Architectural triumph with a checkered past


    Molly and Derek McPherson sit in the study of the Nunan House in 2007. [Mail Tribune / file photo]

    The historic Nunan House with its columned veranda, pretentious Queen Ann-style embellishments and prospect of charming Jacksonville has caught the eye of many wives over the years, but only a few have been able to persuade their husbands to purchase the estate.

    Jeremiah Nunan was the first man to gift his bride the 4,088-square-foot mansion.

    Nunan, a successful businessman and entrepreneur, selected the house — Design No. 143 — from a catalog called “The Cottage Souvenir” and reportedly had the material shipped from Knoxville, Tennessee, in 14 boxcars. The house was designed by architect George Franklin Barber of Knoxville, built by local contractor H.F. Wood and was projected to cost between $6,000 and $7,000, according to the Historic American Buildings Survey.

    Born in 1844 in Ireland, Nunan moved to Jacksonville in the 1860s during the gold rush and opened a harness and saddle shop with his friend, Henry Judge, and later a mercantile.

    There are conflicting reports of how Nunan met his wife, Delia O’Grady. Delia’s sister Anne O’Grady married Judge, and some say Nunan met Delia through her sister. Others say the O’Grady sisters were mail-order brides and the two men flipped a coin to determine who got which sister, according to information gathered from the Southern Oregon Historical Society.

    Nevertheless, Nunan married Delia in 1872, and the couple had seven children — two died in infancy. They had been married 20 years when Nunan purchased the grand house for his wife.

    On Dec. 2, 1892, the Jacksonville Democratic Times reported that the Nunan family had moved into their elegant, new residence in Jacksonville.

    “It is by far the handsomest edifice in southern Oregon,” the newspaper article read.

    Sadly, however, the house was the setting of much heartache for Nunan, who quit it after living there for two decades.

    In June 1895, his son Edward, 20, was riding through town when the “cynch of the saddle loosed and the saddle turned.” He was trampled by the horse, suffered a concussion and “lived only a short time,” according to the Democratic Times.

    Three years later, the newspaper reported that Nunan’s youngest daughter, Ella Rose, 20, died in San Francisco of food poisoning or, specifically, “the effects of eating ice cream that had stood in tin too long.”

    On May 20, 1916, news of Nunan’s own death was published under the headline “Another Pioneer Gone.” Nunan, who had since retired to Oakland, California, committed suicide at age 77 at the home of his eldest son, Charles John, in Jacksonville.

    Over the years, many speculated that Nunan’s “temporary insanity caused by ill health,” as described by the Democratic Times, was actually caused by lead poisoning from the lead water storage tank and lead pipes in the house, but no proof was ever found.

    The home, at 635 Oregon St., had several owners between 1912 and the 1980s, when it caught the eye of Connie Seus.

    Bob and Connie Seus lived in California but had a farm in the Applegate.

    “Once my wife discovered the Nunan House was for sale, every time we went through Jacksonville she’d want to stop by it and would just sit there and look at it,” says Bob Seus, a retired industrial supplier.

    In 1988, Bob caved to Connie’s not-so-subtle hints and purchased the house for $500,000. From about 1990 to 1994, the Seuses offered historical tours of the 3.19-acre property, and Connie ran a Christmas store in the carriage house.

    In 1994, the Seuses moved into the house and, over the years, transformed the estate into a place for their grandchildren, adding a 20-by-40-foot swimming pool, paving the road so the kids could ride their go-carts and remodeling the first floor of the carriage house into a play room with jukeboxes, pinball machines, a pool table and soda bar.

    “We are totally oriented toward our grandchildren,” says Bob, who has five children and 29 grandchildren. “During the summertime, there were kids there every day. It was like a beehive.

    “It was home,” he says.

    Bob built a six-car garage and shop for his tools, and Connie updated the kitchen, replacing the old refrigerator and reproduction stove with new appliances.

    Connie especially enjoyed decorating the place for the holidays. There would be six or seven Christmas trees, and she would prepare a holiday feast for 50 or more people, which was typical for most Seus meals, Bob recalls.

    “Everyone says my wife should have married Santa Claus,” he jokes.

    But one day, unexpectedly, Connie decided to sell the house.

    Molly McPherson, a Whidbey Island, Washington, lawyer, was visiting the area with her husband, Derek, and fell instantly in love with the place, according to Mail Tribune archives.

    The couple couldn’t afford the house at the time, but Derek promised Molly he’d buy her the house one day.

    In 2006, the house was put on the market, and Derek went out and purchased $100 worth of lottery tickets, including the $7.4 million winning ticket. Soon after, they purchased the Nunan House from the Seuses for nearly $2.5 million.

    The couple continued to live in Washington but hired Dana Keller to manage the bed and breakfast and coordinate special events, and her husband, Tim Keller, a chef, ran the restaurant, aptly named The Carriage House.

    “Derek and Molly bought it on a whim, and I don’t think they fully realized the amount of work and finances it would take to make it a success,” says Dana Keller.

    In 2011, the McPhersons sold the property back to the Seuses, who held the mortgage on the place, for about $1.77 million. (Connie Seus died later that year.)

    The house sat empty, except for a caretaker, until 2015, when Bob sold the property for about $1.25 million to local hoteliers Doug and Becky Neuman and their partners in the venture, Mark and Sid DeBoer.

    Initially, Doug Neuman intended to develop the property, but after touring the mansion, Becky persuaded him to add it to their hospitality portfolio, says Don Anway, general manager of the Neuman Hotel Group.

    The Neumans plan to offer wine tours and tastings from the estate, which is ideally situated at the entrance to the Applegate wine country. They also are working to get approval to build six to eight outbuildings with additional guest suites.

    It would be set up similar to the Lithia Springs Resort in Ashland, Anway says.

    "I’m so excited to concept the whole estate starting with the beautiful house,” says Becky Neuman. “The architecture is stunning, and it has been beautifully maintained.”

    Becky Neuman intends to decorate the house in a chic Victorian style with gold accents, reminiscent of the town’s gold-mining history. She purchased 100 photos from the Southern Oregon Historical Society, including early photos of the house and Jacksonville, as well as portraits of the Nunan family, to display in the house.

    “I’m so happy the Neumans have purchased this, because they have the resources, desire and finances to make that beautiful property a great success,” Dana Keller says.

    Reach reporter Teresa Thomas at tthomas@mailtribune.com.

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