LENOX – It had always been a dream of Barb Gerber to one day own her grandparent’s Lenox home. And one day, that dream became a reality.
In 2008, Barb and her husband Tim, learned the home was for sale. What Barb also learned was, the house had a long lineage in her family that extended well beyond her grandparents.
In 1901, Samuel Wainwright and his wife Anna, Gerber’s maternal great-great-grandmother’s cousin, moved to Lenox, where he purchased a lumber yard and a grain company and eventually became the president of Farmers and Merchant Bank. As a successful businessman, Sam wanted to build a “masterpiece” home for his family and in 1904, Samuel hired German architects to erect the Queen Anne residence at the corner of Michigan and Main in Lenox.
In 1922, O.P. Arnold purchased the Wainwright’s home after Samuel’s death and remodeled the home to establish a second funeral parlor for the community of Lenox.
After 36 years, O.P sold the home and business to Rollie and Marcia Bender, Gerber’s paternal grandparents, who sold the home in the 1970s. It remained a funeral home until 2008 when the Gerbers purchased it.
“It had always been a dream of mine” to have her grandparents house back said Barb.
When Barb and Tim found out the house was for sale they traveled from the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City area to see the house.
“It looked so funeral-homey … it was blue carpet on the floor, all the walls were paneled, it had drapes, you know, heavy drapes, so it was dark and dreary,” said Barb.
The house had a kitchen in the basement. When Barb reached up into a cabinet she found a reminder of her childhood in the home.
“I opened up the cupboard and I said ‘and right up here which is where my brother had Plaster of Paris fruit that he did when he was 5 years old as a Christmas gift’ and they were still up there,” said Barb.
As they went upstairs to see the rest of the house Barb saw a card stuck in the woodwork. It had her grandmother’s handwriting on it.
“I knew it was like her message to me that it was all going to work out because it had been there since the 70’s,” said Barb.
‘Leap of faith’
The Gerbers decided Barb would first need to have a job before buying the house and moving to Lenox.
Eventually she was offered a job as a teacher at Mount Ayr High School.
“With a leap of faith I accepted the job, we moved in and the concept at that point in time, what we were going to do with all this space is that we were going to use it as fine dining,” said Barb.
They had dining rooms, they served meals, hosted murder mystery, weddings, baby showers, bridal showers and graduations.
Then three years ago Tim suffered two aneurysms just one week before the state inspector was set to come in order to get their food license. Barb canceled everything with the uncertainty of what was to come.
Tim spent months relearning everything from chewing to walking.
“We had really the support of our small town helping with the healing process and helping in the long process of life and living again,” said Barb.
A new plan
On a trip to Missouri, the Gerbers decided to change the house to a bed and breakfast. Since summer, they worked on adjusting the rooms to accommodate guests.
“This is our fun thing,” said Barb.
The Gerbers repainted the exterior and remodeled the interior space. They removed three layers of carpet to reveal hardwood floors which Tim refinished. Some of the original wood trim had been removed so reclaimed wood from other homes built around the same time period was used.
“Our idea is we could modernize it, but it’s not going to pay homage to the history of the home ... that’s one of the things we want to do,” said Barb.
On the main floor Tim and Barb’s mother built a bar using reclaimed materials, such as doors of the same time period the home was built in, in what used to be the kitchen. In that room marks can be seen on the floor where a fire once occurred.
“Tim wanted to leave those in just as part of the rich heritage of the house and the character of the house,” said Barb.
Original lights to the house – installed in the 1920s – can be seen from the bar.
“Everything that we’ve done we’ve kind of found a new home for it … reused them,” said Barb. “We’ve done all the work ourselves.”
Barb enjoys the acoustics of the old home.
“When we first got here my stepson turned 21 so we had a live band in here ... the sound is unbelievable in this old house with the plaster walls. We just even now play music in here all the time because, I mean, there’s nothing better than that,” she said.
The main floor of the house consists of the bed and breakfast suite, which includes a bedroom, a sitting room and restroom. Guests then have access to the dining room for breakfast. Guests, who have a private entrance with keyless entry, also have access to the fire pit and front porch. Eventually, guests will also have access to a hot tub.
“It has just a different feel to it. Hopefully it’s a homey, restful, welcoming environment,” said Barb.