MURFREESBORO — MTSU students are seeking assistance from Murfreesboro and Rutherford County residents in preserving the history of what is now Central Magnet School.
“This is really a community project, and so we want as much of their support and activity as we can get,” said Casey Gymrek, master’s degree candidate from Cape Coral, Florida, and student in Dr. Brenden Martin’s “Essentials of Museum Management” class.
An interpretive exhibit will be placed in the magnet school’s “College Corner” in the western side of the building, and the MTSU students will create a website where audio, video and still images will be posted.
Martin, an MTSU professor of history, is guiding the students as they interview teachers and alumni, seek donations of artifacts and peruse documents and photos from the campus’s nearly 175-year history.
“We’re also doing a cultural landscape study, where we’re not just looking at the physical campus, but we’re also taking a look at the adjacent neighborhood,” Martin said.
Union University was established on the current magnet school’s site on East Main Street before the Civil War. It was torn down in the early 1900s and replaced with the Tennessee College for Women, which existed until 1946. Both schools were affiliated with the Baptist church.
When the old Central High School burned down in 1944, it was rebuilt on the site of the defunct women’s college with construction being completed in 1950.
The high school’s integration, which began in 1965 and was finished in 1968, is one of the major historical components of the students’ research.
Following integration, the building was no longer large enough for the student body. The high school was converted to a middle school in 1973 and designated a magnet school in 2010.
“We’re trying to reach out to as many area institutions as possible,” said Ethan Morris, master’s degree candidate from Louisville, Kentucky, and project director.
Those institutions include Shacklett’s Photography, which recently donated a collection to the county archives, and the archives of the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville.
In addition, MTSU’s own Albert Gore Research Center will be the repository for many of the artifacts.
“The students will walk away with two or three … work products that testify to their professional abilities,” said Martin.
However, the people connected with the school in any of its incarnations are the heart and soul of the project.
“We have nearly 25 years of Central High School alumni, many of whom have gone on to become very important leaders in the business community and politics in the town,” Martin said.
“They’re the ones who have all the objects and all the stories and all the memories that we really want to share with everyone,” Gymrek said.
The students expect to complete their work in May, but gathering information and artifacts as early as possible is essential.
“Typically, for an institution, a project like this might take a year to two years,” said Gymrek. “But we’re trying to get it done in four months.”