HOPKINSVILLE, Ky. (AP) - It endured the antics of two cousins who played in its shadow as youngsters, bore witness to the reconstruction of what was once called “Nashville Pike,” and during World War II, played host to soldiers who, for a while, were at home in the house built by Ellis and Marybelle Lacy Underwood in the late 1930s.
Through the decades, the little white house on East Ninth Street has persevered, and not even the EF-2 tornado that pummeled the community a couple of months ago has spelled its demise.
The house suffered damage to its second floor in that Feb. 24 tornado, lost a large portion of its roof and the chimney and had most of its windows broken. A detached garage on the property was destroyed.
But its current owners never had any thought that they wouldn’t move back in, said real estate agent and co-owner Tonja West, and a groundbreaking for the planned addition took place just last week.
“The house is a survivor,” declared Richard I “Dick” Underwood, who notes that the radio he listened to as a youngster sat exactly where the damage from the recent tornado was the worst.
Underwood, whose parents had the house built in 1938, still has the bench he sat on to listen to the radio.
In the 1940s, the radio console shortwave and AM broadcast brought him news of World War II.
“In 1942 Gabriel Heatter, H.V. Kaltenborn and Edward R. Murrow gave us more bad news,” said Underwood, a 1951 graduate of Hopkinsville High School, in comments he shared with the New Era.
“Heatter’s famous nightly quote in 1942 was ‘There’s bad news tonight,’” continued Underwood, who now lives in Virginia. “Even the BBC on shortwave came in with bad news. In early 1943, we thought we would lose our country. Things began to even out in late 1943 and there was enough hope to listen to some comedy shows . “
Underwood remembers his family opening its home to military recruits from what was then Camp Campbell, hosting altogether some seven or eight soldiers and their wives who lived with the family at that time.
“There was no housing for married couples on base so we joined with a lot of Hopkinsville residents and opened our doors to them,” Underwood explained. “It was the least we could do to help win the war.”
He and his family lived in the house for about six years.
Underwood recalls the early years when he played with his cousin Peggy, who lived next door with her parents, Ralph and Hortense Lacy. He did a little gardening on the property until he “lost interest when the weeds grew,” Underwood said, and he raised white rabbits for their fur.
In 1940, work began on the Nashville Pike, and it was a huge mess, according to Underwood, who recalled how the road was often closed, requiring detours around the construction or the patience to wait.
Underwood noted that the ongoing roadwork allowed him to see a real steam shovel at work, and he and cousin Peggy benefited from all the construction, selling garden surplus and Cokes to the workers.
In late 1944, Underwood’s family sold the house to help pay for a farm they bought from Underwood’s great aunt, Nora Williamson. The house was bought by Dillard Payne, who owned a grain trucking firm in Trenton.
Underwood said Ralph and Thelma Heltsley owned the house later on and lived in it with their children.
Its current occupants, West and Shelia Fears, moved their business into the house three years ago, according to West. The two women are co-owners of Home Front Real Estate, the first business to occupy the house. West is the principal broker for the business, she said.
“When it came up for sale, it looks just like our logo,” West notes, explaining her company’s inspiration for buying the house that still has special meaning for Underwood - even decades later.
“Our logo is a white house with a teal roof,” West continues.
She said it never entered her mind or Fears’ mind that they were not going to rebuild and stay in the house.
“It’s just home,” she says of the little house with the black shingle roof.
When they bought it, she and Fears painted the door a teal color.
West noted that the 80-year-old home has generated interest since it was damaged by the tornado.
“That house has got so much connection in this town,” she said. “Everybody’s got a story.”
People have since told her of family members living in the house or of someone they knew who lived there.
Some rented the home after the original owners moved out, and others, having driven by it on occasion, “just have sweet memories of it,” West said.
“It just seems like since this has happened, we’ve just had a lot of people come forward,” she added.
West shared her thanks for volunteers from Hopkinsville and Cadiz who helped clean up in the aftermath of the recent tornado; she said she and Fears are really grateful for all the help.
West noted that the two women plan to take the house back to the way it was before the damage occurred and will also be adding on to the building, expanding it by somewhere around 1,000 square feet.
The additional offerings will include a couple of offices and a restroom, West said.
One feature the old house is going to lose is the chimney, which workers aren’t able to duplicate.
For Underwood as a youngster living in the house, that feature was a source of some anxiety.
“I was greatly concerned because the very tall chimney didn’t have a fireplace for Santa Claus to get into the room,” recalls the home’s former occupant, who adds that “the solution was to leave the front door unlocked, and I checked it before going to bed.”
Underwood said the chimney was built to vent the coal furnace in the basement. His parents, he said, didn’t want a fireplace because they were raised with them and wanted neither the maintenance nor the mess.
The rock chimney was built by a local legendary rock mason named Sanko.
Santa, for his part, brought young Underwood mostly war-themed toys made without metal, which in 1942 and 1943 was needed for the war effort, Ellis and Marybelle Underwood’s son noted.
Underwood considers the home he lived in as a youngster and says he hopes it will be repaired.
Since his family moved out, he has visited the house four times, and he says he continues to be amazed that it is still essentially original and that even the kitchen cabinets built from scratch by his father are intact.
Underwood’s childhood home was built by individual contractors selected by trade, and Ellis Underwood filled in as a helper, his son recalls. The younger Underwood “helped” by punching nail holes in the siding.
He notes that his dad also hired Joe Ward, an “energetic worker” who received the going rate of $2 a day.
Mike Fears Construction of Hopkinsville is overseeing the current repairs and addition to the structure.
Underwood said he strongly approves of the home’s current use as a real estate office.
“Potential buyers,” he remarks in his comments about the house, “will feel at HOME like I do.”
Information from: Kentucky New Era, http://www.kentuckynewera.com
Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.