Residents work for restoration
by Paige Rentz
A group of resourceful volunteers are hoping to spruce up an old downtown building before it’s too late.

The Doctor Francis Museum, a former doctor’s office located at the corner of Clinton Street and Gayle Avenue Southwest, is falling into disrepair and volunteers will set to work on it beginning Saturday to return it to pristine condition.

“We’re trying to get things improved around the city,” said Jerrod Brown, president of the Jacksonville Historical Society and one of the project organizers. “Little things like this are how things get rolling, I think.”

For the first big start on the building work, organizers are encouraging volunteers to come from 8 a.m. until about noon to tackle such issues as clearing out shrubbery, ripping up the outhouse floor and tearing off the back steps, which are rotted.

According to a historical marker by the Forney Historical Society, the building was built on the building square about 1850 by Dr. J. C. Francis, “a beloved family doctor that who served Jacksonville for more than 50 years.” Another doctor, C.J. Clark, practiced with him there. Clark was a well-known Confederate Army surgeon and director of the Alabama Hospital in Richmond. A number of other medical professionals used this office in later years.

Brown said the building is possibly the only doctor’s office of its kind in the state. He said most doctors were kind of traveling doctors back then, but Francis set up shop in a two-room practice in the middle of town and actually saw patients there.

The building is currently owned by the Alabama Historic Commission to whom it was deeded by the First National Bank of Jacksonville in 1970.

The volunteers are trying to “buy local, trying to buy American-made whenever possible and really try to keep this a community project,” said Gail DeParma, one of the organizers for the project.

A number of city businesses are already taking an interest. DeParma said that Jacksonville Home Center is collecting donations for the projects for purchase of materials.

Carmin Industries, she said, has already stepped forward and volunteered to sandblast the sign denoting the home as a historic site and refinish it with black paint to ready it for new a new finish on the raised lettering.

And Mr. Refrigeration has found a HVAC system for the building that would also include a dehumidifier. “That’s wonderful for an old building like that,” she said.

At the moment, the building has no power, but volunteers are working to get power on a temporary pole until the building can be completely rewired due to the unsafe condition of the current wiring.

One of the biggest pieces of the restoration will be getting the crumbling chimney rebuilt, something DeParma said will likely require professional labor.

Estimates on the cost of the current project have come in at about $12,000. Currently volunteers have raised $350. Anyone interested in donating can do so at the Jacksonville Home Center or through the Retired Senior Volunteer Program for tax-deductible contributions.

“People are more interested when they see progress rather than talk,” Brown said, adding that the project is “a good example of something that’s been neglected and without a lot of work can be made viable and useful again.”

Brown said that the museum used to have tours and other events. He said it would be nice to see the building be restored to a historical education type use “or just having it viable again, people going through it and seeing it.” But at this stage, he added, “the goal is really just to save it from falling in.”
© 2012