Just off Jackson and Miller Streets, on a high hill overlooking the city known as Hobo Hill, sit three historic houses. Two of those historic homes are owned by Aaron and Erin Clark, relative newcomers to Jefferson City with a passion for historic preservation and rehab.
When they purchased the 2 ½ story Foursquare style residence at 500 East Miller Street in 2017, the Clarks planned for it to be their forever home. The historic home was originally built in 1910 by Adolph and Beulah Brandenberger, owners of the local Rexall drugstore. The home had passed through many hands by the time the Clarks purchased it and was completely gutted.
While Erin’s family had previous experience in rehabs, Aaron was a former Kansas City police officer with no rehab experience and a self-proclaimed “city person.” Over the next year, the couple (with the help of family) breathed new life into the old home.
Although much of the building had been taken down to the studs, several original features survived and the Clarks worked hard to make them shine. The wide staircase that greets guests at the entryway was sanded and stained while preserving all of its original features. The two horizontal windows in the living room with the original leaded glass are a standout design feature.
While the Clarks love the house, they believe some other, not-so-alive beings love it as well. After multiple instances of what they describe as paranormal activity, they moved out of the home. However, for a variety of reasons, they decided not to part with it. Instead, the home is listed on VRBO and Airbnb and is a popular choice for out-ot-town visitors.
Right next door to the Clarks home was a rental home also built in 1910 with three separate apartment units. When the tornado hit in May 2019, the building sustained serious damage and a portion of the east wall crumbled.
“We heard through the grapevine the owner was going to tear it down and either build a more modern home or just turn it into a slab. Since Hobo Hill is an historical part of the community and we knew the home could be saved, we decided to take on the challenge” said Aaron Clark.
After purchasing the home and renaming it “The Grey Lady” the family set to work once again. While this house was not gutted like the first, it presented its own challenges both due to the tornado damage and the wear-and-tear that comes with being a rental property for decades.
Research indicates the home had served as a rental property since at least the 1920s. One of the many renters over the years was Miss Daisy Seaber. Daisy taught in Jefferson City schools for 25 years (until her death in 1935) and was responsible for organizing the orchestra and creating the first band in local public schools.
When they purchased the property, it had been divided into three separate apartments with the third being essentially a studio apartment in the attic. The Clarks converted the attic unit into a large master bedroom with a private bath and combined it with the second floor unit to make one three bedroom apartment along with a two bedroom apartment on the main floor. At this point, they still haven’t decided if they will eventually sell the building, utilize it as a rental property or offer it on Airbnb.
Almost a year after their purchase, the family is in the final stages of the rehab. Kim Bryant, Erin’s mother, is at the house almost daily working on one project or another. Just a few weeks ago, Kim spent days carefully sanding the staircase to ensure the intricate woodwork was highlighted. The following week was spent sanding the original wood floors, which had been hidden for years under carpet.
“One of the most important things is to realize that nothing is ever going to be perfect. You do the best you can and then you appreciate the marks and stains that remain because those are things that give historic buildings character. You know there is a story and person behind each of those imperfections and that makes it special,” said Kim.
While the Grey Lady will have some modern features in it, such as the poured concrete countertops in the main level kitchen, the family is working to utilize local architectural salvage when possible. Doors salvaged from historic homes before they are demolished will be utilized throughout the Grey Lady, including as part of a bench on the second floor. Other doors will be put onto sliders and used in the master bedroom.
One of the most successful transformations utilizing architectural salvage were four hanging glass lights purchased at the HCJ Architectural Salvage Shoppe for $10 each. They once hung in a restaurant located on High Street. Over the years, the metal had rusted in areas but Kim and Erin saw the potential immediately. After removing the rust, the metal finish was repainted and the frosted glass was cleaned. They now hang in the kitchen where they look as though they were purchased from a designer lighting store.
Perhaps the best feature of the entire property is the view offered by the three separate balconies. On the second floor, the balcony provides one of the best views of the downtown area in the entire city. From the high vantage point atop Hobo Hill, you can enjoy a complete view of Jefferson City and its many landmarks depending which balcony one stands on. There is a feeling of history as one looks across the town and envisions the changes that have taken place since the residence was first built 110 years ago.
It’s this dedication to preserving and revitalizing historic buildings that drive the family. The Clarks believe restoring historic homes in Jefferson City will improve the overall appeal of the city for others looking to move or visit here. They share their love of historic preservation and rehabs with others by helping moderate the HCJ Rehabbers Club. The Facebook group is focused on connecting people in the community to share ideas and ask questions about historic rehabs.
“We are still under construction at 504 East Miller Street and it has been challenging but we are happy with the results. Plus, we hope the neighborhood, and the city is happy to see another home not left abandoned or demolished” Aaron explained.