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Home again: Webb School reclaims historic structure

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Linda Key finds leaving her Bell Buckle home 'bittersweet,' but she's glad it will become a part of the Webb School.
(Submitted photo)
After years of outside ownership, a historic Bell Buckle property originally owned by the Webb family is once again a part of the campus.

The Executive Committee of The Webb School Board of Trustees voted on Sept. 29 in a special called meeting to purchase the home and 1.18-acre property located at 309 Webb Road East. The Webb School officially took possession of the property on Thursday, Nov. 12.

Board Chairman Phil Coop said the home's location at the entrance to the campus along Webb Road East, and the fact that it is surrounded by school-owned property on three sides, made it a logical purchase.

"Strategically it's a good property to have," he said. "It's a beautiful home, one of Bell Buckle's nicest older homes."

Built in 1913 for Z.T. and Zoe Crouch, the 1.18-acre property on which the 3,515-square-foot home sets was deeded to Crouch, an early employee of The Webb School, by Webb founder and headmaster William R. "Sawney" Webb.

Linda Key, who has owned the property since 1993, said only three families have lived in the home: The Crouches, Pearl and Virginia Sain, and herself.

Bittersweet decision

Key, a former three-term mayor for the town of Bell Buckle, said her decision to sell the home and move to Florida to live closer to her son and his family has been bittersweet.

"I have a lot of friends here. I have good memories. I just love the house," she said. "But, I told Gordon Bondurant (Webb's interim head of school) and Phil (Coop), it should be Webb's because it sits right in the middle of it."

Key said she purchased the home from the surviving nephews of Virginia Sain without ever going past the front door.

"They had her (Mrs. Sain's) funeral on a Friday and the next Monday I called one of the nephews (Robert Sain) who owned the home."

Fortunately for Key, her call came days before an inquiry from an official at The Webb School, who was also seeking to purchase the home.

According to Key, The Webb School had offered to pay more money for the home. But Robert Sain stuck by his earlier deal with Key.

"He said, 'I'm a man of my word,'" she recalled.

'Celebrity' status

Aside from its Webb heritage, the home is known most for a famous four-legged resident, "Shaker's Shocker," a Tennessee Walking Horse that was raised on the property.

According to Key, Pearl and Virginia Sain's daughter, Betty, rode "Shaker's Shocker" to the grand championship of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration in 1966.

"She was the first woman to ever win the championship," Key said.

Coop, a 1966 graduate of The Webb School, recalled Betty Sain well.

"Webb alums from the 60s will remember Betty," he said. "She was a very lovely young lady with long blonde hair and she would ride her solid black stallion all around the Webb property."

The Webb School is working with the Bedford County Historical Society to get a marker for the home, commemorating it as the site where "Shaker's Shocker" was trained.

Future plans

According to Coop, solid plans for the two-and-a-half story home with partial basement have not yet been made.

"It could be used as a welcome center to greet and host parents and donors and as meeting space for faculty and trustees, or it could be used for housing for the headmaster or assistant headmaster, or for offices," he said.

Webb maintenance workers have already removed several barns that graced the property, as well as a chain link fence that separated it for years from the larger Webb campus. Internal repairs and improvements will be slower to materialize.

Assistant Head of School and Business Manager Joe Iorio said a gift from the estate of Cordary "Gene" Brewster, a 1943 graduate of The Webb School, allowed the school to buy the home. The school received more than $424,000 from Brewster's estate during the 2008-09 fiscal year, following his death on March 5, 2008. Unexpended funds of $190,000 were applied toward the purchase of the historic home and property.

"We're just excited that Webb was able to acquire this piece of property that we've been trying to purchase for years," Iorio said. "It just happened to be the right time, where school enrollment is strong and we could get favorable interest rates. But without Mr. Brewster's gift, it wouldn't have been possible."

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