I’m here at my creek side café with the wonderful Ruth Akright. It was wonderful to meet you in person. I enjoyed the writers retreat in Murfreesboro. It was a fantastic reprieve from the hurricane.
Your house, the Murfree-Williams House is such a delight. I love old homes, the history, the stories, the architecture. When did you buy and restore the Murfree-Williams House?
Ruth: We purchased the house in 1985 from the Murfreesbroro Historical Association.
Do you have any before pictures?
Ruth: Here are some of the Murfree-Williams House.
Sherri: How did you get started restoring or resurrecting old houses?
Ruth: I have always been interested in old houses. Worked with my father who was a painter and carpenter from a very early age. One of my high school class mates reminded me that I dragged her through every old empty house in the county when we were growing up.
Sherri: You told us about the different parts of the house and where they came from. My bedroom was the old dentist office?
Ruth: The dentist office was constructed around the turn of the 20th century as the dentist office for the town. We know that it was constructed later than the porch since there is a second slanted floor under the existing floor. While we were working on the house in the early days of purchase, a wonderful elderly Southern gent used to come by on Saturdays. He was always dressed in his three-piece suit, had on his hat and carried a beautiful cane. He told us about having his teeth worked on in that room. The dentist had a foot-pedal operated drill.
Sherri: You were telling me about the master bedroom. Refresh my memory about the Indian School/master bedroom. The old Indian School was pulled up behind the house and added onto it?
Ruth: The Indian school operated on this site until 1796 so that portion of the house is 18th century origin. We discovered that the beams inside the walls are about a foot wide and 5 or so inches thick with slots in them. Perhaps, they came from one of the ships that called into the river port of Murfreesboro.
Sherri: You also have a design background, which is obvious in the charm of the house. Tell us about your education and experience as a designer.
Ruth: I have an associate degree in interior design. Worked for the premier design firm in Norfolk/Virginia Beach for ten years. Afterward, I ran my own design studio and still have design clients that I work with. It seemed like every time a client came into the studio that owned an old house, they gravitated to me. I have worked on historical properties in Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Franklin, Elisabeth City, Smithfield, Edenton, West Point, two houses in Pennsylvania, etc.
Sherri: You’ve written two books, as well as scripted and filmed a documentary? Tell us the details of these.
Ruth: The documentary was for the town of Ahoskie and is available on YouTube. I crafted an article that is included in the Local Legends project at the Library of Congress as part of their celebration when they reopened after restoration. One of my books was an Arcadia Images Across America volume on the small town of Eustis, in Florida where I grew up. The other is a limited-edition biography of Judge Donald J. Drake. Sr. Judge Drake was a long-time friend who had lived an incredible life including being at the Battle of Midway and serving as one of the defense lawyers for the USS Pueblo crew.
Sherri: Do you have any other creative plans?
Ruth: I am working with a colleague in Titusville, Florida to create a Heritage Village. It will contain several old houses and commercial buildings that are dismantled and in storage. The plan is to work with the local high school to have them take on the reconstruction of at least one of the buildings as a class project. There will also be a replica of an early Seminole Indian house. We plan to have this be an immersion experience for visitors where they will come to learn early local crafts such as blacksmithing, hearth or open fire cooking, history of clothing, etc. They will stay in the restored buildings. The buildings will not have running water, electric, heat or ac. They will be exactly as they would have been in the 19th century. I am so excited to be involved in this project.
Sherri: You have some wonder inspirational and motivational ideas that I took to heart. I think our readers will benefit from your words of wisdom.
Ruth: Can’t imagine what you think I said that was inspirational. Give me a clue.
Sherri: You were telling us about your pep talk with yourself and your morning pages. I thought they were inspiring and would be an inspiration to others.
Ruth: Oh, okay, I go on a nice walk early in the mornings in my neighborhood. It is a great time to get my day laid out in my head, listen to the birds, enjoy everyone’s yards and solve the world’s problems. (Okay maybe not but I have some ideas how it could be accomplished.) As I walk, I have a mantra I say to myself—I am a successful published author; I am a successful lecturer and speaker; I am a successful historian and preservationist, and so on. The secret here is the word “successful.”
Sherri: You have to believe in your own success to achieve it.
Ruth: Exactly, you have to believe these things about yourself. I also say to the universe—I am clear, calm, confident, creative, capable, energetic, focused, happy, healthy, grateful, grateful, grateful, strong, successful and talented.
Sherri: And the morning pages?
Ruth: Some mornings, not all of them, I get up and the first thing I do-after feeding the critters of course, is I write what Julia Cameron calls “morning pages.”
I attended a lecture by Julia many years ago and this is the one take away I had from her talk on her book “The Artists Way.” The pages have to be in longhand and three pages. You write whatever comes to mind. It doesn’t have to make sense or be grammatically correct. It’s a way of getting all the junk out of your mind and it clears the way for creativity for the rest of your day.
Sherri: And no one has to see the pages?
Ruth: No, and you never have to look at them. It is a great exercise. You should try it.
Sherri: I’m not a morning person, I’m not sure if I can write anything coherent or not first thing in the morning.
You have some great plans for the Murfree-Williams House. Share your hopes for this property.
Ruth: I included a copy of the flyer I put together, I think that tells the story of what my hopes and dreams are for the house
Sherri: The other ladies and I had such a lovely time at the writers’ retreat. Only four of us stayed the weekend but there is capability for ten and Ruth and I were talking, with some planning, you could probably house a few more. There is also another house just a few miles away that could also be rented and used for larger groups.
The presenters each seemed to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and what Ruth planned as an hour program turned into two and three-hour discussions.
If you are looking for a nice, quiet place for a residency, retreat or even a vacation, check out the Murfree-Williams House.