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Restoring the Past

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 “Roosevelt Cabin was the place of all places where Miss Berry was at her best. That here she had lived during those early days of struggle, and that here she was apt to forget herself and those about her as she looked back upon the years and reviewed the road which she had traveled; that here, mirrored in her face and voice one caught more of Berry than in any other place.”

— Campus visitor, 1930

The Berry College campus is known for its size, beauty, its popular trails and its many four-legged inhabitants. But there’s also a rich history on which the entire campus is founded.

The Roosevelt Cabin — one of the oldest buildings on the main campus — is in its final stages of restoration and preservation, reminding visitors of a storied past.

The cabin was built by students in 1902 was named for President Teddy Roosevelt who had lunch there during his Oct. 8, 1910 visit to the school.

The restoration process began about 10 years ago, thanks to a donation from the Jarrett family and grants from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Historical Preservation Division. The process has included rebuilding the foundation, replacing multiple logs, a reconstruction of the roof frame, a new room, and a restoration of all the windows and doors.

 “Roosevelt Cabin is one of the oldest buildings on the campus that was constructed especially for the school,” said Jennifer Dickey, an assistant professor of history at Kennesaw State University who is a former director and curator of Historic Berry. She is a consultant on the restoration project. “Martha Berry had the students build the cabin during the 1902 school year to serve as her office and residence on campus. She lived in the cabin during the school year between 1903 and 1907.”

Dickey said the cabin’s design had a specific purpose. Most of the students in the early years of the school lived in log buildings on farms, something of which Martha Berry was keenly aware.

“Most of those cabins had dirt floors and were very rustic and ramshackle,” Dickey said. “Martha Berry wanted to demonstrate to the students ‘that a home may be simple and inexpensive and at the same time be in good taste and even beautiful’.”

Local material and alumni labor has been used to complete some of the restoration work. The final stage is the chinking in which mud is tucked between the logs to seal the walls. The owner and employees of Mike Crook Garden and Stone are complete the stage using a mixture of clay made of Berry sand, quicklime and sawdust.

Though the cabin has been used as a guest house, a student center, an elementary school an alumni office and is named for President Teddy Roosevelt, Dickey said it’s greatest significance is that it was once the residence and office of Martha Berry Herself.

“Which is why it was important to restore it to its appearance during that period,” she said. “During the time that I was working at Berry as the curator at Oak Hill and the Martha Berry Museum, we were fortunate to receive a significant gift towards the restoration project from the family of James and Margaret Jarrett. James, who passed away in 2005, was born in the cabin in 1935. His father, Gus Jarrett, ran the dairy at Berry during that time. The family wanted to help with the restoration because of their personal connection to the building. Their gift enabled us to secure additional funding through the Georgia Heritage Grant Fund of the Historic Preservation Division of the state of Georgia. We had Lord, Aeck and Sargent conduct an assessment of the building and prepare a restoration plan, which has guided us throughout the ten years that we have been working on this project.”

The restoration efforts have relied on several different people and organizations, Dickey said, from the plans provided by Lord, Aeck and Sargent as well as Chip Miller and Steve Tillander of Decartur-based Restoration Craftsmen.

“Chip was especially instrumental in helping us develop the proper mortar mix for the chinking and daubing that we have just completed,” she said. “Jim Wilson did much of the timber framing and Gorg Hubenthal has reinstalled the beadboard wall paneling and other carpentry work this summer.”

Sitting on the south end of the campus, the cabin is often overlooked, Dickey lamented, since that area is generally a residential area and not a place that most people visit. However, that part of the campus is the oldest and most historic, being the location of the original 83 acres on which Martha Berry started her school.

“One of the problems with Roosevelt Cabin has been that it was not open to the public very often,” Dickey said. “We are hoping to change that once we have completed the restoration. We hope to use the building as both a museum space but also as a meeting space. The building has limitations, of course. It has no running water, no heat, no air, and no restroom facilities. Still, it is a very beautiful, cozy space.

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