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 ancestry.com 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.
But, 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: email@example.com. I want to know the rest of the story.
Renovation Update: Varmints
Termites! 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.
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 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
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!
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!
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!