The Devil Queen

How my wife and I sold our souls to the Queen Anne Victorian we tried to save.

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Location: Crow Mountain, Arkansas, United States

Synopsis: This is a cautionary tale. A seriously disturbed couple find the charming, old ruin of a Queen Anne Victorian in Russellville, Arkansas, and buy it for $1.00. They tore the roof off, cut it in half, and had it moved to some land they owned sixteen miles away because they didn't know any better. Since then, they have hired and fired contractors, had all of their tools stolen, re-wired, re-plumbed, insulated, and essentially rebuilt the entire house. Their only problem is that after four years it still isn't finished. Now they are tired, broke, and wonder what in the hell it is they've done to themselves. And, it's haunted.
(Last updated on April 3, 2008)

Press: Russellville Courier Article - December 2003, HGTV website article, AP story - October 2006, and Victorian Homes Magazine - February 2008 (link coming soon).
Art: From time to time, I receive requests for my art. If you would like to look at more of my art, go to The Failed Artist. If you would like to buy my art, email me. I am more than happy to answer any questions you might have. Thanks!

Friday, September 21, 2007

WiFi, Beer, and Urban Planning

The article below is in this week's Atkins Chronicle.

Urban planners, schmanners,who needs them anyway?
By Beckie Tyson

"Downtown Atkins has developed into an example of one of the vanguards of urban planning. Not that any high-paid urban planning consultants were called in to create a master plan for a city wrestling with urban sprawl.
What is happening is that a couple of families who love historical buildings have taken some of Atkins' oldest downtown structures and brought them back to life through loving restoration. They are now residing in what was once a commercial area.
The "new urbanisim," a buzz word in urban planning, seeks to create walkable communities within larger towns by creating multi-use communities where people can live and work and shop without burning expensive fossil fuels or emitting harmful gases into the air.
Of course, Atkins was not in any danger of developing a smog problem. Nor was it sprawling to such lengths that our infrastructure was being strained. Nevertheless, Atkins is in danger of losing its character and history as more and more businesses move to the edges of town.
Some historic buildings have already been torn down and replaced with a parking lot. Then the facility using the parking lot decided to move to the edge of town as well.
Enter Mark and Terrie Wood, who have bought several of Atkins' oldest business places and turned them into residences. They are the ones who told Melanie and Ward Young about another old building for sale.
The Youngs had started a business in Russellville and were looking for a place to relocate. Through their church, they learned from the Woods about the old Churchill Grocery building in Atkins.
Atkins businessman Larry Burris had sold the building to the Faith Harvest Fellowship. The church had visions of turning the place into a worship center with Sunday school rooms and youth facilities. However, the project was proving to be more expensive and extensive than church members had anticipated.
The Youngs made church members an offer they could not refuse and slowly started uncovering years of neglect to reveal the building that had once been an important part of Atkins' downtown.
First to be restored was the area that had housed, at various times, Churchill Grocery, a barber shop and a thrift store. That long open building, once they removed some walls, became their business office, Ultra Cad, which develops structural designs for metal buildings.
Next they set to work on the upstairs to turn it into a residence.
To learn more about the building's history, Melanie Young said they consulted Atkins natives about their memories of the old building.
"We have always liked old downtown buildings," Melanie said. "They have so much history and character. … We go to other towns and talk to their people about their old buildings."
So, what have they been able to learn about their purchase? "Not as much as we'd like to," Melanie said.
They have talked to Lissa Churchill Teal, whose father, "Ham" Churchill owned Churchill Grocery in the 1940s and early 1950s. As a toddler, Lissa lived above the grocery store with her mother and father.
Melanie and Wade have drawn on Lissa's memories to help recreate the upstairs as it might have been when she lived up there, with modern amenities, though. Melanie said Lissa's father put the plumbing in the upstairs and added wainscoting on the wall beside the staircase.
Melanie said Lissa told her a story of falling down the steep staircase which leads to the upstairs when a toddler, prompting her mother, Lucille, to insist that the family move into safer quarters for Lissa's sake.
When restoring the office area, they found an old well which they have turned into an interesting architectural detail - a fountain in the middle of the office. They have also preserved the original pressed steel ceiling, a large skylight, a cast iron pipe that serves as the drain for all the upstairs plumbing and old brick walls that had been plastered over.
Next, they tackled the balcony above the store and what was a larger grocery store in the late 1950s.
"The floor had rotted out," Melanie said.
"There were bats living up here," Wade said. He caught and removed them with a fish net.
They replaced the balcony floor with tile and had Heritage Window and Door of Russellville find windows and doors that closely resembled the original ones. They installed ceiling fans and now have a lovely verandah overlooking Avenue One NE.
Restoration of the upstairs living quarters has taken more time than they expected.
Without knowing any definite history of the building, they have followed clues to come to certain conclusions. They believe the front of the lower part of the building was built by 1910. Van Tyson, at the Atkins Chronicle, showed them 1910 city fire maps that did not show the second story. Then maps from the 1920s do show a second story.
Mary Anna Bailey, niece of E.E. Cheek, thinks her uncle may have built the second story.
The Youngs found a steel beam with the name of a company that went out of business in 1921.
Some clues led them to believe the upper story must have been a boarding house. A hallway across the back of the upper floor has what looks like outside windows opening onto it. They think the hallway was used as an entryway to get to the various rooms.
They have found evidence in some of the inside walls that point to their once having been outside walls and doorways. The Youngs have replaced all of the windows on the back side of the building and plan to keep the unusual hallway in their finished residence.
When completed, the upstairs will have two bedrooms, a kitchen and dining room, and study or library and a living room. Their bathroom will sport a claw-foot tub.
Last to be restored will be what used to be the larger grocery store. The two types of steel ceilings make the Youngs believe the front part is much older than the back part. Wade said they may turn the area into a private recreation room with a ping pong table and games. They have set up a wood burning stove in the middle of the area using what they believe was the original chimney.
"The skylight in this room (when restored) will dwarf the one in the office," Wade said.
Other artifacts found as they searched the building include a 1942 silver 50-cent piece and a WPA sign.
Until the upstairs is livable, the Youngs are living in a small apartment at the back of their office.
Experts say the new urbanism is not for everyone. Some people like to live away from the hustle and bustle of a downtown area. But some people like to be in the middle of things.
Now all we need are some restaurants with outside dining, a book store, and a coffee shop. Tommy Gillespie park can function as a town square with live musicians for people to stroll about in the evenings."

I've met the Young's once, nice folks. They're doing a good job on the store.

I'm not so sure that the city couldn't benefit from an urban planner. So far the efforts of private citizens haven't been enough to keep the city government from periodically razing old homes (sure, they needed work, but they weren't falling down) while they refuse to condemn the ones that have nearly collapsed down to their foundations (i.e. half the buildings on Hwy 64).

Also, if we're dreaming, we also need free Wi-Fi and pub at the very minimum in Atkins. A few art galleries would be nice too.

Hell, at the rate things are going, there is no telling what we might have in another hundred years!



Blogger Sandy said...

I am like you. I just don't understand why they tear down something that can be saved and leave the crap up that should be torn down!

p.s. I am the person from Detroit who read all of your entries (and, yes, I enjoyed them).

11:51 AM  
Anonymous Patricia W. said...

They leave the ugly crap everywhere and tear down the old stuff claiming contaminants like heavy metals and asbestos. Nevermind our kids toys have been painted with lead paint during manufacture in China for who knows how long and they just finally did a couple recalls.

I am enjoying the fact that more and more the populations are starting to see the value in downtown environments and doing something to bring them back. I'd much rather walk around downtown than in a mall.

5:10 AM  
Blogger Fargo said...

For a few years, I lived in downtown Concord, NH, which has a lot of great old buildings that have been restored. One of the things that attracted me to the place was the vibrant Main Street, with a great mix of stores and restaurants and interesting architecture.

I could have a good meal, go to a play, see a concert or buy groceries, shoes, gifts, wine, bicycles, music, books and many other things within less than a mile of my place. Many of my friends lived within a 1-mile radius for the same reason.

When the mall was being built on the edge of town, the downtown merchants association developed a plan to improve downtown and make it more attractive. After over 15 years of co-existence with the mall, downtown is more vibrant than ever. That's a very cool thing!

3:16 PM  

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