In the News

Restorer Takes His Time, Loves His Work

By Janet Davey

From The Daily Herald 1987

The old railroad depot, Columbia’s link to once-faraway places as Nashville and Huntsville, Ala. idly sits gathering cobwebs and dust as a forgotten monument to a forgotten time.

But lately some changes have been seen by this grand old lady like floors being swept for the first time in years, a new roof slowly being nailed on and new wood being fitted for the window frames.

The depot is getting a facelift and Columbia is saving one more historic structure to keep the city’s long and glorious past fresh in the mind of it’s citizens.

Restorer Fred Karmie is doing the painstaking work of saving old slate shingles to replace on new lumber and fitting the modern wood measures into the 1902 structure.

“The hardest part of the job is getting the supplies we need” the soft-spoken Karmie said. “They just don’t make things like they did back then.”

This is not to say there is a difference in quality, he said. There is just a difference in the way materials were made. The standard wood measures used today weren’t standard in 1902 so Karmie and his three workers have to plane the wood to a size that will fit what they are replacing.

Slate shingles have been lost and are too expensive to replace, so Karmie is putting up tar shingles in the back of the building to save the more precious old shingles for the building’s front view.

The work is slow and tedious, but that’s the way Karmie works. Just doing one thing at a time and doing it well.

“I have other jobs, but I only work on one project at a time,” he said, “I don’t like when contractors come in and do a little work, then leave.”

Karmie started on the depot last February and expects to have the exterior finished by June. The Interior, if all goes well, could be complete by Christmas, he said.

“I really like this building. It’s good quality,” Karmie said. “It hasn’t got one crack and that means it has a good foundation. That means a lot.”

The interior needs plaster work, moldings restored and wood paneling replaced along with new plumbing and electrical work. Windows are broken. “Vandals even broke the inside frosted glass,” Karmie said. “That’s hard to come by now.”

Owner of the building, Columbia Mayor Buddy Morgan, hired Karmie to do the restoration of the depot, but not for any specific plans.

“I don’t have a tenant now and I’m not really looking for one,” Morgan said. “I just wanted to get it cleaned up.”

Karmie came to Maury County from Pennsylvania on vacation around 18 months ago “just to see why Saturn came to Spring Hill.”

While he was here, he got an offer to restore a house and decided to close his Pennsylvania office and move down.

Originally from the Middle East, Karmie came to the United States in 1955 and was a French teacher for 20 years.

“Then in the 1970s when classrooms got out of control I thought there had to be a better way to make a living,” Karmie chucked.

In the classic American fashion, Karmie found his next career. “I was listening to Paul Harvey and he was advertising if you want to have your own business buy a Service Master Franchise.” Karmie said he did and now credits broadcaster Harvey with getting him into the restoration field.

Karmie said he doesn’t consider himself a contractor or a craftsman. “Have you heard the phrase jack of all trades and a master of none?” he said of himself.

He said he does form some attachment to the buildings he restores. “You get a special kind of feeling when you drive past a building you’ve worked on,” he said.

aBOUt exists to showcase the rich architecture and history in Columbia, Tennessee through highlighting properties owned by David and Debra Hill. Each property has gone through extensive preservation and restoration to become timeless landmarks of the community. Mr. and Mrs. Hill were presented with the Association of the Preservation of Tennessee Antiques (APTA) Virginia Alexander Volunteer of the Year Award in 2019 for their historic preservation efforts in Maury County.