Terry and Suzanne Dobson have what some realtors would call a specialty property — not that they’re planning on selling anytime soon. But two people in a converted schoolhouse isn’t a run-of-the-mill living situation by most standards.
For the Dobsons, converting the building on Everett Springs Road, which once served as a seminary, into a living space was a labor of love that began nearly 30 years ago. They’ve made the facility their home while still honoring the school’s rich heritage.
Although the wood-sided building where the couple resides ceased to house students in the early 1900s, it holds a significant place in Rome’s educational history. It was the inspiration behind the work-and-school model that Martha Berry put in place when she began educating mountain children. A Georgia Historical Commission sign outside the old school on Everett Springs Road in northern Floyd County identifies the building as the “antecedent of the famous Martha Berry schools” and “the first mountain school in Georgia which had boarding facilities for its students.”
The seminary began in 1889, according to “A History of Everett Springs Schools: 1877 to 1959” by local resident Carolyn Joy Mills Cothran. The seminary gave way to a public school, which the volume says was serving students in 10 grades by 1927. Students were having class in the adjacent large, brick building by that point.
Back when the wooden building housed seminary students, however, they would travel to the schools at the beginning of the week and stay in the small cabins that surrounded it.
“They lived here,” Terry says. “They did their own cooking and their own chores.”
Although students ceased to live on the property when the seminary closed, public school students later came from around the Everett Springs area including Floyd Springs and the farther reaches of the nearby valley, locally known as the Pocket. Power didn’t reach Everett Springs until the early '40s, Terry says, when the Tennessee Valley Authority ran power to the area.
By the latter part of the 19th century, the area was known for the opportunities it afforded students.
“Everett Springs was an educational center in the late 1800s,” Cothran states.
By the mid-1950s, however, enrollment had fallen, and classes dropped in 1956 “to five grades with two teachers due to low enrollment,” the volume says.
Terry spent his early years in the Rome area, but moved to Anniston, Alabama, so his mother could work there. Suzanne grew up in West Rome. The two met at Jacksonville State University and married in 1992. They discovered the old school as newlyweds.
“I liked riding out here,” Terry recalls. “It was wintertime, and I drove up here on Everett Springs Road. I looked up there and thought, ‘You know, I could fix that house. A few windows — it’d be ready to go.’ She was in love with me, and she believed me, so we tracked down the owner.”
The former owner had bought the property a few months prior, but went ahead and sold it to Terry and Suzanne. There was already a septic tank and a well on the property, but the old building turned out to be more than “a few windows” away from livability.
“It was rough,” Terry says. “It looks good from the road 'til you buy it and start crawling underneath it.”
The couple lived in a camper out back the first winter. Suzanne worked full-time teaching school while Terry worked on the house and watched their year-old daughter, Shyanne.
“The first thing I built was a bathroom,” Terry says.
All the sills were rotted out of the house when they bought it. Terry borrowed hydraulic jacks from a friend and raised the house himself so he could crawl under to work on it. With an extra 8 inches of clearance, Terry disappeared under the house where he quickly discovered stumps from when the land was cleared.
“They were so dry that I could reach my hand in and pull a whole stump out. They were just powder,” he says.
Despite the surprises, Terry worked to level the house out and clean up the property, which needed a considerable amount of work.
“We jacked it up, cleaned it up, and we moved up here,” he says. “It was grown up in little 3-inch pine trees. We cleared all that out. There were more beer bottles out here than I've seen in my whole life. We’d just piled bottles up around the bottoms of trees and pick them up with a wheelbarrow. Everybody in Floyd County drank a beer up here at one time.”
And those windows? They eventually became a reality. Terry looked for large pieces of glass at discount prices to install upstairs and downstairs.
“It was cheaper to put the glass and then it was to put the wall up,” he says. “The first winter, we lived upstairs. We had plastic over the windows and had glass in the downstairs windows. We couldn't afford glass in the upstairs windows yet.”
During the cleanup phase, they’d burn scrap material every night.
“Me, Shyanne and Suzanne would sit here and watch the fire burn down, and we’d go to bed,” Terry says.
The couple decided to put on an addition that added a large living area to their new home.
“I wanted it to look like it was original,” Terry says, “so I went back up to the roofline and came off the original roofline.”
The home eventually ended up with the three bedrooms and 1 1/2 baths it still has today. As construction progressed, Terry took on outside work. He spent 10 years working for the city of Rome as a development inspector for new roads and sewer infrastructure.
“I’d go to work at 7:30, get off at 4:30, hurry home, and I had 180 days (before the couple needed to refinance their building loan) to finish this part of the house. And I'd work till 10:30. I bought spotlights to put out here. I got it built in six months,” he says.
His unusual construction schedule attracted the attention of the community. A neighbor asked him, “What are you shooting over there in the middle of the night?”
“I said, ‘I’m not shooting anything. It’s my nail gun,’” Terry recalls.
Today, Suzanne teaches special education and British literature at Calhoun High School. She has a doctorate in online curriculum design. Terry builds furniture now — tables, beds, chairs, bookcases and butlers made out of walnut, cherry and heart pine. He uses the brick school building, which once housed public school students, as his workshop. The couple welcomes interest in their unique abode. They host the Calhoun High School football team once a year for a cookout, and a few years ago, they allowed a one-room school association to use it to host a conference there.
According to Cothran, the seminary building was in use until around 1908. It seems students had stopped using it by 1909 when the Berry schools opened.
“Perhaps the Everett Springs Seminary closed due to the opening of Martha Berry’s schools,” she theorizes in her book.
She points to the existence of another wooden structure on the property, which housed public school students before the brick building went up.
“Later a two-room wooden schoolhouse was built just downhill from the old seminary site and served as the Everett Springs School until 1930 when it was torn down to make way for the new brick building,” she says.