By Ginna Parsons
Mary Rhodes of Booneville had always wanted to live in an old house and when she found the Childers home – believed to have been built in the 1850s – she put her name on it.
“I’ve just always liked old things,” she said. “My mother was what they call a living daughter of a Confederate soldier. Her father was 72 when she was born. So for a while, I’d had my eye out, looking for an old house.”
That old house almost turned out to be too much work for Mary and her husband, Roger.
“It needed quite a bit of attention,” Roger said. “We meant to take pictures of it before we started work on it. Now, we regret it because people just wouldn’t believe it.”
Mary described the house as almost uninhabitable.
“It wasn’t fit to live in,” she said. “All the walls were tongue and groove and painted either Pepto-Bismol pink or ink blue. Dirt would just fall out of the walls.”
According to “Treasures from the Past and Present,” a local history of the Blackland, Osborne and Oak Hill communities in Prentiss County, the home was called the Miller House and is believed to be the oldest in Blackland. Some inhabitants have included Terry Miller, Oscar and Florence Boggs, and Atkins and Edna Trantham Childers and their children.
“When the Childers family purchased the home, a Civil War rifle was found in the attic,” the book says.
The home was originally a dog-trot, with two rooms and a dog-trot entrance downstairs and a staircase leading to the second floor, which had two bedrooms, Roger said.
By the time the couple bought the house in the 1990s, additions had been made.
“When we moved here there were three bedrooms upstairs, and downstairs had a living room, bedroom, kitchen and a bathroom at the back entrance,” said Mary, a retired nurse. “The staircase was in the back of the house and it went straight up, with different sized treads and risers.”
The old staircase had to go.
But it was replaced with an elegant, sweeping staircase that came out of what Mary called the prettiest home in Booneville.
“A man had bought the staircase out of an old house in Booneville and he was going to put it in a bed and breakfast,” Roger said. “He had paid to have it removed and everything and I can’t remember now why he decided he didn’t want it, but he told me if I wanted it, I could have it for $150.”
The Rhodeses hired a master craftsman, Clatus Smith, to install the staircase in the front of the house. It came complete with a hidden room behind a built-in bookcase.
They also used Terry Hester do hang Sheetrock and create intricate woodwork and crown molding, George McGregor to install plantation shutters and do the painting, and Malcolm Henderson to take care of some of the flooring, most of which is oak or the original heart pine.
“We lived in the house while it was being remodeled,” Roger said. “I suggested we do one room at a time – that’s logical – but Mary couldn’t take it. We worked on the house for 15 years and paid for the work as we went. We did a lot of it ourselves.”
Today, the house has two bedrooms, a bath and a sitting room upstairs, plus closets. Downstairs are a front entry hall, living room, kitchen with a bay window nook, master bedroom, two baths, a laundry room and a back entry hall.
The couple has filled the home with antiques they’ve found along the way, including chandeliers, a mantle, chairs, desks, tables, armoires and beds.
“I was buying antiques to refinish and sell them, but they kept ending up in the house,” said Roger, who works for the U.S. Postal Service in Booneville.
“I like to buy something that belonged to someone that I knew or something I can tell about,” Mary said. One of her favorite pieces in the house is an Italian Capodimonte chandelier that hangs in a hallway downstairs.
It was 2010 before the couple finally let anyone come in to see the house they had worked on for so long.
“I wanted it to be complete,” Mary said. “Not perfect, but complete.”
Roger said there were days when he thought about throwing in the towel during the remodeling, but in the end, he knows he’s blessed to have such a beautiful home.
“You’d get so far along that you couldn’t hardly stop,” he said. “I never was ready to give up completely. It was a 40-hour-a-week job I’d go to after my regular job. But this house has been a blessing, a true gift from God.”