- Associated Press - Sunday, October 12, 2014

ELLISVILLE, Miss. (AP) - Within the walls of Ellisville’s historic Deason Home are many historical and supernatural stories that lead its guests to wonder: “If these walls could talk; what would they say?”

Now, with the help of University of Southern Mississippi professor Grant Harley’s dendrochronology class, the house, which is more than 160 years old, will have a chance to tell a story the public has never heard before.

Dendrochronology, the study of tree-ring dating, can pinpoint the year and the season a tree was cut. By taking a look at the natural markings of the longleaf timber that make up the Deason Home, that’s just what Harley and his students plan to do.

Chris Speagle, a senior geography major and history minor from Ellisville, was one of about 20 USM climbing through and taking wooden samples from what is said to be Jones County’s oldest home.

Each wood sample was taken by using a hollow shaft and mechanical drill bit to extract pencil-size samples from various points in the house.

Speagle said the tedious process takes approximately 30 minutes to acquire samples.

With a scholarship allowing him to do research on the house and its dendrochronological history, Speagle, 23, said he’s looking forward to presenting his findings at conferences and in scientific journals.

With portions of the house added throughout the years as different members of Amos Deason’s extended family re-created the space to suit their needs, Harley’s class will seek to help the home’s current owner fill in the house’s construction timeline.

Harley said while the house, built circa 1845, remained with members of the extended Deason family until late 1991, when it was handed over to the Tallahala Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the original structure has seen many changes since it was built.

“You can actually see the additional seam where the front part of the house ended, and they subsequently added on multiple times,” Harley said. “That’s the cool thing about what we’re doing. We’ll be able to look at when each of these trees died and that will give us an idea of the range of construction dates. … It will probably be December until we have a good idea of when the house was constructed.”

Harley said the Deason Home has provided researchers with a historic gift.

“There is actually an engraving on one of the porch posts,” he said. “It says J.W. 1847 June,’ which in this line of work is phenomenal because people didn’t usually backdate graffiti. They would finish a porch or structure and then sign it. It usually will provide a good idea of when the house was built, and then it’s confirmed with tree-ring dating.”

Growing up in Ellisville, Speagle said the Deason Home was only a few blocks away from his schools so it was an obvious choice of research topic.

“I would pass by the house almost every day,” he said.

Speagle said his interest in history led him to research the home and find out about its colorful past including the legend of hidden gold and a murder.

The Deason Home has a rich history dating back to the Civil War era when Confederate Maj. Amos McLemore was shot when he was staying with Amos Deason’s family while on a mission to round up Confederate deserters.

While McLemore later died at his home in Eastabuchie, he left behind a large blood stain on the family’s floor - a stain that Harley and Speagle say can still be seen from underneath the house.

Senior geography major Phillip Antosca, a 24-year-old Tylertown native, said he left the blood stain to Harley and the few students willing to enter the crawl space underneath the house while he and a crew gathered samples from the attic and interior of the house.

“We do a lot of study work in the classroom and it’s good to get out and actually be hands on and get a feel of what it’s really like. (The house) was quite fascinating. I had no idea that there was a tale of someone getting shot.”

Junior geography major Jeratt Jacobs, a 20-year-old native of Jackson, Tennessee, said a recent visit was the first time he’d ever been to Ellisville.

“It was really nice actually going out there and getting hands-on experience,” Jacobs said. “(The DAR members) were super excited for us being there. One of the biggest things they wanted us to figure out was when each addition was added on. They felt like one of the additions was a separate building that was brought in and added on to the back of the house because there were exterior windows in the inside of the house.”

Harley said he’s excited that his students are getting the chance to help solve historical puzzles like the ones of the Deason Home.

“It’s really neat to see how they pieced together all these clues they’d get from architecture and the way something was built and hopefully we’re going to be able to bring in the missing piece of the puzzle to pull everything together and help everything make sense.”

Frances Murphy, president of the Tallahala Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, said she was thrilled to work with Harley and his students.

“We’re fairly sure that possibly 1847 was the time (the house) was finished and when one of the builders signed his name in it,” she said. “Of course, it would be great to have confirmation and get the information we’ll get from the study.”

Murphy said the study is a win-win for both the historical home and current and future dendrochronology students.

“The information they get from our house will be added to other information, and that information will be added in to help them confirm what they’ve already learned and to keep adding to it. It will be available for other people and written up in papers, and that will give us a little publicity as well.”

Harley said he was glad to offer his students a hands-on experience that would also provide DAR members with more information about their historic home.

“The cool thing to us is that you don’t get a lot of opportunities to reach out to the general public and involve them in research that’s going on at USM,” he said. “A lot of times we’re stuck in here doing our own thing, but when we can involve the general public, I think it’s beneficial to everybody.”

Today, the Deason Home is available for historical and ghost tours, as well as weddings and other events.

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Information from: The Hattiesburg American, https://www.hattiesburgamerican.com

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