COLUMBIA — While shopping at House of Treasures, the Rev. Clyde Ruffin found an ornate, wooden picture frame originally used for a mirror. The frame was beat up and needed to be painted. Screw holes on the sides needed to be filled.
For about a year, Ruffin has made the rounds of garage sales, thrift stores and flea markets in search of the perfect treasures, which he often refurbished himself, to put the finishing touches on the Victorian home of J.W. "Blind" Boone.
The president of the J.W. “Blind” Boone Heritage Foundation, Ruffin went back to House of Treasures so many times that employees know his name and would often let him know if they thought they had a piece he might be interested in.
Ruffin saw the Victorian frame as a perfect fit for a photograph of Blind Boone that hangs in a downstairs room of the house on Fourth Street where the ragtime pianist lived from 1889 to 1927.
“You just can’t find that anywhere,” Ruffin said. “To me, that was a lucky find because you wanted something distinctive for his picture that would stand out from all the other pictures.”
It's been 16 years since the city of Columbia purchased the Boone house from Warren Funeral Home for $179,873. Renovations, which ended up totaling $800,724, went slow at times, in part because the house was in such poor repair.
The Victorian-style picture frame , along with other antiques, will help tell the history of the famous pianist and local philanthropist when the house hosts a public celebration this summer before it opens permanently as a place for tours, receptions and other activities.
The foundation hopes to accent the celebration with live music by John Reed-Torres, a ragtime pianist from Los Angeles who Ruffin said bears a resemblance to Boone. If he makes it, Reed-Torres would play on a piano in the house that Boone once played.
“We are really ready to get to work and make it come to life,” Ruffin said. “People say it’s pretty and, yes, it’s pretty, but we want it to live.”
Early history and renovations
Boone’s house was built in 1889, the same year the pianist married Eugenia Lange, the youngest sister of Boone’s manager. The house at 10 N. Fourth St. became a part of Sharp End, a black business and entertainment district north of Broadway in downtown Columbia.
After Boone’s death in 1927, the house was used for the Stuart Parker Memorial Funeral Home and later for the Warren Funeral Chapel.
Boone’s house was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 as a place of local importance to black history and was promoted to national significance in 2003.
When renovations started in 2001, the house was in terrible condition. Water leaked from the roof, and termite damage reached almost up to the second floor. The J.W. “Blind” Boone Heritage Foundation, founded after the house was purchased to help preserve Boone’s history and music had only one photograph to work from that showed how the house looked when Boone lived there.
Boy Scouts, MU students and others in the community volunteered to help renovate the house over the years, Ruffin said Financing came from state and federal grants, donations, city appropriations and the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The Parks and Recreation Department helped with landscaping, budgeting, identifying contractors and securing permits. The foundation donated $16,500 to the landscape project to create a tribute garden behind the house for small concerts and other gatherings.
Ruffin enlisted Deb Sheals of Historic Preservation Consulting to make sure furniture and other antiques fit in the Victorian era.
“He really had a great eye for the type of furnishings,” Sheals said. “I tried to help identify things that would be the right period for the house. To see it now is so incredible.”
Detail work remains
Before the celebration, Ruffin said, details such as wallpaper, curtains and decorations to make the house feel more like a home need to be finished, as well as putting in a display case for documents about black history in Columbia.
Ruffin has heard from naysayers who didn't think the house was worth restoring.
“There are people in the community who felt like it wasn’t a worthwhile project because who needs to document African-American history and accomplishment here?” Ruffin said. “It’s just not something that everybody values."
“We are dedicated to proving them wrong,” Ruffin said. “This is going to be a treasure for the community. It’s the only thing like it anywhere in this city.”
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