It was just meant to be.
For years, the sweet, neglected little bungalow style house beckoned to Greg Arcara every time he drove through Old Town Helena. Not on Main Street, but right down there on 2nd Street, sitting quietly under the shade of an overgrown tree; the For Sale sign perched in the yard for 1500 days. To a career Realtor like Greg Arcara, that fact alone screamed “damaged goods”; and none of the words coming back from his inquiry surprised him: Foreclosure. Termites. Busted pipes. Questionable support beams. Needs a lot of work. Greg heard those pragmatic words, but they couldn’t cancel out a hunch that whispered into his other ear: This house has a story.
Greg knew that one day he wanted an inviting, comfortable place for our (purposefully) small Real Estate company, Arcara Residential. He wanted a place with a friendly front porch and a lot of character, where people can feel at ease and where he can enjoy becoming a part of a close knit town, specifically Helena. He wanted a place where his agents would look forward to coming to meet with clients or catch up on paperwork. So… he has now officially bought this fixer-upper. The home is not much to look at yet, but we expect to thoroughly enjoy renovating and rescuing it. Think, This Old House meets Our New Office. We want to document the adventure as we go, passing along anything interesting we encounter, including project successes and epic fails. Maybe there will even be some ideas that fellow renovators will enjoy reading about. Please feel free to follow us on our journey!
The History of The Nunnally House
Knowing that this home is part of Old Town Helena’s designation in the National Register of Historical Places, we feel strongly that we need to learn as much as possible about the history of the house; we want to be good custodians of what was once a beloved home for a few generations. We are off to a great start, with the first discovery that the home once had a name: The Nunnally House. To our delight, Nunnally family members have been absolutely wonderful to us and willing to help us learn more about their family home. We are working on tracing back further to learn more about when it was built—we’re thinking 1880’s timeframe—and who built the original home, even before Luther and Grace McClendon Nunnally lived out their lives in the house. Helena residents will know that the house was originally located up the road a piece, close to the current Post Office, and was moved to its current spot a few years ago. We will share our discoveries as these walls begin to talk. Being located within an easy walk of Ken Penhale’s Helena Museum may prove to be perfect. I can say for sure that being within an easy walk of the wonderful Coal Yard restaurant has its appeal, as well; we are already “regulars”.
It Was Meant To Be
One important chapter will already be familiar to anyone who has a passing interest in Helena’s history: the tornado. On May 5, 1933, a catastrophic tornado destroyed much of Helena, resulting in many lives lost and a town forever changed. One of the heavily damaged structures was the original Nunnally home.
Here is where the story gets personal.
My grandmother’s (Ollie Smith Garner) family home in Adamsville, Jefferson County, was completely demolished by a pre-dawn tornado when she was a teenager; several family members were injured, her baby brother Fred was picked up by the tornado and dumped into a field far away, (alive but injured), and she got caught in the wind’s fury with her arms wrapped around a big oak tree, struggling against the roaring winds to make it to the storm shelter. The horrifying event marked her for life. Fear of storms became one of the overriding elements that influenced the way my grandmother lived her life, every day; she could barely have a long conversation without the topic coming up, many decades after the storm, until the day she passed away at almost a hundred years old. The last coherent conversation I had with her before her death in 2011 was about her tornado experience, which I had just written a story about (A Pretty Red Dress).
It was the same tornado.
Yes, amazingly, we have now verified that the same tornado that destroyed Shelby County’s Helena went on to unleash its terror on Jefferson County’s Adamsville. That 1933 tornado got both the Nunnally home and the Smith home, more than thirty miles apart. Something about that shared experience makes me feel very connected to the Nunnally House; many of the boards we will be working hard to reclaim and repurpose will have survived that May 1933 terror, “Mama Ollie’s” tornado. The Smiths survived; the Nunnallys survived; the story continues.
It sure feels that this was simply meant to be.
Here is our starting point; crops growing in the gutter, wasp nests lurking under the swing, shadows of painted images peering from the porch floor… and all that is before even opening the front door. A lot of fun and elbow grease awaits. We would love to hear what you think as we go along!