Arnette Family hands over keys to Ransom School

Thanks to the generosity of the heirs of late author and Murfreesboro historian C.B. Arnette, the Rutherford County Historical Society has a new home.

Cheryl Sommardahl, right, daughter of C.B. Arnette, hands the keys to the Ransom School over to Greg Tucker. In the background, standing on the porch of the house located at 717 N. Academy in Murfreesboro are the Rutherford County Historic Society board members, Vicki Norton, Shirley Farris Jones, Ernie Johns, Dr. E.C. Tolbert, Neil Blankenship and Susan Daniel. (Jim Davis/DNJ)

Cheryl Arnette Sommardahl, C.B.’s daughter, handed the keys to the refurbished Ransom School to members of the Rutherford County Historical Society at the structure on Academy Street on Wednesday.

“We decided to do this because it just occurred to us that it would be a wonderful legacy for our father,” said Sommardahl, one of 12 beneficiaries of the Arnette estate.  “Daddy was known for being a major historian in the city of Murfreesboro.  He had written all these books for the city. We felt like this would be a wonderful thing for the family, and Daddy’s memory.”

Dr. E.C. Tolbert, past president (2000-2004) of the historical society and current program chairman, approached Sommardahl in November 2010 about the historical society receiving the Ransom School from Arnette’s family, either as a gift or for a nominal purchase.

“At that time, we had not attempted to sell the property,” Sommardahl said.

Since then, the property, including an adjacent lot, was auctioned off in April for $114,000, but the deal fell through.  A second auction on July 23 only brought $59,000, which the family did not take.

“That amount would not have honored my father,” Sommardahl said.

It is estimated that Arnette spent around $400,000 on the property.

Arnette died in October 2010 at the age of 92. But he lived life to the fullest, even in his later years, penning a number of books on local history, working to refurbish the former Rutherford County Courthouse clock and restoring the historic early 20th century Ransom School from a home on Academy Street that was ready to be torn down to one that was suitable for 21st century students.

Arnette attended the privately-operated Ransom School for several of his elementary school years. When the old, dilapidated home became available, he purchased it and, in 2008, began restoring it.  He even brought in logs he had purchased to build a couple of new rooms behind the original home.

In 2009, plans were in the works to open a summer day camp for children who have learning challenges or learning styles in June or July 2010, with a school opening in August that year.

“But (his) health got in the way,” his daughter said.  “He could not go forward with the plans.”

Arnette suffered from Parkinson’s disease.

“But right up until a couple of days before he died, he was still planning and scheming,” Sommardahl said.  “His motto was, ‘Never give up.’  He lived that out.  He didn’t want to see it destroyed. He went to the Eliza Ransom School and it had a profound impact on him.”

The 12 family members voted unanimously to accept the historical society’s offer to assume ownership of the land and buildings on Academy Street, with all future liability and responsibility for its perpetual care.

“That property has a history to it.  Arnette was one of the prominent or well-known individuals who went to school there.  That was why the property was attractive,” said Greg Tucker, president of the Rutherford County Historical Society.  “We were also concerned about its future.”

Tucker said the historical society has a rather substantial inventory of books, many written by society members, which are currently being stored in a non-climate-controlled building.

The books are very important parts of county history.

“We would like to be able to have occasion to invite the public in for displays or historic messages and also to retail the books,” he said.

The Arnette family members have also donated a substantial number of books written by C.B. Arnette, which will also be sold by the historical society to cover its expenses.

C.B. Arnette and the Ransom School will be memorialized on the property by the society.

While smaller meetings will be held at the Academy Street location, Tucker said the society’s monthly meetings will probably continue to be held at the Rutherford County Archives building on Rice Street in Murfreesboro.  The group meets at 7 p.m. on the third Monday of each month.

“We may determine we can offer space to like-minded groups (on Academy Street), Tucker said.

Tolbert, 74, said he has wanted a museum for Murfreesboro and Rutherford County for a long time.

“I am hoping this may be a seed for that,” he said. “It is not adequate for a sizable museum, but at least it might be a beginning of acquiring a collection.”

He called the acquisition of Ransom School a “win-win situation for the historical society.”

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