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Making Thelma Ferrel’s Dream a Reality- Part One

posted Apr 20, 2018, 11:11 AM by James Nennemann
By Evelyn Birkby
One of Fremont County’s most important historical landmarks is Randolph’s Ferrel House, constructed in 1871. The last owner of the house, purchased in 1936, was Thelma Theresa Ferrel. Thelma was a Randolph native who taught school and remained single to care for her parents in their old age—she remained in the house for 58 years. A sustaining member of Fremont County Historical Society for many years, Thelma made it clear that she would will her Victorian house and its contents, an adjoining washhouse, carriage house, and a small stretch of native land to the society.  As well as historically preserving the structures, located on 13 acres, she dreamt of turning the land into a wildlife refuge, complete with native grasses and wild flowers.
Thelma passed in 1994 but before accepting her bequest, the society asked Jerome Thompson from the Iowa State Historical Society to inspect the property to assess its potential as a museum—after a professional evaluation he was very enthusiastic about its potential to become an important part of the county’s historical complex. The society stepped up to the plate. 
Many tasks awaited a committee of volunteers in bringing the property into the society’s fold: First off, an accounting firm was chosen to manage the trust, which included a small farm, proceeds from which would support restoration and maintenance. Next on the list was conducting an inventory, a daunting task considering the size of the home and the numbers of antiques and other items it contained. Those who participated in the inventory said it felt as though they were on an extended treasure hunt.
With a complete list of items in hand, the society then had to determine what to keep—items and furniture that didn’t fit into a Victorian-era motif would be culled. A curator was hired who assisted in transforming the house by identifying what could be saved and what needed to go, a process that included disposing of four of five davenports. Some things, like antique light fixtures, would need to be acquired from outside sources. When original items weren’t available, replicas were ordered from companies that specialized in vintage furnishings and fixtures.
The wall coverings were an important consideration requiring the services of a company in Shenandoah that knew how to find period-correct wallpaper patterns. They carefully peeled off layers of paper in the house until the original (oldest) was exposed. At that point, expert eyes searched catalogs for similar patterns that could be applied with modern techniques to bring out the proper atmosphere for each room. The home’s new entry hall paper was almost identical to the original. 
Craftsmen were found to do the wallpapering, painting, metal polishing, and carpentry. Wayne Hardy worked outside and Greg and Ellen Stultz worked on the inside. No detail was too small and windows, locks, hinges, and door knobs all required attention. Slowly but surely, the home took shape and was reborn in its turn-of-the-century glory.
The next Attic will share some of the special challenges encountered to fulfill Thelma’s dream.