JOHNSON COUNTY — A couple with Hoosier roots is taking on a major project to preserve a piece of history in their hometown.
Stacie Grissom was a kid with big dreams.
"As a kid going to Hopewell, you are always like, I want to live in Hopewell when I grow up," Grissom said.
The Franklin native attended Hopewell Elementary School, which now holds Heritage Baptist College in Johnson County.
Her now-husband, Sean Wilson, was also a student at the school and the two grew up down the road from one another.
"We grew up here in Franklin," sadi Grissom, who works in public relations and shares two young children with her high school sweetheart.
The pair moved to the Big Apple for their careers and found success in New York City, but a big piece of their hearts was still in the Hoosier state.
After becoming parents, the call to come back home grew even stronger. They connected with a friend and Realtor and mentioned they would love a unique home near their families in Franklin.
That is when their Realtor sent them a message that would change everything.
"The subject line was, don't judge me," Grissom said.
She says she got chills down her spine and she jumped out of her chair as she looked at a familiar facade in the listing.
"I mean, I remember this school when I was a little kid, driving by here," said Grissom, who immediately called her mom back home and told her, "that school is for sale!"
Being away from Indiana, her parents got a first look at the property. With their experience of commercial real estate, they walked around an old school building for sale to see if it had the potential to go from old schoolhouse to a homestead.
She says her dad could see her renovation vision.
"This is doable," he said.
"And I was like, OK," said Grissom. "Here's all my savings."
They took the leap of faith from miles away.
"We bought it without seeing it ourselves," said Grissom.
This old schoolhouse is nearly 10-thousand square feet of space on two floors and sits on the Nineveh and Franklin Township Line along County Road 300.
The building was erected in 1914 and was called Union Joint Graded School Number 9.
"I always wanted to live in a quirky old house," Grissom said. "Never in my wildest dreams would I have found this quirky of a house."
Stacie walks me through the rooms and construction well underway. They replaced the entire roof, installed new 9 foot windows. The rooms have massive 13 foot ceilings throughout with tons of natural light pouring through.
Framing is going up, and they are insulating the exterior walls to help with heating and cooling but are trying to preserve as much of the original brick and structures on the inside of the house as possible.
In the planning process, Stacie traveled to the Johnson County Museum of History to look for old photos and information on the old schoolhouse.
"Horses and wagons dropping off the kids," said Grissom about the early days at the schoolhouse. She describes it as a time between the one-room schoolhouse and more consolidated districts.
It served as a school for students for 20 years before closing its doors.
"By the end of it, there were trucks and stuff," says Grissom.
Stacie says they are working to make design choices to honor the school, like back splash tile to mimic a blackboard in the area where they found a blackboard in pictures.
They are working to renovate the main floor first which will include a master suite, bedrooms for kids, large kitchen, living room and office.
On the bottom floor, they eventually hope to turn an old engine room into a wine cellar and make more play space for kids and bedrooms for guests.
"Christmas is already getting a little crowded," said Grissom. "So I'm excited to have like a 35 by 24 kitchen to host a lot of kids and friends."
After the school closed, it became a barn housing apples and even animals.
They have been gathering information for neighbors who were around during that time as to who used the space and what animals were inside.
"Apparently turkeys were actually kept in the living room," said Grissom. "We've claimed the turkey as our mascot and we've made shirts and stuff for the kids."
Grissom shows pictures of her child in a track suit reading Union Joint Elementary, home of the gobblers.
After the building's use as a barn, it became apartments for a period of time.
"The previous owners also loved it," said Grissom while standing in the future entryway. "And [they] kept it alive, so we can continue."
In order to figure out the quirks of the space and adapt it to become their dream home, Stacie enlisted the help of a trusted, local expert and childhood friend.
"I've known Stacie my whole life," Danny Causey said. "She knew I was really into historic buildings in town." Causey is Director of Madison Street Salvage, an architectural salvage shop for the nonprofit organization, Franklin Heritage Inc.
It is the same organization that runs and up-keeps the Historic Artcraft Theatre, a downtown Franklin staple. The organization also renovates old homes and buildings in the community and is an affiliate of Indiana Landmarks.
"She called me up and said, we did this crazy thing and purchased this big school building," said Causey. "I mean they are definitely crazy for doing it, but they are the right type of people that are going to make it perfect and awesome."
Causey has a background in architectural design and 3D renderings from his time as a student at Ball State University. He returned to Franklin for an internship with Franklin Heritage and ended up getting hired on with the organization.
Since that time, he has served in an instrumental role with the Franklin Facade projects, utilizing grant money through the Franklin Development Corporation to restore downtown.
Preservation is his passion and so he created his company Causey Design to help business owners and homeowners like Stacie and Sean better visualize and plan their renovation project.
"It's going to be something that the community can be proud of," said Causey. "She's such a fun person, so I tried to put their dog in the pictures and I made like little two-dimensional Sean and Stacie for the pictures."
Causey suggests anyone who may be looking into doing historic preservation, to reach out to Franklin Heritage if you are in Franklin, or Indiana Landmarks. Those organizations may be able to help you find grant money or credits to help with the affordability of the project. He also recommends doing your research to find old photos of the home or building to help with the design process, so you can bring it back to life.
"The greenest building is the building that is already built," said Causey on why historic preservation is important. "Bringing those spaces back can be profitable and a benefit to the community."
Stacie is excited to host guests at their home and shares the history as she uncovers it on her Instagram page, Schoolhouse Homestead, so people can follow along on the journey and reach out with any questions.
"There's just so much passion in Franklin in restoring things," said Grissom. "It is a building saved, ya know, for many more generations."
You can also see updates from Stacie on her website, https://schoolhousehomestead.com/