Sometimes a house just speaks to you. In Jenny Smith’s case, the porch of a rundown house at 612 E. McCarty Street caught her eye and ultimately led to a major renovation and restoration of the property that won a Golden Hammer Award from the Historic City of Jefferson.
“The wide steps leading up to the porch and front door are so welcoming,” Smith said. “The rounded porch itself is Queen Ann style and it prominently spans the entire front of the house. It is like this little working-class house is putting on airs!”
Smith, who retired as a trace evidence analyst with the Missouri Highway Patrol, is a long-time board member of the Historic City of Jefferson and passionate about revitalizing the Old Town area. Earlier this year, Smith was named the 2016 Gregory Stockard Distinguished Service Award recipient by the Historic Preservation Commission for Jefferson City, for her dedication to historic preservation.
She and her husband, Tony, have already renovated one historic home in this area on Baldhill Road so when the “for sale” sign was still in the front yard of the small house a year later, they purchased the 1907 home in 2011 for $25,000. They spent the next four plus years investing their time, money, blood, sweat and elbow grease into the renovation.
“We definitely wanted the home to offer practical amenities like a modern kitchen and new heating and cooling system, but we also wanted to retain the historical elements and blend the Gothic and Craftsman architectural styles,” she said. “We took great pains to preserve the integrity of both the exterior and interior of the home.”
The exterior walls were framed to make the house more energy efficient, but Smith is quick to add, “the greenest house is one that is already built.” For her, historic renovation is all about reduce, reuse, recycle and architectural salvage.
She bought the front door and other items from Habitat Restore and also utilized many finds from the abandoned home next door, which due to neglect and many structural issues had to be demolished.
“I contacted the owners and was able to recover one set of pocket doors that were missing, a fireplace mantle and cast iron insert that all were restored. We also were missing woodwork in the living room and we pulled out some of that in the condemned house,” she said.
The original wood floors were sanded and refinished, and Smith removed a wall that previously divided the kitchen from the dining room, resulting in a much more open space.
“While Tony usually handles the more hardcore construction, I am the one who tore out that wall with a flat iron, crow bar and mallet,” said Smith, whose petite frame belies her strength. “I’m really proud of that.”
They tore down, rebuilt and reinforced the front porch themselves but used a company to rebuild the deck in the backyard, one of the few jobs they didn’t do themselves.
As they finish up the last details of the renovation, now there’s a wooden playground in the backyard, and other signs of life in the house.
During the renovation, their daughter, Laura Cole, took a job as an assistant professor in the Department of Architectural Studies at the University of Missouri and moved here from North Carolina. She and her husband, James, a sustainability educator for the city of Columbia, and their 2-year-old son, Everett, spent five months living with her parents before moving into the house around Thanksgiving.
“We all worked together to make the house livable,” said Cole, whose background is in interior design. “We had a hand in shaping the look of the house, including the cabinets and we chose saturated, earthy colors that worked well with the light that comes into the house.”
Laura and her husband, who believe in making as small a footprint as possible on the environment, have put in a garden on the neighboring lot that the Smiths purchased from the Old Town Revitalization Company.
“We’re growing buckwheat, sweet potatoes and having a lot of fun. We like that our backyard is a source of sustenance and that we have a connection to the land and nature,” she said. “We really feel at home and are literally rooted here.”
During the renovation process, people would stop by and share their memories of living in the house with Smith. The documented history of the house includes numerous owners and renters over the years, including a construction engineer for the highway department, an employee of Tribune Printing Company, a prison guard and pharmacist.
“We believe this is a really happy house,” Smith said. “Every house embodies energy and a history and when it goes into a landfill that’s destroyed forever. The homes in this area are such a treasure, full of stone, brick and the craftsmanship from our German ancestors and that is irreplaceable.”
Since they did so much of the labor themselves, the Smiths feel confident that they will be able to recoup most of their investment. For her, economic development and historic preservation go hand-in-hand.
“We saw the potential in this house and we hope it inspires other people to invest in this neighborhood,” Smith said. “The Old Town area is the core of Jefferson City and will revitalize only when families move back into these neighborhoods. To do that, people need to feel safe and feel a sense of community.”
These days her daughter enjoys drinking coffee on the same front porch that originally caught Smith’s attention, Everett likes to watch the cars and people go by on McCarty.
“We love living here,” Cole said. “We had lived in Chicago for a few years and liked the walking and biking lifestyle we had there. “We now walk our son to the library, the Capitol and downtown restaurants and it’s all just a walk up the hill.”