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Shotgun house prepared for move to history village

Plans call for moving the house to Boone Junction History Village next month.
Sunday, October 26, 2008 | 6:42 p.m. CDT; updated 9:09 p.m. CST, Monday, February 9, 2009
Mike Martin peels off the side of a historic shotgun house that he and Brian Treece own during a demolition of its rear portion Oct. 18. Martin and Treece plan to move the shotgun house and restore it to its original state, which did not include the rear portion.

COLUMBIA — At least two layers of wallpaper are deteriorating on the walls. The floor, besides being covered in a thick layer of dust and dirt, is a little unsteady. Divided into three rectangular rooms, the 16-by-13-foot house stands gutted at the corner of Garth Avenue and Worley Street with only studs in the walls.

The shotgun house, recognized as a notable historic property since 1999, was built in 1925 and is the only house of its kind to survive almost a century in Columbia. Now, it’s being prepared for a move to Boone Junction History Village. Co-owner Mike Martin said the move will happen next month if the weather allows for a foundation to be poured.

There were prior attempts to fix up the house, but no previous owners finished the job, Martin said. He was "surprised there was no vandalism" done to the house.

"It's held in some level of esteem in the community," Martin said, explaining why it appears only time has touched the house.

The structure is known as a shotgun house because of its architectural design. The home was built with all the doors lined up so that a shot fired from the front would leave the back without hitting a wall. The front door of Columbia's shotgun house, however, was moved, probably when the home was relocated from its original site on Cemetery Hill, Martin said. He guessed that the door would be moved back during the renovation at the village.

David Sapp, former president of the Boone County Historical Society and head of the renovation, said the project will include putting up drywall, insulation and trim; installing lighting and electrical circuits; repairing the windows; and patching the floor. The exterior needs new siding, a new front porch and any possible structural improvements deemed necessary for public safety. Sapp said he plans to use as much labor from the historical society as possible, instead of hiring outside professionals.

"We intend to restore it as closely as we can figure out back to its original appearance," Sapp said.

This means the house will have neither running water nor a restroom. It will be furnished sparsely, with only living room and kitchen supplies, including a wood burning range-style stove.

The society will keep the former bedroom open for various exhibits about the house, the people who lived there and the past African-American community in Columbia.

Columbia has few examples of the urban renewal era of the 1950s that displaced many African-Americans' homes in exchange for better streets and infrastructure, said Deborah Thompson, executive director of the society. She said Columbia hasn't fully explored and preserved the era from which the house comes. "It will supplement the rich history of the African-American community in Columbia," Sapp said.

On a recent Saturday morning, Martin and some friends from the First Ward met to demolish an attachment to the house, an anachronism to the era in which it was built. It gained the attachment and indoor plumbing when it was moved from Cemetery Hill to the pre-existing foundation it sits on now.

Not all the volunteers who gathered at the shotgun house knew of its historic value, yet they came willing to help the community.

Brian Cook and Joe Clark, coaches and co-founders of the Columbia Boxing Club, recruited their boxers to help the demolition.

"I told them that I had a whole bunch of guys — strong kids — who would be eager, ready and willing to help," Cook said.

Cook is interested in the project because it involves a historical structure and affects the First Ward, an area similar to where he grew up.

"I try to feed on the activities in the First Ward," Cook said.

Two young boxers showed up with Cook and Clark to help. Cook said the rest of the club ran into a delay when one of the coaches forgot his keys.

Quintell Thompson, 24, is a Columbia College student who trains and helps out at the boxing club. He grew up in the First Ward but learned about the shotgun house's history that morning from Martin.

"I'm trying to get more involved in helping out," Thompson said.

Raven Lovato, 15, also found out the significance of his work at the site. His favorite part of the day was "busting down" the back wall. He said his boxing training helped him handle the heavy tools.

"I've been having some fun," Lovato said. "It's been pretty good."

Glen Cobbins came as a member of the Ridgeway Neighborhood Association, bringing tools with him.

Even a few neighbors showed up to help. Amir Ziv, who renovates and develops properties in the First Ward, stopped by unannounced and volunteered to bring his "little trailer that could" to haul away trash and building material strewn on the ground. Martin said he’d already removed 6,000 pounds of rubbish before that Saturday.

"It's not an easy endeavor to restore an old building in the First Ward," Martin said.

To support the endeavor, the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau's advisory board recommended to the City Council a grant of $40,000 to share between the shotgun house, the Lustron House and the Ryland House from tourism development funds, said Lorah Steiner, executive director of the bureau. The shotgun house's share will be about $9,400, Martin said.

Watson Concrete also will help by pouring out both the foundation and generosity. The price of the job decreased from $6,000 to $3,850 because the owner's grandmother was part of the historical society. Grants will cover the remaining cost of the foundation.

Brian Treece, the house's other owner, compared its small size to the large amount of time the project is taking, but many people involved acknowledged that money, labor and interest is hard to generate for preservation projects.

"It's taken longer than I would've liked," said Treece, who also is chairman of the Historic Preservation Commission. "We're trying to exhaust every opportunity for voluntary labor and monetary donations."

Martin said he plans to have a company from Dora move the house during a community “house-moving party.”

"Everybody's invited," Martin said. "That's a house that's ingrained in the minds of so many people in the community."

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