Roberts House closer to completion

Several members of the Piedmont Historical Society posed inside the Roberts House for a photo at a recent meeting. From left they are Susan Latta, Mollye Burchfield, Ann Young and Brenda Spears.

Submitted photo

With a lot of work, the Roberts House has passed Phase I of its life. That is its relocation. It is now in Phase II, again, with a lot of work from members of the Piedmont Historical Society and others who are striving to renovate it and furnish it with period items.

Recently a subcommittee was formed to decide what items will go into the house. Mollye Burchfield, Brenda Spears, Carolyn Freeman, and Rita Spears will arrange to view furniture that has been offered for use. Theresa Kisor and Ann Young will develop a policy and procedure manual for the house and existing museum. Susan Latta and Margaret Wharton will begin work on the display for the Barlow-Thompson Room. The entire committee is also working to set up a store where copies of historical items and other paraphernalia can be sold to generate funds to operate the museums.

The l888 Victorian house with its spacious lot was left to the First Baptist Church by Miss Ruby Roberts, the last member of the family living in the home. The church membership sold the home to the PHS with the stipulation that the home be moved into order to accommodate the church’s need for additional parking space. Last year the home was moved to a block foundation east of the Norfolk Southern Railroad Train depot on North Center Avenue and Southern Avenue.

PHS president Dan Freeman has volunteered to scan all documents that pertain to the home and to the museum. Freeman wants to get to the point where, if someone wants to look something up, it will be an easier process. He is also including any information about Piedmont’s former residents. The PHS, he said, is trying to get the younger generation interested in the city’s history. Theresa Kisor has recently met with the Piedmont High School principal, Dr. Adams Clemons, and the high school history instructor, Allan Mauldin, to ask that students who need to meet the school’s community service requirements, assist the historical society in special projects to preserve the city’s history. She is also speaking to elementary students about Piedmont history to encourage their interest in local history.

Freeman reinforced the need for new blood and new interest in the historical society.

“We’re hoping to get younger people in our community involved in our museum,” he said. “This is something that I can feel is going to be very positive for our town. Our history is so important. Our objective is to preserve the history of Piedmont.”

Kisor, who served as the society’s organizing president, said that while its new officers are excited and willing to work, additional help is needed to achieve the goals of the society and the community. Along with Freeman, she urges individuals to join the society by contacting him by a private message on Facebook or send an email to the historical society at phsociety@gmail.com.

Dr. Ben Ingram, project director, has been instrumental in the work on the home from relocation to renovation. He has written grants and secured donation.

“Ben has been a dynamo in getting everything done for the house,” Kisor said. “He’s written grants and secured donations. He’s been involved in every facet of saving the house. There were times we thought we’d have to throw in the towel because we didn’t think we could meet the obstacles in front of us, but Ben is so determined.”

Kisor said the house is close to completion, but work still has to be done on refinishing the floors, replacing the kitchen floor, and replacing the porches on the home. Landscaping has begun with many kind donations from local individuals and some thoughts are being given to developing a paver garden. Pavers with the names of individuals would be placed in the specified area.

The bathroom has been made handicap accessible by putting in a ramp. Two rooms will be rented out to bikers on the Ladiga Trail. Ingram is working in cooperation with Jacksonville State University Hotel Management Program to set up this small business endeavor.

The rest of the house will be an extension of the museum. Many items for the house have already been donated, including the Roberts piano. Other individuals, who were taught by the Roberts sisters, are also donating items such as copies of school diplomas and other school related items. Kisor said that she still has the Frances E Willard High School diploma that belonged to her mother, Ophelia Davis, signed by Miss Leola Roberts in 1928. Miss Leola was also Kisor’s teacher when she graduated from there in l954 and her brother, Carlton Rankin’s teacher, when he graduated in l953.

The Roberts family has had a long history of service to Piedmont and it seems appropriate to the members of the historical society that the family members be remembered for their contributions.  Miss Leola Roberts and Miss Ruby Roberts were teachers in the Piedmont schools for many years. A relative, Kenneth Roberts, was elected to the Alabama State Senate in l942. He resigned that same year to join the Navy. He served in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters and was discharged in l945. Roberts, a Democrat, served as a U.S. Representative from Alabama from l951-65. He was one of five U.S. representatives shot by a group of Puerto Rican nationalists on March l, l954.  Roberts died in l989.

The PHS is a 501 c organization, which means that donations are tax deductible.  Donations can be sent directly to Piedmont Historical Society at Post Office Box 8l9, Piedmont, 36272.

Other officers of the Piedmont Historical Society are Freda Stinson, vice-president; Kip McFry, treasurer; and Gerald Whitton, genealogist.

(Contact Margaret at pollya922@gmail)