Robert and Tiffany Pool restored the historic Thomas Kenney House on Fourth Street in Jacksonville. Julia Moore photo - Julia Moore

'Looks first, function later'

Over nearly two decades of raising their family in Sams Valley, Robert and Tiffany Pool made regular visits to Jacksonville and almost always parked in front of the historical St. Joseph's church at the corner of Fourth and D streets.

The Pools gave little thought on those trips to a faded, turquoise-colored, two-story house nearby, the 1898 Thomas Kenney House.

Now they own it.

"What's funny is we raised our family out in Sams Valley — we lived there for 27 years — and we used to drive in and park in front of the church, right across the street from this house, and walk around town several times a week for years," says Tiffany Pool.

After their children went on to start lives of their own, the couple found themselves looking for a property to buy. Having grown up in an old house, Robert Pool wanted to restore a historical home. In 2007, they bought the old, two-story Queen Anne.

"It just really seemed like the house needed us," recalls Robert.

The couple jumped right in, tackling decades of neglect and removing green, shag carpeting to reveal century-old walnut floors. A water heater rested in the center of a tiny kitchen, and dozens of wheelbarrows filled with crumbling plaster awaited removal before restoration could move forward.

On the outside, the Pools hired painters to recreate a yellow-with-orange-trim paint job from the original home.

The four-bedroom, nearly 3,000-square-foot house, contains a downstairs foyer with a wide, winding staircase. Just beyond the front door, an antique organ and framed portraits lend an inviting feel. A living room and parlor tie the downstairs together with period-specific furniture and collectibles.

Wavy window glass, mostly original, accentuates the historical character of the house. Upstairs, the bedrooms are adorned with wrought-iron bed frames and wooden furniture set off by colorful, old quilts. With Victorian molding and tall windows, the rooms are filled with items ranging from baby carriages and old trunks to vintage toys and radios.

While they cleaned and varnished old wood, the Pools were careful not to take their restoration efforts too far. The name "Billy," for instance, was etched into an upstairs door, a reminder of one of the handful of families who made their home here. They decided to leave it.

"Most people would probably go through and redo all of the wood, but it adds so much character," says Tiffany.

Motioning toward the name on the door, she continues, "We could never get rid of that. You can almost see this little boy playing up and down the stairs. It's part of the story of this house."

At the back of the house, the small, functional kitchen contains a vintage, oblong, wall-mount sink, original to the house. Replacing updated appliances, they purchased a circa-1918 Magic Chef gas stove that boasts six burners, two ovens and a broiler, along with a refrigerator from the same period.

"We're all about looks first, function later," jokes Tiffany, as she opens the cooler-sized icebox.

"We might go out on a limb and get a newer, 1920s fridge," she adds, "but the stove works better than any you can find."

A mudroom off the kitchen provides a hiding place for a washer and dryer, and an old fruit cellar eventually could provide food storage and a below-ground wine cellar.

Outside, a "wedding band-style" picket fence surrounds the house, and unusual "cut-shingle" roofing adorns a hip roof. A winding path, laid in bricks from an old chimney and a replaced foundation, connect front to back.

While the restoration has been a labor of love, Robert says the couple felt it was their duty to unveil the building's character.

"The house kind of tells you its real story as you go along," he says.

"When you start taking things apart, you start seeing stuff that kind of tells you the way things were. What's almost weird is that when you're redoing a house like this, you almost get the vibe — when you're putting it back the way it was — that the house is like, 'Ahh ... yeah!' "

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