Held for Ransom

Murfreesboro Post, July 27, 2010

The Ransom School House, January, 2003.

The Ransom School House, January, 2003.

Long, overgrown blades of grass reach for the sky as they creep in around the sides of the small dilapidated domicile. Warped sheets of plywood struggle to stay wedged in old window frames, the only barriers to the outside elements.

Sad red bricks sag from their once bonded positions in the sides of the tiny school house. The structure formerly known as the Miss Eliza Ransom Private School badly needs some direction for its future.

As it stands tattered and worn, the diminutive school of the early 20th century finds itself plopped at 717 Academy Street among modest suburban homes. You may drive past every day and never notice the place or write it off as some condemned house waiting for its date with a bulldozer.

But, upon further examination, the little brick building has something its neighbor’s lack, history. That’s where Charles “C. B.” Arnette comes in the picture. Arnette currently owns the property, the school and a wooden relic he had moved to the land in an effort to preserve them for the town’s future.

A prominent and longstanding member of Murfreesboro, at 92 years of age, Arnette serves as a principle historian on the city and has published several books about the area.

Ransom School House, 2014

Ransom School House, 2014

Not only a historian, he is an alumnus of the Ransom school.

There are other alumni still living in and around Murfreesboro and others not directly associated with the school who wish to see something positive done with building.

The birth of the Society for the Restoration and Preservation of the Miss Eliza Ransom Private School in 2000 displays the public interest in making sure key pieces of our history are not destroyed and lost forever.

The building itself dates back to the days before the Civil War, but scarce records prevent anyone from knowing the actual date of construction.

“I don’t think it [was built] any later than 1850 and it could be earlier,” explains Michael Gavin, restoration advisor to the Ransom preservation society.

After some changing of hands throughout the later half of the 1800s, the property was deeded to the Ransom sisters in 1880. The dark-haired Eliza and her red-headed sister Isabelle, or Belle as she became known, opened the Miss Eliza Ransom Private School in 1900.

A small pot-bellied stove heated the one room institution where the sisters taught every subject. A three-holed wooden toilet adorned the outhouse that sat behind the school and arithmetic was taught from a blackboard on the wall in the hallway to seven students at a time, all that could squeeze into it.

For 33 years the Ransom pair educated the juvenile versions of what would become some of Murfreesboro’s top civic leaders and community members. At eight dollars a month, few children could afford the opportunity to receive their schooling there.

In a brief memoriam about the life of James Cason, a Murfreesboro native who became a professor of chemistry at University of California at Berkeley, cites having to memorize poetry at the Miss Ransom school as the impetus for his academic discipline.

“There was no corporal punishment or any type of whipping there,” Arnette concurs. “If we were to get in trouble, we had to memorize and recite poetry at the end of the day.”

Poetry was not the only means the Ransoms used to instill academic excellence. To obtain a coveted seat at the proverbial and, in this case, literal head of the class, students were required to spell random words from the dictionary. Constant usurping of the seven tiny chairs in the front row occurred as last week’s scholars failed to correctly articulate the unknown words.

Some other well-known Murfreesboro residents to receive this formal, preparatory education include newsman George Parrish, Alvin Moore, Robert Miles and Robert Overall.

If it seems this small sample is dominated by men, that’s because only one female student ever graced the walls of the Ransom house. Lou Anna Robertson was that single little girl, studying at the school from 1929-1930.

A few short years after this monumental moment, the last student left the Ransom school. From closing of its doors in 1933, ownership of the property has been a source of animosity and descendants of the family allowed the historical edifice to deteriorate.

Why not just take a wrecking ball to the place and start over?

“The town would never stand for it,” Arnette states with disdain in his voice. “Old buildings and important relics must be preserved.”

Now, 75 years later, the address sits as it has for decades, weathered and ragged, waiting for someone to reinvigorate it with the unmatched energy of young children stammering to learn something new.

As the founder and head of the restoration and preservation society, Arnette struggles to find the right combination of financial backing and design ideas for future project progress.

After an almost three year lull in organized activities and meetings on the subject, Arnette hopes to rekindle interest and motion towards finding a community-oriented use for the dwelling.

Georgia resident, Carol Troop, has a vested interest in the future of the school and has many visions of how the spot could be utilized.

Her maiden name is Ransom.

“Ransom school would be a place of history,” Troop begins. “Perhaps newspapers and photographers and historians could be convinced to put their archives there and tables and chairs for those that wish to give or receive, or just discuss, history.”

With this type of positive forward thinking and ideas such as a learning center or coaching school for kids falling behind, the outlook for the Ransom property brightens each day.

Like the cellophane wrapped stack of brand new bricks eagerly waiting at the far corner of lawn where the children once played, strong ideals and a few well-placed intentions are the that keep the Miss Eliza Ransom Private School from being refortified to its past glory.

Comments are closed.