Recalling the 'Red House'

Wednesday, October 6, 2010
What's recalled as an old high school is the object of a case turned over to Lewisburg's attorney by the codes enforcement officer.

A two-story house on First Avenue North, now overgrown with kudzu and sometimes referred to as the "red house," has been the target of Lewisburg's codes enforcement officer for more than a year.

"The time has come, actually it's way past time, for something to be done with that house," Codes Administrator Greg Lowe said late last week when asked about the building identified by a retired school teacher as one of the earliest high schools in town.

Ultimately, a codes inspector's work could lead to demolition of a building known for its red paint on brick walls. But that's not what Lowe would want. He is, however, realistic about the condition of the building that he says is owned by Michelle Driver.

Beyond the 512 1st Ave. N. address, Lowe said Driver is believed to have a Huntsville Post Office box address, and three other street addresses: one in Florence, Ala.; and two in Lincoln County, probably in Fayetteville.

Lowe has written letters to make contact with Driver, the latest being in April, and before that in 2009. He'd hoped to have something accomplished toward contacting the owner and having steps taken to improve the appearance of the property before the Goats, Music and More Festival last year, but there was no success, largely because he couldn't contact Driver.

"There's been no response, no word, but there have been sightings" of Driver by people who've said they think they've seen her in the Kroger grocery, the codes officer said.

It's possible that the house could be condemned as uninhabitable, but Lowe hasn't been in the building, he said. Again, the problem is gaining access through the owner's availability.

Lowe did fill out an administrative inspection form and submitted it to Marshall County General Sessions Court Judge Steve Bowden. The judge signed the form, permitting Lowe to walk on the property for an inspection from the outside. That's been done.

He's seen signs that: the roof is leaking; the floor is damaged; and the building might be unstable.

"The roof is in serious disrepair," Lowe said. "There's no way rain is not getting into the house. There are boards separated from brick."

Still, it's his personal preference that the building be restored.

Lowe has spoken with someone who is interested in renovation projects and that individual mentioned the red house to Lowe. He replied that he would help his acquaintance. Lowe declined to name the individual.

Lowe would help, he said, "even to the point of sawing wood and nailing nails" even though he's confessed to having no talent as a carpenter.

He's willing largely because it is an interesting old house, he agreed. It's got: a second story veranda; a front porch; and an appearance that indicates it wasn't always a place of residence.

It wasn't.

Vernell Marshall says she's been in the building and describes two large rooms on the ground floor with a hallway between them and a long room across the whole front of the building.

Those rooms were classrooms for a public school, Marshall said.

"Those walls are 12-15 inches thick," she said.

"It was in good shape 40-50 years ago," she said. "People lived in it 4-5 years ago...

"I was just a little, bitty crumb picker at the time," Marshall said of the days she rode a bus to the Mooresville School. "Some of the boys and girls rode the bus to the high school.

"It wasn't Marshall County High School," Marshall said. "It had another name."

She remembers some of the last names of older children who went to school in what's now known as the red house: "Some Ledfords and Earnharts."

Years later, she was "the only teacher who was certified to teach kindergarten in this county," said Marshall, a long-retired educator.

The building seems to be covered in Kudzu, a decorative vine brought to America from Japan. It was designated as a weed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture nearly 40 years ago. Marshall says Kudzu is growing all over the house. Lowe isn't sure it is Kudzu, but the plant is thriving on the lot.

"It was a pretty house at one time," said Lowe who "wouldn't be surprised" to find out that the building was constructed before the automobile became standard transportation.

He is "absolutely" interested in receiving calls about the house, especially how to reach the owner. Lowe may be contacted at City Hall, 359-1544.