were joined together and incorporated into a larger single structure to which several further additions were made in stages, the last having been completed in 1904. Concord College acquired the house in 1969 and later demolished it in August 2004.
The French House
The house of Colonel William Henderson French was constructed in the 1850s by professional builders on a plot of land at the end of a long winding road that begins one mile south of Athens on what is now Route 20. It is listed on the National Register and described as "one of the finest antebellum structures in this part of the state and possibly the oldest, continuously used home now standing in the county." An aerial photo shows the shape of the house. An early photo of the front of the house reveals the influence of Greek Revival architecture. Three porches have round columns and railings formed by "crossing horizontal, vertical and diagonal elements." A more complete description of the house and a summary of its history appears on nomination form of the National Register of Historic Places Inventory.