History attracts history buffs

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 25, 2007

MURFREESBORO – There is no telling what a home has witnessed or the secrets that it keeps—especially when it was built nearly 200 years ago.

But for every squeak or groan, ding or dent, one thing is true, an older home has something else to offer, whether it’s safety from a storm, a quiet place to rest or, perhaps, just a place to create memories.

And then, of course, there’s the history.

Sandra and Steve Fowler are the owners of one the many historic homes that lace Broad Street in the designated Murfreesboro Historic District.

The Fowlers bought the house often known as the James Morgan House (or the Myrick House) after having their eyes on it for a while.

They would check up on Federal red brick home, during their trips from Virginia to Murfreesboro, keeping a look out for a “For Sale” sign.

“I told him that the next time it was for sale we should buy it,” said Sandra.

In 1996 the Fowlers finally obtained the property.

Keeping a home true to its time

The floor plan of the Fowler home is still original to its time, as well as the floor boards and the windows.

The three-level home is comprised of three bedrooms, kitchen, two baths, a formal dining room and six fireplaces, all of which still work.

The home also features a raised English basement (with 24 inch thick walls) that the main floor and second floor are elevated above.

The basement once served as the kitchen of the residence and includes a beehive fireplace. The Fowlers now use it as their master bedroom, bathroom and a den area.

Sandra said the beehive fireplace was used for quite some time. She said a friend who onced lived in the area remembers going to the house to snack on some homemade cookies offered by an affable neighbor.

The middle level of the house holds the kitchen and sitting room (the part of the residence believed to be built in earlier than the original house), a formal dining room and a parlor.

Under the kitchen hand made sleepers are held together by wooden pegs, which are marked with Roman numerals as to where they go.

Sandra said the formal dining room, that has a crystal chandelier in the center of the ceiling, comes in handy when she hosts friends or family.

“I like to cook and entertain,” she said.

The spiral stairs that lead to the top floor circle 180 degrees and lead to a foyer with bedrooms on either side. A second bathroom is also on this level.

The west end bedroom has closets, something uncommon from the time period as homeowners were typically taxed for having them.

As well on this level is a circular niche, which holds another set of stairs believed to have once led to a widow’s walk.

Outside the home, the brickwork is laid in an American bond (one of the few on the East Coast with its original brickwork) and features rare brick detailing around the top of the house.

When it came to setting a d\u00E9cor for the house, Sandra took careful deliberation as to what to select for the home.

“We wanted to keep it as original as we can,” said Sandra. “I believe when you come to a new home you have to take some time and learn what the house is all about. You have to fit the house.”

Much of the furniture in the home is either antique or a replica of the featured piece.

“I don’t like big pieces of furniture,” said Sandra. However, when it came to buying a baby grand piano for the parlor she couldn’t resist what she says was a “really, really good deal” at a local auction.

The red toile patterned window coverings that hang in the sitting room on the second level were made by Sandra, which took about a week to craft.

During the Christmas holidays she embellishes the house with a Colonial Williamsburg themed d\u00E9cor with apples and pine cones.

Steve gives credit for the preservation of the home to the former owners, Bob and Mary Lou Carr, who took the initiative to restore the home, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Steve said Carr restored aspects of the home that no one would have thought about.

“He (Bob Carr) built a French drain around the house,” he said.

Steve explained the French drain helps keep the basement from flooding by leading water away from the base to a dry well.

Carr also built a small storage unit that fits in with the style of the home.

With character, floor boards and windows still intact the home’s history, one still present in the minds of its owners.

“Slaves built these homes and they never got credit for it,” said Steve, noting the craftsmanship of the doors, which feature a cross and bible a notable trait from the era.

A connection to ‘The Yellow Rose’

During late 18th and early 19th centuries, Murfreesboro hit its zenith as an active maritime trading center, strategically sitting on the banks of the Meherrin River.

The town drew folks from all over as it did with the Morgan family from Philadelphia, Pa., who brought their children, including young son James, and settled in the town in the late 1700s.

James Morgan would eventually establish himself as a successful businessman and a community leader.

He built the home around 1815, though, according to Steve, the room what is now the kitchen may date back to the 1700s.

Morgan lived in the house with his four children and his wife Celia until 1831 when he decided to head to Texas. But before moving, Morgan had to work out the particulars of his 17 slaves.

Texas, at the time, was still a part of Mexico, a country where slavery was illegal, but Morgan found a loophole.

He submitted for the slaves to be “freed” but then placed them under agreement for 99 years making them all servants.

There is great debate to whether or not the famed “Yellow Rose of Texas” was among those 17 slaves that made the trip with the Morgan family.

“The Yellow Rose,” whose real name was Emily Morgan, is steeped in American history and lore as the heroine who helped win independence for Texas.

Emily was abducted in 1836 by the forces of Mexican President and General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna who was immediately smitten with the young woman.

According to legend, the captured Emily kept Santa Anna “occupied” while Sam Houston led his forces to victory in the battle of San Jacinto.

Emily lives on in the folk song “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” which is believed to have been written by an anonymous African-American male who was an admirer.

A historic home, not a museum

Sandra admits she was a bit apprehensive about living in a historic home.

“When we moved here I was scared,” she said.

Sandra explained there was this feeling that the house was some sort of a museum and it had to be treated with high regard.

Friends and relatives that visited also took on the hesitant behavior.

Ultimately the Fowlers kicked that nervousness, realizing that they had to live in this historic home no matter what.

One family member who has never had a problem with that is Alexandra, the couple’s two-year old granddaughter who loves to bound about the house.

But a historic home does come without obligations—in the form of a “To Do” list.

“There’s always something I need to do,” said Steve, pointing out that there is always some painting to be done or something in need of a repair.

However, the Fowlers honor the craftsmanship and soundness of their home. This wasn’t more evident than when the house sheltered them from one of the worse storms to hit the East Coast in the 2003 hurricane season.

The Fowlers recalled waiting out Hurricane Isabel as it pounded the coast of North Carolina and Virginia. Steve said from the safety of their basement they watched as trees fell and the storm ravaged the area.

“I’d say it’s almost hurricane proof,” said Steve.

On the grounds of the property the Fowlers keep a self-maintained garden on their 0.6 acre property filled with daylilies, camellias, gardenias, a holly tree, sweet Betsy’s, daffodils and a magnolia tree that may have been a part of the property since the house was built.

“Usually something is blooming,” Sandra said.

Each Easter the Fowlers host an Easter egg hunt on their lawn for Murfreesboro Baptist Church. Sandra said she places 700 eggs around the lawn each year.

The house also has three porches to retire to on warm summer evenings, one located on the front of the house and the two others placed on either side of the kitchen.

Both Steve and Sandra say they really don’t have a particular favorite room in the house, though they do notice rooms that offer a more peaceful environment.

They love the home as a whole—history and all.

“We’re Virginians, we’re history people,” said Sandra.