Historic homes do the talking in young authors’ new book

March 28, 2009

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


"If these walls could talk ... " 


Thanks to Dale Rainey''s class of gifted students at Heritage Academy, some of them can. In "More Houses Talk," 16 antebellum homes speak from the pages, offering a friendly, first "person" glimpse into the pasts of some of Columbus'' architectural treasures built between 1828 and 1858.  


"Columbus has over 200 antebellum homes," said Rainey, whose sixth-grade Pathfinders researched archives and conducted interviews with homeowners for this follow-up to "Houses Talk," released in the spring of 2007 by a previous Pathfinders class.  


"As a teacher of the gifted, I am constantly looking for ways to stretch the students'' thinking and creative expression," the teacher shares in the book''s foreward. 


The project was a huge commitment of time, energy and patience, Rainey admits. "But, oh, the rewards of seeing students involve themselves in the mysteries of choosing a home, searching and finding the stories behind the homes and then feeling good about the stories they produce." 


While "antebellum" wasn''t a familiar term to many of the 16 girls and boys when the endeavor began last fall, few now will ever forget the Latin term meaning "before war" -- in this case, the Civil War. They could also probably lecture a few adults on points of period architecture and preservation as well. The book even includes a glossary of terms the children encountered, ranging from "board and batten" to "tongue and groove." 




Noteworthy start 


After research was under way, Rainey had each child complete a series of notecards with significant facts they discovered about "their house."  


"Then I had them change that fact into the first person, as if they were the house talking," she explained. The students also re-created, with the help of a light board, their favorite image or photograph of their home for the illustrations.  


"My home was Belle Bridge," said 11-year-old Breland Starr, the daughter of LeeAnn and Dr. Walt Starr. "The owners went to my church, so I wanted to do their house. I went there to get background stories. The hardest part was converting that to first-person and to make it interesting." 


"Breland was so focused when she came to interview us," remarked Gail Laws who, with her husband, Dr. Chance Laws, lives in the Greek Revival townhouse completed in 1856 on Fourth Street South. "She had her list of questions and was very professional. ... We were so flattered to be included in the book." 


Another Pathfinder, Jena Dees, 11, wrote about Bryn Bella, the home of Chrissy and Keith Heard built in 1849 near what is now Columbus Air Force Base. 


"... Oh, how I loved the Cox family!" an excerpt reads. "There were 12 kids, more boys than girls, so I was always alive with excitement. But happy times didn''t last for long. Mr. Cox died in 1861 and his oldest son, William, was called off to war. He died later at the Battle of Atlanta. (In 1971,) some people wanted me destroyed! Thankfully, I was saved from being demolished by The Historic Columbus Association. Then in 1981 good news finally came when MSU professor Robert Craycroft began restoring what was left of me. I was so happy!" 


March 3 was a banner day. After months of research, interviews, notecards and drafts, the final product arrived at the school. 


"I thought, ''Wow, we did this?" said Jena, the daughter of Jan and Gary Dees. "We''re the authors of this book and we''re sixth-graders, not adults. I think it was amazing that we wrote everything and drew everything. It took a lot of work, but it was fun." 




Autograph party Tuesday 


"More Houses Talk" makes its public debut during the 69th annual Columbus Pilgrimage. The community is invited to an autograph party Tuesday, March 31, from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Rosenzweig Arts Center at 501 Main St. 


Pathfinders will also have them at Artisans Alley at the Tennessee Williams Welcome Center April 4 and Market Street Festival May 1-2.  


A higher retail price was suggested by publishers, but Rainey and the students wanted to keep the book at a very reasonable $5.  


"There are children who could buy a $5 book who couldn''t buy a $10.95 book. ... And that''s why we wrote it -- we wanted children to learn about history." The book also makes an entertaining, affordable gift Pilgrimage visitors can take home to their children.  


The generosity of homeowners receives high praise from the Pathfinders.  


"Without the cooperation of the homeowners, this book would not have been possible. We owe them a debt of gratitude," Rainey stressed. 


Indeed, their diligence in preserving and sharing these grand ladies of local history have enriched the lives of not only the sixth-grade authors but every reader, young and old, who soon will hear the old walls talk.

Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.