Sun Herald Article about the Webb School


Class is in

By Tammy Smith

If you listen very quietly, you can almost hear chairs scraping on the hardwood floors, erasers clapping outside under the Live oak's canopy or the clamor of tiny voices echoing in the large rooms.

But come back to the present, and you are in the home of Ellis Anderson. This is the former Webb School, built ca. 1913, where scores of little Bay St. Louis first- through fourth-graders clambered up the steps to class for decades.

Today, Anderson occupies one side of the Mississippi Landmark stucco structure's upstairs and rents the other side to vacationers on a weekly or monthly basis. The rent side once held the first and second grades, and her side was home to the third and fourth grades.

The wide porch tempts the visitor to sit for a while and enjoy cool breezes, but there are other treasures to explore inside.

Enter Anderson's home, and the eye is drawn upward to the 12-foot ceilings as well as the bed nook, which serves as the "winter bedroom" as well as a reading retreat. Small transom windows provide views of the neighborhood and the treetops outside.

"I wanted a reading nest upstairs," she said. "It's the most wonderful place to read in bed. And it's like sleeping in a treehouse. It fulfills all the kid fantasies. And when the moon is out, you can follow it across the sky."

The built-in bed table has an unusual top.

"The school was closed in the '60s, and the city took this over as a civic building. It was used for art classes, civil defense - a lot of different things, I'm told. In the '90s, they sold it to a nonprofit for 12-step meetings, and I bought it from that organization." Anderson said. "We found this wooden sign that had the 12 steps, and now it's the tabletop. It just seemed like a great way to honor them."

The main classroom is also the great room, a combination of Anderson's dining and living rooms and summer bedroom. The dining room is defined by an Oriental rug which also covers small holes in the wood floors where desks were once bolted. Large windows and more transoms open to welcome breezes that let air circulate through the room.

Antiques that reflect Anderson's eclectic interests are found throughout the home, but the living room area especially holds examples. An Art Deco-period table topped with blue mirrored glass hides a secret in its half-moon legs: two small bar areas revealed by pressing on the flat sides.

The kitchen is remembered by one of Anderson's acquaintances who attended Webb School as "the paddling room," but today it's cheerful and welcoming. Cabinets, crafted by Tommy Lewis, are made from heart pine, salvaged timber that was originally part of a 150-year-old house destroyed by Katrina. The countertops lend simple elegance with a budget in mind.

"They're really monster-sized floor tiles cut to size," she said.

The master bath was originally the boys' bathroom. Beaded board plays a big role here as well as throughout the home, including the vanity made by cabinetmaker Mark Carl.

The small powder room in the foyer has an adorable fixture that captures everyone's attention, Anderson said.

"Well, I said I needed a sink out of a boat," she said, explaining how she chose the tiny fixture that fits the compact space perfectly. Friends went antiquing, found the sink for her and gave it to her as a Christmas present.

In the front yard, a boat that serves as a large flower bed has a poignant history. The boat had been in a neighbor's yard for years after her son was killed in an accident in it. During the height of Katrina, the boat came loose and floated up to the neighbor and three others who were close to drowning. They climbed in the boat, and it came to rest in Anderson's front yard where it stands today as a memorial to the young man who died and a tribute to the four lives the boat saved.

Currently, it bears vinca, small zinnias, shrimp plants, sunflowers and lantana. In cooler months, bright snapdragons and pansies bloom there.

Katrina's waters did not reach the living area of her home, although the kitchen sustained damage and the roof was damaged. The Webb School weathered the storm to remain a Bay St. Louis, as well as Mississippi, landmark. And Anderson appreciates her responsibility in helping it survive for more years.

"Owning a historic building is stewardship," she said, then smiled. "It's also just a really neat place."

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