February 27, 2020, Lee Rennick, The Rutherford Source
On Saturdays at the old Ransom School House, history is not dull facts memorized from a school book, but it is a provocative conversation about stories of people and events that have passed. The same people and events that laid the foundation for the Murfreesboro and Rutherford County we know today. Late philosopher and cultural critic George Santayana was the person who famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The lively group who come every week for Coffee and Conversation from 9:00 am until noon is in no fear of making that mistake.
Rutherford County Historical Society President Walter White will greet you at the door with a smile and sweep you up into the discussion. His enthusiasm is contagious. Stories about the display of the old school house, to your left just after you walk in the door of the building, roll off his tongue like a formula one race car. Before you know it, you have seen an old ink well and know that it took heat from the woodstove to liquefy the ink so the children could write their lessons. And that his father had been a student at the school house in the 1920s.
“The students were primarily boys,” said White, “twelve of them. It cost twelve dollars a month to go to the school. If they couldn’t get twelve boys, then girls were allowed to come to the school.”
You see, the old school house is part museum, part archive, and part home to the Rutherford County Historical Society. While the Historic Society has been saving stories of the county’s past since 1971, they had no permanent home until the Arnette family donated the old building to them. In 2004, A. C. Arnette, a local businessman and former student at the school, bought the dis-repaired building and lovingly restored it with the plan to turn it into a literary center for children. But he passed away in 2010, before he could complete his plan. The family knew the historical society would put it to good use.
At the informal Saturday get-togethers Bill Wilson might show off old political party buttons from the 1980’s, or the group may spend an hour and a half debating where the best hamburger could be found in the 1950s – Snow White, Rebel Made, or Frost Top. While there is thoughtful discussion in the back, Carol White, Walter’s wife, may be helping another group of people research family history. They also have formal presentations the third Monday of every month. Recently, author Michelle Russell discussed her book, From Tennessee to Oz, and researching into Judy Garland’s family, the Gumms.
To participate, all you need is an interest in stories, because real history is just that. Lots and lots of stories of what people did, how they did it, and how what they did affects us today. Or maybe old things are of interest. One unique ‘old thing’ that can be found at Ransom School is a table made from timbers that supported the roof of the White House in Washington, D. C. during Andrew Jackson’s presidency. The only other one is at Oaklands Mansion!
Preservation of the past is important to these people. Member Rob Mitchell, who is the Property Assessor, with the help of County Mayor Bill Ketron, established Rutherford County as the first in Tenenssee to offer a property tax abatement to encourage the preservation of historic structures – both residential and commercial. As too many with historical significance have gone away, like the childhood home of General MacArthur’s wife.
“We also have a train set in the back that travels around a semi-replica of downtown Murfreesboro,” said White. “Kids love the trains, and the replica even has the Human Fly up on top of the courthouse roof.”
Don’t know about the Human Fly? It is a mysterious piece of history from the turn of the last century that just found a solution a few years ago. Perhaps you need to drop by next Saturday and ask about him, it is quite a story for one of the members to tell.
Ransom School House
Rutherford County Historical Society
717 North Academy Street
Lee Rennick has an extensive background in marketing, advertising, pubic relations, and workforce and community development. An information omnivore, she has written articles about everything from ballet shoes to interior design, to some of the newest local scientific research, two plays, and copy for an Addy Award winning hot sauce label.