STAMPING GROUND — The old home adjacent to Shirl Marks' house in Stamping Ground stood untouched for about 10 years after it was acquired by her family.
"Trees were growing through it," Marks said. "Possums lived in it."
When her son played at a nearby basketball goal, "the critters would be looking out the window," she said, laughing.
Her brother, Gerald McIntyre, wanted to have the house torn down. But today, after much sweat, McIntyre says he's thankful that did not happen.
Renovations of the home began about five years ago after a Scott County historian wrote an article about a black woman who owned the home in the 1800s. Marks learned that several black families lived in that home in the 1800s and 1900s and hundreds of blacks had moved to Stamping Ground after the Civil War.
The home was last occupied around 1970, Marks said.
Marks said the house, which she calls Stonetown Haven, will serve as an educational tool to teach the public about black history in Stamping Ground. It will be furnished with items from the 1800s, including a stove, church pew, and old articles and records about former black residents.
Stonetown Haven is named for the road where it sits, Stonetown, and because the house was once a safe place for many families, Marks said.
One article mentions a fair that was once held annually for Stamping Ground's black citizens, but Marks has not yet been able to figure out where in the community the fair was held.
Marks' church, First Baptist Church in Stamping Ground, which dates to the mid-1800s, once had 335 black members. The church's membership has dwindled to about 50.
Marks said there were once two black churches and a black school in Stamping Ground. The other church and the school no longer exist.
"Our grandmother ... she would always talk about all the black people who lived here," Marks said. "But when you're little you could care less."
Marks said her family has already hosted a few events at the old home, including a Christian rock band. But she plans to have a grand reopening after the house is finished.
McIntyre, who has taken over the work with a neighbor while Marks researches the community's history, said the restoration project is about 70 percent complete and should be done by winter 2012. For the most part, the family is paying for renovations themselves although some supplies were donated.
"It was a mess when we first started," McIntyre said.
He said the floors were rotted and the kitchen had completely detached from the home. "It's just going to be back to the 1800s, the way it was," McIntyre said.
McIntyre said the house he once wanted to tear down has now become a "labor of love."
"I'm glad we saved it because it's part of our history," he said.
Marks said she became even more determined to see the project completed after her son died in a wreck in May 2008. She wanted to give something to the community that helped her through that tough period. Working on Stonetown Haven was therapeutic.
"We felt like it was our mission to give something back," Marks said. "It gave me something to put my energy into."
Marks, who admits that she was never very enthusiastic about history in school, said she envisions a place where people in the community can gather and reminisce.
Stonetown Haven will be a place where people can sit on a bench after a bad day "and just go back in time to a period when things weren't as hustle bustle," she said.