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Under the floorboards: Shopowner volunteers time to preserve history

Executive Editor
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Paul Morin put down his pens last week to take on an entirely new project, but one that is particularly close to his heart.
“I love old stuff and I love old buildings,” said Morin, who owns Paul’s Pens in Jonesborough, but spent Wednesday and Thursday tearing up and replacing part of the floor at historic Oak Hill School.
The school, which currently stands behind the Historic Jonesborough Visitors Center, was originally used as a schoolhouse for grades 1-8 in Washington County from 1886 to 1952. Originally located in the Knob Creek Community, it found its new home in Jonesborough when it was donated to the Jonesborough Washington County History Museum in1996.
According to Deborah Montanti, executive director of the Heritage Alliance of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia, the school had been used to store hay for more than 40 years before it was moved to its current location, and had slowly deteriorated.
The school was restored as much as possible to its 1880’s condition, and is used as a heritage education center, a place to share the history and heritage of rural one-room school education with current students, Montanti said.
Over the years, however, staff had taken note of a squeaky and possible weakened section of one portion of the school’s historic floor.
That’s when Morin’s hidden skills came into play.
Morin said that, in addition to a love of all things old, he had some experience restoring historic buildings when he lived in Georgia.
And that’s just the kind of experience they needed, Montanti said.
“It means the world to have Paul come in here to do this,” she said, as she watched his work on the floorboards, which would be replaced as needed from materials available at the Alliance’s Salvage Warehouse. “People with a real love for history, like Paul, and willing to donate their time to it are what keep us going.”
The skills needed to maintain historic structures, from laying floors to preparing boards, are getting harder to find, Montanti added. And they are worth their weight in historic gold when you do find them.
As for Morin, he was delighted to have the chance to delve back into history in the process of being a good neighbor.
He discovered a damaged supporting board that he knew he could replace, thereby shoring up the floor for hopefully another one hundred years; he was able to put his hands on a hand-hewn beam of a size that reminded one of old-growth forests, and he was able to do it all within a 100-plus-year-old structure that continues to speak to him.
“These are original nails I have been pulling,” Morin said delightedly as he carefully placed the hand-cut nails aside.

Paul Morin works on the floor at Oak Hill School.
Paul Morin works on the floor at Oak Hill School.