Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

June 8, 2012

Restoration basics

TAHLEQUAH — Restoring an old home may seem like a dream come true for preservation clubs, but the actual process requires hard work, determination, and an eye for detail.

The process on how the Thompson House became a historical site was Beth Herrington’s topic Thursday during Oklahoma’s 24th annual Statewide Preservation Conference at the Armory Municipal Center.

Herrington said anyone considering a restoration project should have her eyes open, and before she begins, understand the hard facts of what that restoration will entail.

Among the steps are considering whether the site has a family or architecturally historical significance to the community; researching the physical properties of the building to see if can be restored; conducting an analysis of community support for the restoration project; and determining where will the monetary support will come from for maintenance and care of the site.

Herrington also said anyone working on this type of project should keep notes and records on the entire process.

The Thompson House was the home of Dr. Joseph M. Thompson and his family, who lived in it from 1889 to 1935. Thompson’s father came to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears.

According to Herrington, the catalyst for the research process for the Thompson House restoration began when a newspaper article reported the Cherokee County commissioners were asking for bids for the building’s demolition.

“This was in the 1980s,” she said.

Several community women thought the destruction of the home was a bad idea.

“Our first step was to pass a petition around to see if saving the Thompson House had community support behind it,” said Herrington.

The second step, Herrington said, was to have the house assessed by a master engineer and carpenter. From there, the group went to the county commissioners for support.

“[The commissioners] told us, ‘if you can galvanize the community for support and money, we’re behind you 100 percent,’” said Herrington.

Once the commissioners gave their support, the group had to justify the home’s historical significance.

“The house had a Masonic emblem with a Cherokee star in a window, which helped show the civic and cultural significance the Thompson family had on the community,” said Herrington. “After we held lots of bean dinners and garage sales, we had enough money to begin the project.”

The first order of business was to stop the deterioration of the house. That occurred in steps, beginning with reconstruction of the roof and scraping and painting the building.

Herrington said the group received no county funds to help with the restoration, “except for a small amount from the Cherokee County commissioners [for] our second roof construction.”

Every dollar earned was through fundraising and donations. Reconstruction was done mostly by volunteers, and materials were donated by community businesses. The group gathered volunteers from all parts of the county to help.

“We used free labor,” Herrington said.

They applied for and received matching grants for the reconstruction project from various sources.

The late Wilma Mankiller, former principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, was interested in the history day camp held for fourth-graders at the site, and she procured a generous grant for the project, according to Herrington.

“The Bank of Cherokee County has donated lawn service to the Thompson House for several years,” said Herrington. “[Within a few years], all the paint on the house had been stripped and painted, the woodwork and the kitchen floor had been replaced.”

Refurbishing the house was the next step.

“We talked to and wrote to everyone, and we advertised, in order to locate furniture donations of the time period,” Herrington said. “By 1990, the house was completely furnished, thanks to donations.”

Today, the Thompson House is free to any group who would like a tour. In the fall, student history day camps are held there, as well.

Herrington said the Thompson House hosts many fundraising events to help with its care and maintenance. Funds are sometimes raised through reserving the house for events such as weddings and meetings. A Victorian Christmas sale is held during the holiday season.

When group members had a reproduction period fence of cast-iron made, fence panels were sold as memorials.

“That’s how we paid for the fence,” Herrington said. “You have to look at those marketable ideas.”

A foundation has been created to continue the work of maintenance and upkeep to the house.

“We plan to build it [the foundation] up and keep things going,” she said.

Herrington reminded would-be preservationists to keep records of every transaction, to aggressively involve the community to get its support, and to avoid going into debt to restore a building.

“Don’t do any restoration unless you have the money in hand,” said Herrington.

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