Three women, one's husband and a Nashville architect have come together to restore the Peoples Bank of Pembroke -- not to operate as a bank again but to generate a different type of currency.

The five partners -- Mary Helen Haddock Wheeler, Nancy Garnett Morris, Anne Rayner, her husband Fred Kirchner, and architect Baird Dixon -- imagine the building becoming a community event center after an in-depth restoration project.

"It's not going to be a bank, but we're thinking of making it a cafe-style community gathering place," Rayner said.

It all began when the bank building went up for auction two summers ago.

Wheeler, a Pembroke native, went back and forth bidding online against a New York investor who ultimately won when time ran out.

"He had never even been to Kentucky," Wheeler said. "I let it go, but Pembroke was trying to get him to give it to the town, but he didn't want to do that; he wanted to sell it."

Haddock had never met Rayner and the rest of her crew, but when she heard they were working to buy it from the investor's local realtor last fall, she wanted in.

"I had never met these people before in my life, but it felt like they were old family in a way," Haddock said. "They were good."

The group purchased the building in October and established the Preservation 1898 LLC.

"I call us 'the Board of Merry Dreamers,'" Rayner said, noting that the building is going to need a lot of work before it can reopen.

Rayner, who is the seventh generation of Maple Hurst Farm Inc. in Pembroke, discovered the building was for sale while scouting an apartment flat for a friend.

"It's not by accident that I was stopped by the train here," recalled the longtime Vanderbilt University photographer. "I just photographed the Pembroke bank for-sale sign and sent it to (my friend), but she said it was too small for her."

Rayner, however, couldn't get it out of her head.

"It stuck with me," she said. "I love history and old structures, and there's not a lot of historic buildings left. I just want to save what we have left."

Standing between Pembroke City Hall and the railroad tracks, the 4,600-square-foot, two-story building was built in 1898. Historic pictures from the collection of county historian William Turner show well-dressed men standing near a bank teller counter in the 1920s.

"The bank was in existence before this building, but I don't know what they operated out of," Morris said, noting that her relative, W.W. Garnett, was the bank president in the early years.

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Morris also has farming roots in Pembroke, being the fifth generation of Broadview Farm on Bradshaw Road, but she attends Second Presbyterian Church in Nashville with Rayner and her husband where they all live.

Rayner presented the idea to buy the bank one Sunday at church, and Morris was all in.

"This was the first job I ever had, working with my grandfather in that bank after supper," Morris recalled. "They (my family) were longtime Pembrokans."

Dixon, the architect, also attends their church in Nashville and is helping the crew envision what the building can be.

"He's got that same draw to older buildings to restore and preserve them," Rayner said.

The structure is currently being gutted to reveal its original design elements. High, tin ceilings are exposed, showing intricate designs on each square tile, juxtaposed against four layers of peeling wallpaper. There is a piece of wainscotting in the back of the building that Rayner said she'd like to include in the new design, as well as three medallions on the ceiling where chandeliers once hung.

Monday, four of the partners stood inside the disheveled unit, looking past its current state to a future that pays homage to history while creating new opportunities for their hometown.

"An event space or gallery," the group rattled off. "A place to play Bunco ... or classes to learn how to quilt. Maybe even a bakery."

Kirchner pictures the steel bank vault being a private dining space of some sort, maybe for a restaurant.

In its final years as a bank, the building was a branch for BB&T and then Planters, before it went vacant and was auctioned off.

With everyone on board, the crew now has to determine how to get the building structurally sound without going under financially.

"With any old building, it's a money pit," Rayner said, noting it needs an up-to-date HVAC system and all new plumbing. Some spots on the ceiling hint at water damage, and they've also got to decide what to keep, sell and throw out.

They're actively trying to sell a bank-document vault if anyone needs it.

Rayner said the process of restoration will be slow, unless another investor comes along with the funds to get the ball rolling sooner.

"The speed we're able to move will depend on folks who come along to help us," she said. "It's really a community opportunity to restore a very important structure in this town."

Right now, the group is passing the word around the community, hoping people from all backgrounds will connect to it.

"We're trying to get the black and white and Amish and Mennonite communities together to buy-in to this place," said Wheeler, who plans to retire in Pembroke. "For a long time, this community has been segregated heavily, culturally. But working together, it's been interesting. They've had to work together because it's a farming community."

Rayner said they are looking into historic preservation grants and other avenues of funding.

As they determine they're next plan of action, the group holds on to the goal of making their families and community proud.

"This used to be a booming little community if you look back at historic photographs of it," Morris said. "We're the grandchildren of the folks who actually built this community, and we're trying really hard to draw attention back to the history."

Reach Zirconia Alleyne at 270-887-3243 or zalleyne@kentuckynewera.com.

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