Community comes together to give Jacksonville’s Dr. Francis Museum new life
by Laura Johnson
Mar 03, 2013 | 4201 views |  0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
At the corner of Clinton Street and Gayle Avenue in Jacksonville, there is work to be done.

Old paint, now chipped away and ready to be covered with a fresh coat, still clings to the exterior walls. Piles of brick rest at the parking lot’s edge and the old terracotta chimney lining lies toppled in the back lawn. Inside, a few odds and ends remain out of place.

But what remains undone contrasts noticeably with the freshly painted butter cream yellow walls, new period light fixtures and glass cases where old medical instruments and aged pill and tonic bottles are on display.

The four people leading the charge to restore the Dr. Francis Museum share little more than an interest in history, but their differences aren’t stifling progress.

Volunteers began organizing the building restoration project in November and have already completed about 80 percent of the project. By the end of the month, weather permitting, they plan to complete the restoration and launch a second aspect of the project — promotion and development.

“One of the joys in all this is the ability to teach each other,” restoration organizer Gail DeParma said, standing inside the mostly-renovated medical museum. “We all have the same basic interest of leaving something better for the community.”

DeParma, who helped get the project going, is a former marketing executive who now spends her time restoring old homes. Jarrod Brown, a photographer, Catherine Minerich, a historian and Kyle Warmack a 21-year-old college student, are the other three people taking a lead in the project.

Brown, who owns historic homes on Mountain Street, and DeParma, who restores homes in the mill village, are taking the lead with hands-on aspects of the project. Minerich, who writes grants, is tracking the financial aspects of the project and Warmack, a marketing major and aspiring realtor, is taking on the marketing phase of the project, organizers said.

Diversity among the project’s organizers is reflective of the diversity in the scores of volunteers who have stepped up to follow their lead. A pizza delivery worker, a physical therapist, basketball players and boy scouts have all taken an interest in the project, DeParma said.

“There is a certain magic to all of this,” DeParma said. “All these people are just taking it upon themselves to say, I can do this.”

They’ve worked together with volunteers to complete projects big and small. For one project that became part of the restoration, DeParma and Brown collected a salvaged door from the old mill.

After bringing it back to the museum one volunteer pieced it together to fit the structure. Another painted it, all four people working together.

In another instance volunteers found a few old physician diplomas rolled up in a tin calendar. One, from Vanderbilt University, dates back to the 1800s.

The documents, fragile but still intact, will be framed by another volunteer, a professional framer. Now the diplomas are nailed to a butter cream yellow plank board wall in the front room of the old physician’s office.

Next week a mother who homeschools her children plans to visit the museum to wash its windows, DeParma said.

“We have a tremendous volunteer base,” DeParma said. “That’s one of the reasons we’ve had the success that we’ve had.”

People have been donating more than time to the project. They’re also donating money.

To date, the community has given roughly $12,000 to the project. The money has been donated through the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, which is housed in the old train depot and is known as RSVP. Money has also come through the Jacksonville Home Center, which is offering supplies at cost to the volunteers, DeParma said.

DeParma and the other volunteers can’t quite say when the project will be finished. Two variables, money and weather, stand in the way of the completion of the project. Organizers say they need roughly $300 in supplies and a string of warmer sunny days to get the job done. But a preservation project that once seemed like a lost cause, is now firmly in reach.
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