Restoration is under way on 1800s-era schoolhouse

Doug Davis, The Tennessean, July 4, 2008

Adjoining log home is part of the project

The 1800s Ransom School House on Academy Street in Murfreesboro is being renovated and expanded after years of beglect.

An 1800s brink home that once housed the Eliza Ransom Private School is, after years of neglect, undergoing a restoration.

“It’s coming along, yes siree”, said a jubilant C.B. Arnette, who has been spearheading the restoration and expansion of the home.

Two sister, Eliza and Belle Ransom, taught children ages 6 to 12 at their home, according to The Society for the Restoration and Preservation of the Eliza Ransom Private School.  Eliza was the main teacher,and Belle assisted.

Arnette, who is part of the Society and bought the house and another lot behind it for $75,000 several years ago, said the school was open between 1900 and 1933.  He has put $22,000 of his own money into the restoration and about $25,000 to $30,000 has been donated from others.

He has been working for years to restore the school he attended as a child.

“I went there when I was 6 years old, through the first and second grades.  Miss Belle taught me arithmetic” said the 90-year-old Arnette.

“I have a special place in my heart for the school and its purpose.”

School would reopen

He envisions the school serving children ages 5 to 10 with two or three paid staff and other volunteers.  the would be open Monday through Friday.  there would be a charge for services, but those not able to pay for the educational program would have others support them.  He said he has not talked to Read to Succeed, a local literacy initiative, but he intends to.

“I believe we are on the same wavelength” he saids.

This week, a crew of six from Parsley Construction Company in Murfreesboro was working behind the home, shoring up the sides of a two-room log house so that rafters could be added.

The home was used as a residence after the old school closed and was boarded up and in need of repair until crews began work there over the past few months.

“We are trying to put it back as it was”, said Jerry Ross, who was supervising the crew.

Ross and Ryan Marx of Murfreesboro began the initial work on the exterior of the old home.

“We tuck-pointed (filled mortar between) all the brick on the house” said Ross, a Smyrna resident.  “We dug the footing for the front porch”.

Brick on the side of the home was pressure-washed and siding was added to the outside of one of the 1920s-era rooms.

About three weeks ago additional manpower was called in to pour concrete for the foundation of the front porch.  Split-faced blocks were laid there and under the portion of the house that had been added on after the original construction.  Before the underpinning, this add-on portion of the home had been open under the subfloor except for a few columns for support.  The foundation and blocks were laid for the log house.

Columns were made for the front porch and a tin roof was added over the porch.  That roof and the existing roof on the house were cleaned, primed and painted.

Susan Bragg’s father, Julian Lytle, attended the old Ransom School.  She was surprised Wednesday to hear that the restoration was underway.

“I am so pleased,” the 88-year-old Murfreesboro resident said.  “It’s a wonderfully built house.  I am thrilled to death that someone is doing something.”

Ross said that after the log house is roofed and siding added to the other half of the 1920s addition to the brick home, the indoors of the house would be worked on.

Floors in the add-on section of the house will be raised to the same level as the original home and tiled.  Accessible bathrooms and a kitchen will be added in the two rooms that were tacked onto the original structure in the 1920s.  A ramp will be built from the outside into the log building.

Originals preferred

In the original building, old wallpaper will be removed and plaster will be repaired on the walls and ceilings.

“We are trying to leave everything original and not change it” Ross explained.

The home had three chimneys.  Two of then have been repaired but the fireplace in the brick of the house will be taken out so that an indoor hallway can be built between the existing home and the new log home addition.

“I did two phases of (refurbishing) Bradley Academy” he said.  “This place was in mint condition compared to that”

Dick Brewer, one of the workers on the construction crew Wednesday, said he mostly does new construction.

“This is a little more aggravating that a new job, trying to match the new to the existing,” Brewer said.

But Ross can’t get enough of the restoration job.

“I like to do something that just about everybody can’t do” he said.

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