Posted in Creekside Cafe, road trip

On the Porch with Ruth Akright

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.

Posted in event, inspiration, road trip

An Exotic Retreat in Murfreesboro, North Carolina

Me, after our walking tour, in front of the Murfree-Williams House

Murfree-Williams House

Writers Workshops, Retreats and Residencies

Dorian threatened to keep me from my mini vacation but thankfully, he didn’t do as much damage around my home as he did to others. My heart goes out to those on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Myrtle Beach and especially the Bahamas.

With only the inconvenience of power outages at home, my husband waved me off and I hurriedly packed my bags for my very first writers retreat in the most exotic– Murfreesboro, North Carolina.

Adrienne Dunning

I met my friend and fellow Pamlico Writer’s Group member, Adrienne Dunning in Greenville and she graciously agreed to drive. I was exceedingly grateful after having traversed the perilous traffic of Greenville after a hurricane when all of Beaufort County is shut down due to the power outages, oh my God, people are crazy! I stopped at Walmart to purchase a bottle of wine and debated opening it in the parking lot. I didn’t think that would go over very well and I still wasn’t sure how to get to Adrienne’s apartment, so I left the wine corked and after looping around several times managed to find her quite easily, right where she said she’d be.

Chowan University

Adrienne, having attended Chowan college (now Chowan University) took me to see the beautiful campus. We arrived at the Murfree-Williams House after a quick view of the town. While not exactly exotic, the small town is a lovely homage to Mayberry with its retro Main Street, brick sidewalks and historic homes.

Ruth Akright

We were greeted by our hostess, Ruth Akright, the owner of the lovely rehabilitated 1801 home. The luxury of being among the first group of writers to enjoy the hospitality of Ruth and the Murfree-Williams house this weekend was a treasure I’m not sure I can put into words.

My pretty bedroom at the front of the house.

Ruth opened her property to a group of writers who wished a venue to write, learn and fellowship with other writers. Quiet by accident, all of the attendees happened to be romance writers. This weekend, our small group, two from the Pamlico Writer’s Group member, Adrienne Dunning and myself, Michelle White from Chesapeake, Virginia and her daughter, Samantha Keel, we were also joined by presenters Sonja McGiboney, a children’s author from Smithfield, Virginia, and Trudy Gibbons, a poet and song writer from Murfreesboro.

Samantha Keel and Michelle White,
daughter and mom, look more like sisters.
Sonja McGiboney

We started Friday evening with a light supper and a talk by Sonja. Sonja started her journey as an author with her camera and her dog. After taking too many pictures of her beloved pit-bull pup, Jazzy, she put together a book for niece and nephew for Christmas. They loved it and wanted more. Enjoying the process, Sonja wrote seven books about Jazzy’s adventures.

Sonja’s experience going into schools and libraries and sharing her stories allowed her to interact with parents and children and she discovered that is what she enjoys. She has plans for a middle grade book and hopes to someday write for Scholastics.

Trudy Gibson

Saturday morning dawned bright and beautiful, a cool breeze, the blessing after the curse of the hurricane. Ruth treated us all to a luscious breakfast of muffins, pecan bread, mixed fruit, juice and coffee. Trudy Gibson joined us after breakfast and treated us to the story of her journey as a poet and song writer. Trudy and Sonja graced with a lovely rendition of the song she wrote, and Sonja’s father-in-law penned the notes for, they brought us all to tears with the beauty. A renowned poet, Trudy’s “Heart and Soul, a collection of short stories, poems and songs,” was a labor of love, compiled and published with the help of 1984 graduating class of Chowan College where Trudy was a secretary in the graphics department.

Needing to stretch our legs, we took off on a walking tour of Murfreesboro’s historical homes. Our residence, the 1801 Murfree-Williams House also had a neighboring law office, known as the Williams-Smith Law Office. Ruth led us down the brick sidewalk to the tiny house print shop. We followed the walk around the oldest commercial building in North Carolina, a lovely little house/tin shop, blacksmith shop, we wandered around to the gingerbread house. We circled around back to our house when the bells on the church start ringing. With a lawnmower going and the trill of the church bells, the lovely and quite innocent looking children’s author, suggested this would be a great time to murder someone, no one would hear them scream. Ya know, just because someone looks sweet and innocent, don’t let down your guard. I think she may have missed her calling.

We made our way up to Main Street to the infamous Walter’s Grill. The grill is full of character and could even be a character itself. A definite greasy spoon, the rich home cooking is a local favorite. Our next presenter, Duane Cotton author of Driven and known for his work on ABC’s Extreme Make Over: Home Edition.

After laughing our way through lunch, we made our way back to the house where we spent the next three hours talking about Duane’s journey to writing and publishing his book, as well as how we could relate his journey to success to our own journey.

Another guest for supper, and an early evening, I retired to my room to write and think about what I’d learned. When you attend a writers’ event, whether it’s a conference or workshop or retreat, it can be a bit overwhelming. Letting the information stew and digest helps to make it more useful.

Sunday morning breakfast brought guest, free-lance illustrator Ron Neale shared his knowledge of being and commercial graphic designer, illustrator and his new job as graphic designer for NASA, talk about the coolest job ever.

Ron, a dear friend of our hostess, Ruth, was the master carpenter who’d helped resurrect the Murfree-Williams House.

Ron shared his marketing and design expertise as discussion across the table escalated. My greatest problem, like many indie authors, is promoting and marketing. Adrienne and Samantha both confronted me with my own words, and what they made me realize, is I’m not a romance author. I am a suspense author with strong romantic elements!

I am a suspense author!

On the way home, Adrienne and I discussed the retreat, and both agreed this was something we would like to do again. Maybe next time, we can host our own writers’ weekend.

If you are interested in renting the Murfree-Williams House for a writers workshop, retreat or residency, or just for a vacation, you can contact Ruth Akright for rates and availability at 757-477-2795 or via email at