GLADEWATER – History buff and educator Memori Ruesing admits to having an adventurous streak that occasionally presents unique challenges for her beloved husband.
She loves old homes, as a key example, and always wanted to own one.
So when a stately old mansion in the heart of Gladewater landed on the auction block a few years ago, it might have taken a team of wild horses to pull her away from the pool of buyer hopefuls.
It would make a wonderful place to raise their children, she told husband, Matt.
“We got a game plan together,” she said. “We knew what we could spend … and not a penny more.”
As luck would have it, a bidding war erupted between the Ruesings and a businessman from Dallas who wanted to transform the house into a plumbing supply shop.
Stomachs churning, the couple held their ground, winning their dream home and staying within budget, to boot.
“It needed some work,” she said, grinning at her husband. “But he’s so good at fixing things.”
JUMPING IN FEET FIRST
Their prize from that fateful day in 2009 is recognized today as the 1901 Walker Manor Bed & Breakfast, 214 E. Commerce Ave., which also serves as a private event venue and the couple’s primary residence.
The pair invested countless hours on restoration and repairs - work that she seems to view as a rescue.
“If I had all the money in the world, I would buy every historic home that I could,” she said. “I’m so passionate about history … we cannot lose our historic structures because once they’re gone, we can’t get them back.”
He treats it as an unpaid second career.
“It’s been a challenge,” he said, emerging from an afternoon of repairing lawn equipment. “She jumped in feet first.”
The five-bedroom, 6,400 square-foot home is steeped in local history, having once been owned by the Accord, Finley, Staerker and Walker families, though not necessarily in that order.
It features soaring 12-foot ceilings, a sweeping handcrafted staircase and dozens of windows with original glass.
Collecting the keys sparked a new chapter in the couple’s lives, prompting a move from the Fort Worth area to the small town of Gladewater.
But from their first overnight stay, the purchase seemed to come with plenty of adventures.
Their inauguration sleepover unfolded suddenly, on a work night when temperatures were expected to dip to 19 degrees.
“We commuted to wrap the pipes, which were under the house,” she said. “We were under the house dealing with pipes at 10 o’clock at night.”
Their new house had electricity, but no gas to power the hot water heater so they used a backyard grill to warm bathwater.
And when they finally tumbled into bed that first night, the couple listened in silence to the unfamiliar sounds of the night.
They heard plenty of old house noises, but encountered no ghosts or spooky happenings.
“We did sleep that first night,” she said. “It felt good. It was like, ‘We’re home.’”
The couple decided it was important to understand the history of the house before diving into large projects.
Mrs. Ruesing researched the lives of the previous occupants, which included a prominent physician, to see how they fit into Gladewater’s history, and preserved items original to the home: an old game table, radio and window treatments.
Countless hours of cleaning, clearing, sanding, painting, sawing, hammering, plumbing, tiling and sweating followed.
“It’s definitely been a project,” Ruesing said, who describes himself as a “behind the scenes” kind of guy. “It’s been a challenge keeping up with it all, while working full time.” Along the way, doors of opportunity popped open.
“We were just going to live here,” she said. “Then we started getting calls from people wanting to know, do we do weddings, do we do tours?”
And then came the request from a long-married couple that visits Gladewater every year for their anniversary: Could they stay overnight in the manor?
The Ruesings agreed to act as hosts and later joined a mentorship program to learn the ropes of operating a bed and breakfast.
A few years later, the manor now serves as a venue for weddings, parties, murder mysteries, holiday dinners and overnight stays, including the September anniversary lovebirds.
Mrs. Ruesing said she’s been involved in a number of crazy things over the years, but none that tops the adventure of giving an old home a new life.
“A lot of old houses become bed and breakfasts and they attract people,” she said. “I think there’s something deep inside that makes us want to connect to the past.”
TWITTER @ TMT _ Jacque