Dr. Francis Museum gets makeover; Nearly 20 volunteers show up to help
by Paige Rentz
Volunteers are making major progress on the project to restore the Dr. Francis Museum downtown.

Just two weeks kicking off the project with a volunteer work day, donors have contributed half the project budget and the museum has received a new roof.

“We’re making good progress, seeing constant improvement,” said Jerrod Brown, president of the Jacksonville Historical Society and one of the project organizers.

Nearly 20 volunteers showed up Saturday morning to continue the work started in November, pressure washing the front porch and walkway, tearing out the interior and rotting floors in the outhouse, and cleaning up overgrown brush on the hillside along Clinton Street Southwest where the museum sits at the corner of Gayle Avenue.

According to Gail DaParma, one of the organizers of the project, fundraising efforts have already hit the $6,000 mark, halfway to the volunteers’ initial budget of $12,000.

“People have just been really generous with their time and money,” she said.

An individual donor, said Brown, offered enough funds to purchase materials to install a new architectural shingle roof.

And Steve Williams, who owns his own roofing business, was on hand Friday morning with a three-man crew, donating their labor to repair two active leaks and replace the museum’s roof.

“I felt like it was a good cause to help keep it from deteriorating any more,” he said.

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.

Volunteers would like to see the building return to its former usefulness as a working museum, but saving the structure is first priority.

Workers have torn down the rotten wood of the back stairs, and Sherman Industries donated extra cement from a job at Carmin Industries to pave a base for what will become a new set of brick steps leading to the back door.

The next big project is scraping and painting the exterior of the building, a process that will take a lot longer because the building has been neglected, Brown said. “Once it’s painted we can start with other things like electrical, heat and air, and landscaping.”

As volunteers have put in long days at the building, the improvements are becoming more apparent.

“This property,” DaParma said, “is going to be a real looker by the time we’re done with it.”
© 2012