By Jessica Perkins
Photography by Morgan Walker
Kyle and Kelly Johnson
When Kyle and Kelly Johnson discovered the Fountain Avenue Neighborhood Project they had little idea what rehabilitation adventures awaited them. The Johnsons were newly engaged and had no children. They were just starting their careers and looking for a place to call home.
About seven years ago, they discovered a house on North 16th Street, a beautiful, yellow brick home with an inviting front porch and an elegant wrought iron fence that surrounded the property.
The house was priced affordably and contained many of its original 1929 features, including wood trim, doors, windows, floors, chandeliers and a built-in butler's pantry.
"We really moved (to Fountain Avenue) because we fell in love with this house," Kelly says. "I like living here because I feel like I am still living in my hometown, but it also feels different."
While the house was exactly what the Johnsons were looking for, it also came with challenges. There had been a fire in the back of the house in 2009 and there were cosmetic and structural issues to overcome.
The couple did their best to maintain the historic integrity of the house, only making adjustments to accommodate a secure staircase leading up to the second floor, improving closet space and making the alterations needed to bring the house up to the current building code.
Kyle did much of the carpentry work with his father, Rick Johnson, and Kelly's father, Steve Jackson. The Johnsons hired an electrician, a plumber and an HVAC technician to finish out the project. This made the rehabilitation project much more affordable for a young couple just getting started in their careers and family life.
Today, Kelly and Kyle have two children and love watching the neighborhood flourish. Individuals who visited their house before the renovations were made have been amazed at their progress.
"We have people who come back to look at the house and they tell us that they have house envy. But at the time they thought we were crazy," Kelly laughs.
The Johnsons have been Fountain Avenue residents for several years now.
In that time they have seen the neighborhood transformed as a result of renewed community interest, spurred on by the financial investment provided by the city of Paducah.
"The neighborhood is now about 90 percent complete," Kyle says. "The growth (in Fountain Avenue) is exponential. Houses that we thought no one would ever restore are now being done."
The couple admits that historic preservation may not be for everyone, but for them it was a risk worth taking and an investment that has paid off.
Tomi Blom has lived quite literally all over the world. She moved to Paducah with her two sons in 1998. She loved all of the things that Paducah had to offer and was fairly content with her life in Paducah's West End. However, when the city of Paducah launched the Fountain Avenue Neighborhood Project, Tomi's interest was piqued.
A few years into the project, Tomi's friend and long-time Paducah historic preservationist Anne Gwinn approached her about partnering to restore one of these historic homes. Tomi thought about it and began to explore the various properties available through Paducah's Urban Renewal and Community Development Agency, a five-member board appointed by the mayor to redevelop blighted neighborhoods.
After about a year of consideration, Tomi stumbled upon the house at 340 N. 16th St. The house was built sometime between 1916 and 1926. It was built from a "house by mail" kit purchased from the Sears Roebuck and Company, one of several designs that the company produced between 1908 and 1939.
The Osborn, as the model was named in the original Sears catalog, was touted as being "neither extreme nor extravagant," but having "all the earmarks of a cozy, well-planned artistic home." The catalog went on to say that "bungalow authorities agree that this type of architecture has come to stay."
Apparently, those authorities were onto something. Nearly 100 years later it was the unusual design and unique interior features of this historic house that lured Tomi into a massive restoration that would move her from an established West End neighborhood to Fountain Avenue, a neighborhood still in the throes of revitalization.
"In a way it was good that so much was wrong with it because it kept other people from wanting to buy it, which left it available for me," Tomi says.
Upon purchasing the house Tomi and Anne had their work cut out. The home was uninhabitable. It had been left to the devises of cats and birds for many years. There was evidence of the home's neglect in every corner. It took months to get things to a state where true restoration could begin.
"There are lots of challenges when a neighborhood transitions from decay to vibrancy," Anne says. "But sometimes new is not better."
Tomi and Anne have transformed The Osborn from a dilapidated state to being one of the most elegant homes in the neighborhood. Their efforts have inspired others to invest in the program, as well.
Geco and Ebone Ross
Many families have moved into the Fountain Avenue Neighborhood in the past 10 years. However, some of its current residents have lived here for generations.
Geco Ross grew up in Fountain Avenue. Over the years, his family has owned various Fountain Avenue homes, as well as a neighborhood business. Geco has watched the neighborhood transition from a healthy, diverse community, when he was a boy, to a neighborhood in decline. He now sees the neighborhood going back to its original vibrancy. With all of the ups and downs, Geco firmly believes Fountain Avenue is a special place.
"I lived in Fountain Avenue all my life," Geco says. "This used to be a place where neighbors watched out for one another and we're getting back to that again. I appreciate the interest the city has taken in the infrastructure of the neighborhood. The development of the project itself is commendable."
In 2008, Geco's parents gave him his boyhood home at 1416 Madison St. The home sat empty for a number of years and needed a significant amount of repair. Geco and brother George Ross rehabilitated the house to serve as a starter home for him and his wife Ebone.
For five years the Ross family grew.
"Our first home was definitely a starter home," Geco says. "As our family expanded we needed more room."
The Rosses fell in love with a bungalow on Monroe Street, just a few blocks from their first home. As they worked to restore the house, they preserved as much of the home's history as possible, including hardwood floors, the butler's pantry and several built-in bookcases.
Things were nearly complete when the winter of 2015 took its toll. A water pipe burst, sending buckets of water from the upstairs all the way down into the basement.
"People often talk about getting weak at the knees," Geco says. 'I have felt that. Then my next thought was 'I have to save my floors.'"
So he got to work as quickly as possible, removing water from the house and salvaging anything that could be saved. Though the original plan was to save the plaster walls and ceiling, the water damage necessitated the need to tear the plaster out and to install new, dry walls.
"It was very emotional," Ebone says.
In spite of the unexpected challenges, the Rosses transformed their historic craftsman style home into a four-bedroom, two-bathroom house, blending historic features with modern sensibilities.
"We wanted our children to have a foundation and wanted to be able to do the same for them as our parents did for us," Ebone says. "The moment we moved in it felt cozy and like home. I love our home." n
For more information on available properties and financial incentives in the Fountain Avenue Neighborhood, visit www.fountainave.com or call the Paducah Planning Department at 270-444-8690.