Nancy Glenn drove by the old house every day on her way to work.
The Gainesville attorney with Stow, Garvin and Glenn, often thought “there’s the haunted house” as she cruised past the historic J. Carter House at 657 S. Main St. in Gainesville.
Though the building interested her, she never thought she and her husband, Kip Ladd, would purchase the building in October 2012 for $189,000.
“It was sad looking when we got it,” Glenn said. “The paint was chipping. The roof was leaking. The wood on the porch was rotting. And I actually brought a Realtor friend in and said ‘Does this scare you off? Because this building has always intrigued me.’ She said ‘Absolutely not, that does not scare me at all.’”
Restoring the building required two months and about $55,000 but Glenn said she feels the house was a bargain.
Glenn and her partners use the 5,000-square-foot house as the law firm’s office as it was for the two previous owners.
The intricately hand-carved woodwork decorating the former home’s interiors lends itself perfectly to the image law firms often wish to project. The building features 11 offices, seven original coal-burning fireplaces with mirrored mantles and ornate tile work.
Original pocket doors section off the former parlor from the rest of the building. All of the hinges and hardware are original and intricately carved. All of the original stained glass windows are intact; frozen bubbles inside the glass reveal its age.
Glenn steps out of office and into the second-floor lobby. She stands in the middle of the lobby and looks up. When the sun hits the windows just right in the afternoons, the little lobby is bathed in colored light, she said.
“I’m still pinching myself and it’s been a year,” Glenn said. “Especially when I walk out of my office. I’m collecting papers and I have something on my mind and I walk out and I stop and look up and pinch myself.”
The Victorian “tower house,” as it is commonly known, was built by a well-to-do flour merchant from South Carolina. John Carter constructed it in 1891.
John Carter’s great-grandson Frank Carter, of Buford, said the house was originally built for the merchant’s 10 children. Carter’s five sons attended Riverside Military Academy while his five daughters attended Brenau. One day, his daughter complained about having to ride the train to Gainesville from South Carolina, so they “pestered their father to build them a house until he gave one to them.”
The ceilings of the two first-floor parlors are thought to have been painted with murals similar to those found at Brenau University though they have since been painted over.
Frank Carter said the first time he saw the building it was in terrible condition, but he is pleased to see his family’s former home restored by the past three owners of the building.
“It’s beautiful. It’s absolutely beautiful,” Frank Carter said in a recent phone interview. “Whenever I go through Gainesville on business I try to ride through and look at it and remember the stories I’ve heard about it. My grandfather was born in the house.”
Glenn said it’s been an amazing experience to learn about all of the lives that have been lived in the old home’s rooms. Clients and passers-by often stop for a tour or share experiences.
At one point the building was used as a temporary home for several survivors of the 1936 tornado, a kindergarten classroom, a private home for two sisters, a boarding house and more recently a shelter for three homeless men who Glenn said did their best to protect the building.
“Just thinking about all the people who have lived here from all walks of life and in different time periods is so astounding to me,” Glenn said.