The Bangor Cave Club

Who needs fiction when you have a rich treasure of true Alabama stories to revisit?  For example, did you know that almost a hundred years ago Alabama had an infamous underground nightclub that was lauded from New York to Cuba? Picture yourself going back in time to visit the unique Bangor Cave Club.

Step back in time

It’s Summer of 1937 in Alabama. You are hopeful that the lean years of The Great Depression are finally improving. Maybe you have mixed feelings about the long fight in the state over the gambling issue, and of course you know that most counties are dry as a bone; but an ad running the past few weeks in The Birmingham News has tempted you to consider a local adventure.

Dance in the Most Beautiful Cave in America, the ad beckons. Hear your favorite big band music, performed by the famous recording artist Billy Yates and his 12 Piece Orchestra. Have a magical dining experience created by an expert concierge from Birmingham’s Tutwiler Hotel.  

The Adventure Begins

You catch an evening train on the L&N line with a sense of nervous excitement; after all, you are headed to America’s only underground nightclub, right here in Alabama. The train takes you through the beautiful rolling hills to Blount County. Destination, a natural formation of wonder and breathtaking beauty: Bangor Cave.

You pay the conductor ten cents to stop the train at the cave.  It’s a relief you wore your party clothes, because this crowd is swanky and they are here to party

America’s Only Underground Nightclub

The moment you step into the cave, you are captivated by the lighting. From the cloakroom, to the main room with its huge tiled dance floor, to the elevated orchestra pit carved into an enormous boulder, there are thousands of Broadway style electric lights illuminating the cave features; the stalactites and stalagmites sparkle and shimmer in every color of the rainbow.  Your eyes are drawn up to take in the stars of the night sky painted on the cave ceiling. The wonderful aromas from the moon shaped neon-lit buffet make your mouth water. Your favorite Benny Goodman song Goody Goody is being played by the band; watching dozens of couples swing dancing puts a smile on your face. Your feet just won’t stay still!

You have a night of entertainment ahead of you; a Broadway comedian and a Vaudeville act will be on the stage soon. Musical acts are lined up to keep the joint jumping until the sun comes up. You saunter up to the bar to order a thirty-five cent Martini, and your jaw drops when you notice a tip jar full of actual thousand-dollar bills. Hopefully this colorful scene will be enough for you tonight, because if you decide to venture further into the club you might get more adventure than you wanted.

The Secret Casino

Because down a long, narrow passageway and behind a padlocked door there is an exclusive area of the cave, guarded by strict bouncers.  You will have to show a wallet full of money and pass an interview to go further into the secret caverns holding slot machines, blackjack tables, roulette wheels, and craps games, a full-fledged small casino, highly illegal in this day and time. Tension is high because everyone knows that at any moment the Governor’s men are likely to raid the place.

At the first sign of trouble, the casino boss will cut the electricity, and the croupiers will expertly hide the evidence of gambling, flipping the Mahogany gaming tables over to only show flat dining surfaces.

Spoiler alert: the local sheriff will eventually prevail and all the owners will end up going to jail, with the Bangor Cave Club shuttered forever.

Interestingly, the debate still rages in 2021 about gambling in Alabama; this is obviously not a new issue nor one with an easy answer. Even this week in February 2021, the headlines in the Birmingham News proclaimed that Governor Ivey believes that good can come from a debate on gambling. Whatever they come up with, it probably won’t be housed in a cave.

Not long after the Bangor Cave Club was permanently closed in 1939, a mysterious fire destroyed everything. Many of the natural features of the cave that had survived the construction did not survive the fire. For years afterward Bangor Cave became a remote site only visited by curiosity seekers and vandals. Today the site is privately owned and is not open to the public.

When you need a Realtor

We hope you will go along with us as we bring to you more stories of Everything Alabama, the state where we have always lived and loved. Any time you need help with real estate in Alabama, please keep me in mind. Contact Greg Arcara, (205)566-1426.

Rob’s TOP 5 Tips for Saving Money and Energy

Rob Dreher’s expert knowledge about how consumers can save significantly on home energy costs came from decades of working in this profession at Alabama Power Company. He is a Certified Residential Energy Auditor as well as a licensed REALTOR.  Be on the lookout for Rob’s Monthly Energy Tips!

1. Let the arrival of your power bill each month be a reminder to check on and/or change your HVAC filter. You will see better performance in your air conditioning system, better comfort, better air quality, and better energy efficiency. You don’t want to make your A/C work harder than it needs to in this Alabama heat!

2. Clean your Refrigerator Coils once a year with a brush specifically made to clean the coils. These brushes can be easily found at stores such as Home Depot, Lowes, Amazon, and other specialty stores.  By cleaning the coils yearly it will save energy by making your refrigerator run more efficiently and it should even increase the life of your refrigerator.

3. Change light bulbs to LED bulbs…this will cut down significantly on the the energy consumption of your lighting compared to incandescent, halogen and compact fluorescent alternatives. An example: you can operate an 8 watt LED bulb for 125 hours that would cost 1 kWh in your bill; compare this to a 60 watt incandescent bulb which can only for operated for 17 hours for that same cost of 1 kWh!

4. Use a Microwave Oven for cooking and reheating instead of a normal Oven…the normal oven heats up the kitchen and you’re A/C has to run to remove the heat generated by the oven in the Summer months; thus increasing your power bill.

5. Get on Budget Billing with Alabama Power Company and Spire Gas with your monthly bill. Budget Billing is nothing more that a rolling average.  If your average goes up your monthly amount will go up; but if your monthly average goes down your monthly bill amount will go down.   This will greatly reduce the unexpected higher bills for a hot summer or a cold winter.  Basically you will not pay any more during the year, but Budget Billing will greatly help you budget for your monthly expenses and eliminate surprises in your bill. 

Be on the lookout on the Arcara Residential Facebook page for more great tips from Rob Dreher about how to bring more energy efficiency to your home, which brings a tremendous amount of relief to your wallet. If you need a REALTOR in central Alabama, (or if you want to talk about how to make your home more energy efficient), contact Rob at (205) 966-5551,

Bowling for a Miracle

Thank you, Friends and Associates!

Because of all of you, the Bowling for a Miracle fundraiser we held on August 25 netted $17,000 that will all go towards building a special needs baseball field in Helena, Alabama.

What a fun event, too! We had about 200 bowlers on 32 teams, including two lanes where we were honored to host our Miracle League bowlers.  These beautiful children and adults and their families represented the hopes of the community that the Helena Miracle League field will soon become a reality.

When we organized this event, we wanted it to be fun for everyone; the goal was to raise money, have fun, and raise awareness of the Helena Miracle League.  The support was overwhelming! In no time, all 32 lanes were claimed, featuring teams comprised of co-workers, friends, neighbors, and family; and the names that came in were creative!  “Gutterly Ridiculous that these Aren’t My Shoes” was awarded a special prize for best name. The first eight people who bowled three strikes in a row, (a “turkey”), were awarded real frozen turkeys; but bad bowling was also awarded, with “Drain Right Guttering” t-shirts for gutterballs and “Banana Split” gift cards for a few who threw gnarly splits.

We were honored to have among us our celebrity special guests Helena’s own American Idol Bo Bice, recording artist Jessica Meuse, and author and motivational hero Noah Galloway. One of the true highlights of the entire event was Bo’s singing the National Anthem with legit hero Noah Galloway standing a few feet behind him; it was moving and respectful. Besides, Bo Bice has major chops; his voice is every bit as wonderful as it was when he thrilled us on American Idol! Helena Miracle League is so proud to have Bo as Ambassador.

But the true special guests of the day were our Miracle League bowlers. These courageous individuals who live every day with disabilities came together to raise thousands of dollars through sponsorships, and they showed up ready to celebrate. And celebrate, we did!  Where else might have Luke and Branson have Happy Birthday sung to them by two American Idols and a Dancing with the Stars finalist? Where else might an enthusiastic T-Rex been bowling alongside us?  Where else might they have been awarded trophies of bowling pins painted like superheroes? We hope the bowlers on our Miracle League lanes took a good look around and enjoyed the notion that all of this was for them, to realize their dream of playing baseball on their own field.

Congratulations and a huge thank you to Country Boyz Heating and Cooling for winning the contest of Most Money Raised, which will bring them a party at Beef O’Bradys in Helena! Congratulations to team Split Happens for winning the bowling competition and to member Brian Sparks for winning the Big Green Egg, (donated by Cantley Heating and Air).

We would like to thank everyone who pulled together to knock this one out of the park! Thank you to our hosts, Oak Mountain Lanes, to our delicious pizza provider All Original Pizza in Helena, to our t-shirt maker Larry Hardemon, to all the Helena Miracle League family of volunteers, and certainly to the companies who co-sponsored with Arcara Residential: Beef O’Bradys, Trustmark Mortgage Services, Scozzaro Law, Country Boyz Heating and Air, and DR Horton Homes; also special thanks to our fabulous emcee Shannon Stevens; to our Celebrity guests Bo, Noah, and Jessica, and to the many who sponsored a lane, volunteered to help, or donated to the Silent Auction!  Without you the event would not have been a smashing success.

What a great time it is to get involved with the Helena Miracle League; exciting times are in our near future, and if you want to be a part of it in any way, please check us out! Helena Miracle League, President Mary Chambliss,, 615-300-3047.

Golfers, make plans to participate in Helena Miracle League 2nd Annual Golf Outing, October 8 at Timberline;contact Andy Healy at

Stay tuned for another bowling event next year, same time and place!

Donna and Greg Arcara

A few fun photos:


Remembering April 27, 2011 and a Pretty Red Dress

Today marks seven years since the horrific weather event that forever changed the lives of so many of our friends and family. 62 tornadoes. 252 deaths. Over 2,000 injuries. That day made history, but as my favorite weatherman, James Spann, is wise to point out regularly, on any given day if your life is affected by one tornado, that is your April 27th.

Coming across a stash of my grandmother’s photos from her 1933 tornado evoked the same feelings on this April 27 that tornado images always conjure up. Awe, sadness, fear. Hope. Some things from 1933 haven’t changed; when tragedy strikes, it often brings out the very best of human nature. It sure did in 2011. And as my grandmother’s life proved, it did in 1933.

Immediately after the 2011 Alabama tornadoes, I had a heartfelt conversation with my grandmother; as she reflected on how a tornado had forever changed her life eighty years before, one thing became very clear. People may feel helpless during these tragedies, and gestures may seem small and meaningless in the face of catastrophic problems, but sometimes the smallest of acts can change the course of a life. My grandmother is proof of that, and here is her story as I wrote it for her just a few weeks before her 2011 death. (I am sharing this from our office in Helena, Alabama, which happens to be a restored home that survived the same 1933 tornado that changed my grandmother’s life. I cannot believe that is an accident).

A Pretty Red Dress

ollie calvin bob One spring day in 1933, despite the hard economic times, somewhere there was a nice lady who decided to donate a pretty red dress to the Red Cross . I know this because that red dress changed the course of my grandmother’s life.

My grandmother, Ollie Smith, was a vivacious young lady with lots of brothers and sisters, strict parents, a natural talent for playing the piano, a hard scrabble existence, and a proud stance against taking charity. Church was the cornerstone of her community, and the Smith Family was well known around Jefferson County, Alabama, to showcase amazingly good throw-down gospel singers. Life in Adamsville had a pretty typical and normal rhythm; until the tornado hit.

That tornado must have been a doozy. If you ask my 96-year-old grandmother today, she can’t tell you what day it is but she sure can describe in vivid detail what it felt like to be caught between the house and the storm pit when that tornado came. She talks about the wind picking her up and dropping her back down, and about the roaring sounds, and about the terror. Her baby brother Fred was not too young to remember later that the tornado carried him acres away from the house and dumped him into a field. There were bumps, bruises, and breaks, but all survived. The house and all their belongings were destroyed; a complete and total loss.

Being in Alabama during the Spring of 2011 has brought to life for me what the days after the 1933 tornado must have been like for the Smith family. Despite their almost fanatical stance against receiving charity, they gracefully and gratefully accepted help from the Red Cross and from generous neighbors; boxes of necessities and clothes came in and a new house went up.

In one of those boxes was a pretty red dress.

Ollie and her sister Mabel scrapped over ownership of that dress, and for some long forgotten reason, Ollie won. When she ventured out to a singing in Republic, I wonder if that red dress gave her some extra swagger up there in front of the congregation. I wonder, too, if the church family felt close, and prayerful, and thankful like we all feel now. I wonder if the reason my grandfather, Calvin Garner, decided to visit that church with his buddies that day was because of the recent storm and the aftermath.

The rest of the story is not up for debate. When Calvin Garner saw Ollie Smith in that red dress, he knew. He had to meet that girl; he had to brave his friends’ warnings that those Smith gals were shielded from rascals like him by the strictest father in the county. He proved his character, ran the gauntlet, and got the girl. The smiling, singing girl in the pretty red dress.

That tornado was eighty years ago, and yet that simple exchange still lives on. The giving. The receiving. The generosity; the gratitude. A garment handed over; a garment worn.

Proof that a simple act of giving can be much more than it seems. A donated red dress can change the course of a life.

Translating Alabama-speak

If you are new to central Alabama, Welcome! We hope you enjoy this translation guide for local phrases; it might just come in handy when you are talking with native Alabamians.

1. “Who are you for?”

Your new Alabama neighbors are likely to be friendly; they may even show up with fresh cut flowers or a casserole to welcome you to the neighborhood. Don’t be caught off guard when the first thing they ask you is this question. Who are you for?

Translation: Do you root for Auburn University or the University of Alabama?
Action: Tread carefully here; a wrong answer can stick to you like melted gum on hot asphalt. Observe and do your research before declaring… try yelling War Eagle! and Roll Tide!   Does either just pop out naturally? If you aren’t ready to commit, it is best to hold off instead of answering “neither.” Stall them by asking which team they pull for; they will go on and on, and might possibly even break into a cheer, and will forget they even asked you.
Hint: UAB is the closest large public university; and it is perfectly acceptable to be for both UAB AND one of the other two schools. The proper response here is Go, Blazers!

2. “Are you going down to Mardi Gras?”

Translation: They mean in Mobile, Alabama, original home of Mardi Gras. Not New Orleans.
Action: Go, take the family! And learn to love Moon Pies!

3. “Respect the Polygon.”

Translation: During Tornado Season, you are going to want to follow James Spann, world’s best weatherman; he will tell you when a tornado is headed toward your driveway, and you better believe he has heard of your street. The projected path of the tornado is described as a polygon; if James Spann says you are in the Polygon, you need to take action immediately. See #4.

4. “Do YOU have a plan?”

Translation: When you are in the Polygon (see #3), what are you going to do to keep your family safe? This phrase was also made popular by James Spann. If you don’t follow this advice, he will call you a Bonehead.
Action: Familiarize yourself with severe weather preparedness and create a safety plan for your family.

5. “Snow!”

Translation: There is a tiny chance of a few snow flurries falling from the sky.
Action: Immediately drive, as fast as your car will go, to the closest Piggly Wiggly; time is of the essence. If you delay even an hour, chances are you will lose the chance to buy milk and bread. If you miss this chance, what will you eat when all schools and businesses are shut down for a few days? Think about it.

6. “Bless your heart!”

Translation: It depends on the tone in which it is said. Blessing someone’s heart can be a very sincere expression of empathy; but even more often it can be a thinly veiled insult.
Action: Hone your skills for determining how the heart blessing was meant.
Hint: What type of karma might you be due?

7. “Let’s head to the Beach.”

Translation: The main point of importance here is that whatever beach is being referred to is most definitely on the Alabama Gulf Coast or Florida Panhandle. Any other beach would come with an extra adjective. Don’t be alarmed if this area is called the Redneck Riviera; this is not an insult and is instead a source of huge local pride.
Hint: Whether spoken aloud or not, the Alabama native thinks that all beaches in the world besides those mentioned above are far inferior in sand quality, friendliness, and fresh seafood.

8. “Do you ski?”

Translation: This means water ski. Always.

9. “What are your favorite veggies?”

Translation: Which pole beans, heirloom tomatoes, corn, or other local vegetables do you prefer?
Action: When in doubt, specify Kentucky Wonders or Rattlesnake Beans, Better Boy or Cherokee Purple ripe tomatoes, Silver Queen corn, also all okra, collard greens, fried green tomatoes, mac & cheese, and banana puddin’.

10. “Yay, the clear seed peaches should be out this week.”

Translation: Sometime in July, the best peaches in the world are ready. No, they are not from Georgia; they are from Chilton County, Alabama. These freestone (“clear seed”) peaches are Heaven-sent and easy to eat, as the peach meat doesn’t stick to the seed.

11. “Moon over Homewood.”

Translation: This phrase, also the name of a song by Jack Voorhies, refers to the unclothed rear end of Birmingham’s Vulcan statue, whose butt cheeks hang over the city of Homewood.
Action: You have to go see it for yourself.

12. “I’m about to throw a hissy fit.”

Translation: I am madder than a wet hen.
Translation: I am upset.
Action: Back up. You’ll get a better view to record for Youtube.

13. “He has just gotten too big for his britches.”

Translation: My goodness, he is pretentious.
Disclaimer: This is not meant to be a followup statement to #11.

14. “My car wouldn’t crank this morning.”

Translation: No, the car doesn’t have a crank; Alabamians say crank the car instead of start the car.

15. “I am worn slap out.”

Translation: I am all tuckered out.
Translation: I am tired.



One last hint.  When this place captures your heart and you decide it is home, you need to know what to call yourself.  The proper term is Alabamian. Not Alabaman.

Welcome Home!


Happy New Year!

new years greeting 2016 blog pic

This Old House, Our New Office: One Wall

We are having a great time renovating the little brown house on 2nd Street in Old Town Helena… once again, we are hoping the Nunnally House will shine as an honor to its past and a wink to its future. As our banner says, we are making progress!

Our contractor, Miracle Bill, has continued to deliver; we now have a few working windows and a nice little counter at the entrance; the exterior of the house is patched and painted; Greg has tackled sheetrocking and trimming out the bathroom, and we have all painted inside until our arms were falling off. But this week, my forward progress has basically stopped because I’ve gotten bogged down on ONE WALL. And this week’s blog update will be short because I have spent all my time on that ONE WALL— an accent wall of very old planks that was buried beneath many layers of decades old paint.

office wall before and after stripping

The irony isn’t lost on me; working hard to put paint on most walls while working even harder to take paint off another!

But there is just something about that old barn wood; those old planks that are rough, old, and hand-cut. Underneath the five layers of old paint, there was character, and I wanted to find it. A little paint stripper, a lot of elbow grease, a layer of wax varnish and a coffee colored glaze, and more time than I will admit to, and here are the before and afters. Was it worth it? We would love to hear what you think.  ( or

office wall after

Products used: Sher-Wood glaze by Sherwin Williams, hand sander with #40 abrasive disk, Polyvine wax finish, and a good face mask, gloves, and eye cover. (Use the paint stripper in a very well ventilated area, and clean excess stripper with paint thinner, taking care not to allow these products to touch your skin.)

Inspired by Aunt Nellie

I am not a Realtor; but I live with one. And after twenty three years of being married to Greg Arcara, I just now figured him out, unpredictably, through genealogy.

Greg paying respects blogThe thing about a good, talented career Realtor is that there is no faking it; I’ve known for decades that Greg truly harbors a great passion for houses, homes, neighborhoods, communities, but especially for the sweet feeling of victory when a perfect match is made between a client and their new family home. I am witness to his tossing and turning at night when there are issues, and to his absolute delight when the deal works out for everyone. I get to know his clients even though I never meet them. I know that when we drive through a neighborhood being newly constructed, all I see is mess and sawdust; but Greg sees the possibilities. When we walk in a vacant house and I just see blankness, Greg literally sees furniture placement, colors, the specific comforts of the right home for certain clients. And when I am exasperated over Greg missing weekend days, football games, or late nights, I see an absence where he sees a presence.

It’s not just Greg; one of my very best friends, Tammy Taylor, is one of those obsessive, devoted Realtors whose mind is reeling all the time with possibilities of making that perfect home/homeowner match for someone. You know a true professional Realtor when you see one; it is not the people dabbling in it for a quick buck, some giving the rest of the Realtors a bad name; the good ones are fierce about the ethics because they really care about the rest of the story; they aspire to a “happily ever after” ending for all.

I have never known where this comes from, the stuff that makes Real Estate the only viable career path for a few special people; could it be genetic? In doing Greg’s family history research, I have run across three interesting characters that make me believe there is a Realtor gene and that my husband has it.

Randolph Hernandez colorizedFirst, there is Greg’s 2nd great grandfather, Randolph Manuel Hernandez, a true pioneer of the city of Birmingham. Born in 1838 in Pensacola, of Spanish descent, he and his vivacious wife, Emma, moved to Birmingham the very year it first became a city; the store they opened was noted for being the only store remaining open during the great Cholera epidemic of 1873. They took pride in building the prettiest house in the small new city, and they became involved in helping everyone around them make this brand new location, the Magic City, a true home. Randolph Hernandez earned the reputation of being a highly respected real estate man; by the end of his remarkable life in 1900, Randolph must have had great pride having seen his own real estate business grow with the booming city.

Second, there is Greg’s great-grandfather, born Andrea Tripi in the little Sicilian village of Montemaggiore Belsito way back in 1865; he came to Birmingham, Alabama, in 1895 and reinvented himself as Henry Trippi.

trippie building for blogWhile most of the new Sicilian immigrants in Birmingham were doing hard labor in the coal mines, Henry saw a different path; by 1905 he had opened one of those Italian “Mom and Pop” style grocery/drug stores in a building he built, called The Trippie Building, in downtown Birmingham. He figured out that this rapidly growing city was made of families needing homes; by the time of his death in 1934, he had become quite successful in real estate. There must have been tremendous pride and satisfaction in seeing home ownership become a reality for so many people who had been largely born into poverty.

aunt nellie for blogAnd then there is Greg’s Aunt Nellie Arcara. Aunt Nellie was a pioneer in her own right; she was the first female to be recognized by the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area Real Estate Board, in 1938. People like Aunt Nellie paved the way for future generations; when she worked her way up from a secretary and learned the real estate business during the Great Depression, most of the doors were closed to women. In 1931, when the company she was working for went out of business, Nellie jumped on the opportunity and started her own real estate company. She surmounted discrimination by the Real Estate Board and successfully fought for a change in the board’s by-laws to allow female members; she was finally recognized by the Montgomery County Real Estate Board in 1938. She was a remarkable person; she raised her family, ran a business, and spent a huge amount of energy towards philanthropic causes. By all accounts, she absolutely loved helping people with the huge life decision of choosing a home. Aunt Nellie worked until just about the day of her death in 2001; she was in her 90’s. She just could not stop doing what she loved and was very, very good at.

If not for pioneers like Aunsenia for blogt Nellie, we wouldn’t have great organizations like the Birmingham Women’s Council of Realtors, over which Arcara Residential’s Senia Johnson, Realtor, has presided.


So now I know: I married into the family and the Real Estate gene is real and continuous; our youngest son has decided that he has the bug, too. Here is a bit of advice from someone who has lived with it: when you are deciding on whether to use a Realtor and then selecting which Realtor to use, look for that gleam in their eyes; the one that sees past the structure and imagines the potential home, wheels spinning about how to make every party happy. That smart and ethical person who knows what they are doing because they obsess over it 24×7. The one that does the homework. That’s the Realtor you want on your team.

And when you walk into our new office in Helena, please tip your hat to Aunt Nellie Arcara, whose image will be smiling down, offering inspiration.

be inspired sign



This Old House, Our New Office: Termites and Beyond

termite blog feature

What’s going on with that little brown house on 2nd Street in Old Town Helena? You know, the one that sat on the market for 1500 days, a little saggy, a lot crumbly, and almost forgotten… it has now been properly adopted and will soon be the home of our Real Estate office, Arcara Residential. We are having a wonderful adventure renovating it!

Here is a general update (our third blog entry) for those following our progress; but, first, a mystery we would love to have anyone from Helena help us solve.

The History Mystery

One quick conversation with Helena historian Ken Penhale offered the first clue to finding the history of the little brown house; it was called “the Nunnally House” and had been owned for decades by Luther Nunnally, including when the tornado struck in 1933. As a genealogist, I went to to see whether Luther Nunnally was being chased by any descendants, and I hit the jackpot when I was able to contact his wonderful granddaughter, Dawn. Since making that connection, for us the house has come alive; we think of it as Grace and Luther’s house, and as we renovate, we are trying to be very respectful of the fact that our new office used to be a family home. In fact, the home as it stands today was built by the Nunnally family; whatever structure was there before the 1933 tornado had to be rebuilt using the salvaged old lumber from the original home, partially standing but roofless, and thankfully the Nunnallys boasted talented carpenters in their family. This is the Nunnally House.

fireplace and chimneyBut, still; we know there is more to the story of this old house and we are obsessed with going back further.  When we cut away a large area of paneling above the fireplace, we were struck by how very old the chimney looks to be; it evokes a history that surely predates the 20th century. With the house being on the National Registry of Historic Places, I am making it my mission to find out its deep history. And I need help; I have spent hours pouring over the old deed books and tax records in the dusty rooms at the Shelby County Courthouse and the Tax Assessor’s offices; I found some cool things! But I haven’t so far found anything that would tell us who first built the pre-tornado house or when. If you know of any Helena historians who like a good challenge, please refer them to my Nunnally House research and pass along my email address:  I want to know the rest of the story.

Renovation Update: Varmints

screwdriver in rotten beamTermites! Spiders! Wasps and hornets! Ants galore! Who wants to visit a business with those as the inhabitants?  Those little critters have wreaked havoc on the Nunnally House and they must be made to pay. The obvious worst enemy has been the termites; they are no longer active underneath the house, but their march of destruction was ridiculous. We knew we had trouble ahead the instant my brother was able to easily jab a screwdriver through one of the main support beams; bottom line is that everything had to come out.

all floors out

Thankfully we have a wonderful, talented (and patient) contractor helping us; (his name is Bill Carroll, Central Alabama Homecrafters, 205-312-8317). Bill and his crew were able to install new floor joists and a solid subfloor, so now we can safely claim that our clients won’t fall into the crawl space. Several cans of wasp spray, some heavy stomping, and we are making progress.


If you suffer from Arachnaphobia, as I do, you will not enjoy seeing our largest inhabitant, Charlene, who had made her ancient nest on our ceiling and was planning Helena’s scariest Halloween Party. (Rest in Peace, Charlene).
Now, in the words of Tangeena, from Poltergeist: “This house is clean.”

The colorssherwin williams color palette

The ugly little brown termite-infested house will soon be no more. In fact, as we have test-painted a small section in our new colors, by contrast the original color looks almost pink! Being in the historic district, we had to stay within the approved palette of earth tones; we would love to know what you think about the exterior colors we will be using:
• Main color: (Sherwin Williams) Colonial Revival Green Stone
• Trim color: (Sherwin Williams) Alabaster
• Door color: (Sherwin Williams) Aurora Brown
• Porch Floor color: (Sherwin Williams) Urbane Bronze

The Wood

barn door

You may have heard screeches of mourning from the house; those would be from our loud realization that the original hardwood floors absolutely could NOT BE SAVED. Yes, a few splintered pieces will be repurposed; but for the most part, we have had to accept this fact and move on. The loss of the original floors hurt our feelings, but we are thrilled that most walls are the original planks, full of weathered stories.

As for those very old floor joists: a good bit of the wonderful heart of pine wood could be reclaimed and we have great plans to build a conference room table and a vanity top for the bathroom from them. Our miracle worker, Bill Carroll, has already built a beautiful barn door for our conference room from the wood. Take that, termites!


Looking Old

As much as we want everything to be reclaimed and authentic, we will also have to occasionally turn to new resources to blend in with the “old look” in keeping with the home. We decided to paint the 1960’s wood paneling in the big room (wrong decade). We are tweaking the baseboards and crown moulding, adding new where needed, so it will all be matching, simple 1”x6” trim throughout the entire house. And through the talents of Miracle Bill, we are adding several old-looking decorative beams to the ceilings. Before and after photos coming soon!

Here is a tip I learned for making new wood look old; from here, you could distress it, splatter it, paint it, and generally throw stuff at it to give it character.  To age new wood:  First, paint the wood with a very strong brew of tea and coffee, and let dry.  Second, go over that with a layer of the special brew described as follows: a big chunk of a steel wool pad, steeped in vinegar for at least 24 hours.  Within just a few minutes, you will be amazed at how much the new wood becomes old in appearance!

wood aging

To Be Continued…

There is much to be done and not many “after” photos to show yet, but we will get there soon. Having the delightful neighbors we have met, the wonderful food to enjoy right up the street, the sights of Buck Creek, and the nostalgic sounds of the trains coming down the track make this project a joy to take on. We love Helena!


This Old House, Our New Office: Upcycling Furniture

dresser after from front

It’s happening!

We have secured the necessary approvals, created a master plan, and hired a wonderfully talented contractor to help us, (we call him Miracle Bill), and the “little brown house” down on 2nd street in Old Town Helena, historically known as the Nunnally House, is well on its way to being rescued and repurposed as our real estate office by the end of the year. If you drive by you may see sawdust flying and hear the ring of hammers; and you may see a couple of grubby looking family members swinging a paint brush. Many before and after photos will be posted soon; we can’t wait!

In the meantime, whoever started this latest craze to repurpose everything from furniture to toilet paper rolls is a genius. With a little imagination, a hammer, and a can of paint, a lot of fun can be had. When our oldest son took our old bedroom suit with him to college this year, we were left with a lonely Cherry wood triple dresser that had a broken drawer and a ruined finish. Revealing how much we have caught Helena Fever, the treasure that we created from that old dresser, to be used as our conference room console, celebrates the town with its new decor.

We love being in an area with such a colorful history; a visit to Ken Penhale’s Helena Museum is highly recommended for anyone wanting to know more. We wanted to pay homage to Helena with the subway-style lettering on the console, and also with the image of the steam engine on the top.
Here are the before and after pics:
dresser before and after composite
For any do-it-yourselfers out there, included below are the details of how we upcycled our old dresser into our new Helena Conference Room Console. Feel free to share!

Step 1. Preparation

I emptied our old triple dresser, vacuumed around the drawers, and quickly cleaned the surfaces with vinegar. Because I didn’t want to be stuck with shopping for the exact size drawer pulls (2 ½” distance between screws), I removed the hardware and filled in those holes with wood putty. I also decided to get rid of the bottom two drawers, one of which was broken anyway. I hammered out the wooden bar separating those bottom drawers, which left a gouged-out area that also had to be filled in with wood putty. After letting the putty set up, I sanded the filled areas smooth and also lightly sanded the entire surface to be painted, with 240 grit sandpaper… just enough to rough it up a little bit. Because the finish on the dresser top was compromised, I decided to seal it so the stain wouldn’t come creeping back through later—for this I used American Décor Stain Blocker Sealer, quickly applying an even coat with a sponge brush across the top of the dresser. The rest of the stained wood looked as if the factory clear seal was still intact, so I didn’t seal anything except the top.

Painting Steps

Painting Steps

Anyone who has chalk painted knows you probably don’t have to prime first—in fact, most of the chalk painting companies sell that as a feature. However, I decided to play it safe and prime the piece anyway, knowing this project would have some work into it and not being willing to risk a problem later. I painted the entire piece with gray Zinsser 1-2-3 Latex Primer for All Surfaces.

While the primer was drying, I created my master plan for which words I wanted to use, all with a local flavor of the town of Helena, Alabama.dresser console word plan

Step 2. Creating Lettering Stencils

I decided to use stencil vinyl, which has great adhesive quality but is easily removable—you can find it in the craft stores, with thdresser stencil materiale personal cutting machines. I used a roll of Silhouette stencil material from Michael’s; their 40% off coupon is a favorite.

I knew I wanted the words to have the general feel of subway lettering, with a combination of fonts; I spent way too much time mulling over font choices for each word! I would hope others are way more decisive I was, but if I had it to do all over the same trap would get me again. My words fell into two categories: those I would have to cut out by hand, and those I had the ability to cut using my old, barely used Cricut machine, for which I don’t own many font cartridges. I ended up with about half and half.

For the hand-cut letters, I printed the words onto paper, and then using a tape runner, I stuck those letters onto the dresser cutting out letterstencil material and cut it out precisely as possible. Believe it or not, cutting out these letters by hand went much quicker than expected; a good Netflix binge watch can make that time fly by. I highly recommend the little scissors by Cutter Bee.

For the Cricut-cut letters, I used Cricut Craft Room to plan dresser cricutthe arrangement that would yield the most letters per page, and just had to push a button to have the letters cut out beautifully. If only I had one of those new Cricuts where you can use any font or your own designs! I would be dangerous.

Step 3. Painting

Back to the furniture, it was time to paint; I used Valspar Chalky Finish Paint from Lowes, which can be tinted to match any color you choose. I selected two Sherwin Williams colors: Urbane Bronze (a grayish neutral) and Dover White. As expected, the chalk paint went on beautifully! I painted the entire body of the dresser with the Urbane Bronze, and the front of the drawers with the Dover White, and left it all to dry.

dresser with solid underpainting
Once completely dry, the next step was to afix the letters onto the drawer fronts; knowing thisdresser drawer with lettering stencils before paint was supposed to be rustic, I just eyeballed the placement of the letters to make the words fit. Here it is important that the letters are sealed down tight; in fact, I went over them with a brayer to make sure they were good and flat.

Once all the letters were down, I painted the drawer fronts, right over the stencil letters, with the Urbane Bronze, being careful not to swipe the paint from side to side, but instead using the brush at more of a right angle in something of a jabbing motion—the main thing is not to let too much paint get up under the letterdresser pulling stencil letter offs. It was ok for me if a little paint leaked in because I was going for “messy” but in most cases this wouldn’t be desirable.

Once the paint dried, the letters pealed off easily—for any of them that seemed hard to get started, I used a straight pin to get a good grip on the vinyl and they all cooperated nicely.

At this point, I had a stark gray and white piece of furniture; two big things were still left to do. First, I wanted to do an image transfer to get a huge steam engine chugging across the top. Second, I really wanted to age the piece to have it fit in with our old house. Then I would be down to finishing touches.

dresser with words uncovered

Step 4. Image Transfer

Transferring an image onto furniture can be a blast. Since our house is a few hundred feet from a railroad track, I knew we wanted an old steam engine picture. Using Photoshop, I created a black and white, high contrast image from an old scan of a small print we had, and resized it to sixty inches long at 300 dpi. To do an image transfer with this technique, you have to have it printed using toner, and not ink jet, technology; the good news is that the local Kinkos/Fedex offices can print using that technology and it is very affordable! Our 18×60” print, which they printed dresser printed out steam engine shown on dresser before gluing downon their toner-based plotter, cost less than $5 and was printed on thin white “plain” paper, which is perfect for the image transfer. Keep in mind that your image will be applied face down, so you will need to reverse it before printing if it has a “right” direction.

I would recommend that you choose something smaller for your first image transfer; but unless you choose something very small, it helps to have someone help you with this part so you can work quickly enough. I had a great assistant named Greg Arcara; we tacked the steam engine print to our garage wall so it would stay flat while applying the glue—the glue goes onto the “front” side of the print.

For this step, we used Liquitex Matte Medium, which has the consistency of glue, and a large, soft natural bristle brush. Working rapidly, we applied a very generous coat of the Matte Medium onto the entire front of the print, and carefully placed it face down onto the top of the dresser before it began to dry. I first smoothed it down with my hand, and thendresser opaque paper glued down, starting from the middle and working toward the outside, flattened it with a brayer to remove all air bubbles and to ensure a good seal. It is vitally important not to get a tear in the paper… a wrinkle is better than a tear. Also, it is important to not get any of the glue on the back side… the side you are pressing on needs to stay dry and fibrous. Once the image is glued down it needs to cure for a long time; knowing how large this image was, I gave it four days to cure fully before moving to the next step.

The next part is where the magic happens.

dresser wetting paper on trainWorking in one small area at a time, I lightly sprayed water onto the paper and let it soak in. Using my fingers, I started rubbing the paper away—the magic is that as the paper is dissolved, it leaves behind the image! This step is long and tedious; using your fingers to rub the paper fibers away is the best technique, but it takes a long time; I worked on this intermittently for several days. Every time I walked away thinking the image was completely uncovered, I would return the next day to see paper pulp had magically reappeared overnight. The good news is that the end result was worth it!

dresser paper partially rubbed off
Once the entire image was finally clean and free of paper pulp, I decided I didn’t like the hard edges of thedresser scratched image edges borders; a little steel wool worked great to distress the edges and blend them better into a nice transition. Finally, the image looked exactly as I had envisioned. I applied several coats of my favorite varnish to protect that image.

Final view from above:
dresser after from above


The first step to aging the console was quick and easy; using medium sandpaper and steel wool, I sanded the edges down to the primer and in some spots down to the wood, and I also sanded over the letters to get them smooth and blended; I also added a few random scratches, most of them on purpose. I applied one thin coating of my favorite new varnish all over and let it dry.

What is my favorite new varnish? I can’t say enough about how much I love the clear satin wax finish varnish by Polyvine! This varnish has wax in it, and I can say I will NEVER AGAIN fight with clear or dark wax typically used over chalk paint. This stuff is amazing. It dries to a perfect, fine furniture sheen.

dresser before and after glazingTo further age the piece, I applied a coat of my favorite glaze, Sher-Wood Glaze by Sherwin Williams, in the color Van Dyke Brown. Using old white t-shirts, I wiped the glaze off immediately, only letting it collect in the crevices; in spots where it needed to come away more cleanly, I used a little mineral spirits to get more of the glaze pulled back up. This glaze gave the piece the exact finish I was looking for, the before and after to the left.


Finishing Touches

dresser shiny binI found a few perfectly sized galvanized metal bins at Michael’s that would work well in the console; the only problem was they were too shiny and new looking. My one big epic fail of this project was the entire day I spent trying to age those bins, using amazing techniques offered up by “Pinterest people”; after a day of using chemicals, heat, powders, and scrubbing, I washed the bins to reveal their new found antique appearance—only to be left with shiny, perfect bins that wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow if returned at Michaels just as they were! Turns out—those techniques don’t work if the metal bins have been factory clear-coated with something protecting them. Five minutes with my Sher-Wood Glaze and those bins looked as old and dirty as I wanted them to. I wish I could have that day back! Live and learn.
dresser aged bin

For the rim around the dresser top, I used AMACO Rub N Buff silver wax, applied with my fingers and rubbed to a sheen. To age it, I wiped it down with a rag that still had some Sher-Wood glaze on it, just enough to tone it down.
The round, clear drawer pulls were repurposed from a friend’s project. Voila!
dresser after from front
I am so excited about how this project turned out! Let me know what you think! Like us on Facebook for more fun projects as we tackle This Old House: Our New Office, Helena style.

All information on this website is deemed reliable, but not guaranteed, and may change without notice. Any square footage is approximate.

Property of Arcara Residential, LLC; 771 2nd Street; Helena, AL 35080