Sunday, August 14, 2022

Where We Live: Life from inside the historic McClammy-Powell house

To live in a fishbowl - with thousands of visitors during seasonal house tours, homeowners reflect on life from inside the historic landmark

The historic, McClammy-Powell house on 423 South Front Street was built in 1914 and is a frequent stop on historic home tours in the area. (Port City Daily photo/ JOHANNA FEREBEE)
The historic, McClammy-Powell house on 423 South Front Street was built in 1914 and is a frequent stop on historic home tours in the area. (Port City Daily photo /  JOHANNA FEREBEE)

WILMINGTON—Gregg Thomas and Tom Faust live to entertain. The couple resides in what seems like a revolving door of guests, a never-ending supply of visitors eyeballing their personal belongings.

“The more the merrier,” Thomas said. ”It’s as easy for me to have 50 as it is to have 12.”

Their neoclassical, revival-style house, built in 1914, has served as a staple on the many historic home tours the area has to offer; The Azalea Garden Tour, the Back Door Kitchen Tour, and, soon, the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society’s 43rd Old Wilmington by Candlelight Tour.

To live in a fishbowl is a way of life.

The couple estimates they have hosted thousands of visitors since purchasing the historic McClammy-Powell house in 2015.

Horsedrawn carriage tours make their hourly route on the intersection of their block on South Front and Church Street.

“People will come back after they come by, stand on the steps and take pictures,” Thomas said. “At night time cameras are going off. It’s literally just crazy.”

The first floor of the historic home is the most well-traveled and least-lived in. “It’s kind of like an event center,” Thomas said. “We don’t live down here.”

Before the couple moved into the McClammy-Powell house, they occupied a home on fifth avenue — in yet another dwelling with regular foot traffic.

“In fact, back then, 25 (guests) was a max,” Faust said. “Now, 70 maybe, and then you start to feel crowded.”

The three-story, 4,400 square foot, 103-year-old house doesn’t get the chance to collect dust.

“When you live in a house like this, two people, oh my god, why not let people in, why not let people enjoy it?” Thomas said.

Front porch people

Though the pair stays upstairs, they do frequent their wrap-around, 40 by 9-feet front porch.

“It is my favorite part of the house,” Thomas said.

After 20 years together, Faust and Thomas left the triangle for downtown Wilmington, in search of rocking chairs and neighbors you can keep a rapport with.

“For me, it was front porch people,” Faust said.

For Faust, real relationships with neighbors, and not just an awareness of who they are, was a necessity.

“This is a well-traveled corner,” Thomas said. “We’ve gotten to know people literally from them parking their cars and walking by.”

The house's wraparound front porch is frequently used by the owners for small gas fires. (Port City Daily photo/ JOHANNA FEREBEE)
The house’s wraparound front porch is frequently used by the owners for small gas fires. (Port City Daily photo / JOHANNA FEREBEE)

Recently, their gas fire pit garnered the attention of the local fire department during one of their many fall front porch days.

“I got a call this morning,” Thomas said. “I can indeed, have my fire pit.”

Now that’s commitment

Upon entering the parlor in the holiday season, guests will be greeted by a 4-foot nutcracker and floor-to-ceiling decorations in each direction.  

For the remainder of the year, the Nutcracker lives in a 15 by 10-foot storage unit, stacked head high, accompanying the rest of Thomas’ holiday decoratives.

“Everything is organized,” he said.

“I had to rent a U-Haul to decorate this year,” Thomas said. Faust added, he took two trips and hired help for the yearly mission.

Thomas’ unparalleled degree of seasonal commitment is a matter of kin.

The dining room is ornately decorated by Thomas, who spends hours on a ladder preparing for visitors. (Port City Daily photo/ JOHANNA FEREBEE)
The dining room is ornately decorated by Thomas, who spends hours on a ladder preparing for visitors. (Port City Daily photo / JOHANNA FEREBEE)

Like his late mother, Faust embellishes unused rooms.

“She decorated rooms she never used,” Faust said. “Kind of like this now.”

“My mother always had a great sense of style, and Christmas especially was our favorite time, and Christmas especially we got into that,” Thomas said. “You know that was a fun thing for us to decorate the house growing up together.”

Their dining room has lights intertwined with evergreens draping from every corner of the ceiling. Each season is met with more time spent on the ladder. “Oh yeah, for hours.”

This past spring, the couple even had “live bunny rabbits hopping around during the garden tour.”

Creaks and quirks

Eyeballs aside, living in an old home comes with a share of creaks and quirks.

“Sometimes the staircase creaks at night, I go, ‘I hope that’s just a ghost and not structural damage,’” Faust quipped.

Almost all of the furnishings were previously owned by the couple, who had always wanted to live in a historic home. (Port City Daily photo/ JOHANNA FEREBEE)
Almost all of the furnishings were previously owned by the couple, who had always wanted to live in a historic home. (Port City Daily photo/ JOHANNA FEREBEE)

The previous owner frequently reported smelling flowers from the staircase, so if there’s an energy lingering, at least it’s a friendly one.

In September, they did witness “a water incident- that’s inexplicable,” Thomas said.

Through a century of occupants, the home has only hosted four owners, including Thomas and Faust.

“I feel like we’re just caretakers, were just the 4th team to pass through here,” Thomas said. “It’s cool knowing the house has been here long before we were born, it’ll be here long after we’re gone.”

“We have a connection to it,” Thomas said.

423 South Front Street, the historic McClammy-Powell house, will be a stop on the Lower Cape  Fear Historical Society’s 43rd Old Wilmington by Candlelight Tour. Tickets can be purchased online now, Wilmington-area Harris Teeter stores, or at Ivy Cottage, for $38.

The tour includes a walk-through in 10 historic, decorated homes and three houses of worship on Dec. 2 and 3.

Proceeds benefit the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society’s “continued preservation of the Latimer House as a museum interpreting life in Wilmington during the Victorian Era and as a local history archives,” according to the event website.

The historic, McClammy-Powell house on 423 South Front Street was built in 1914 and is a frequent stop on historic home tours in the area. (Port City Daily photo / JOHANNA FEREBEE)

 

The historic, McClammy-Powell house on 423 South Front Street was built in 1914 and is a frequent stop on historic home tours in the area. (Port City Daily photo/ JOHANNA FEREBEE)
The historic, McClammy-Powell house on 423 South Front Street was built in 1914 and is a frequent stop on historic home tours in the area. (Port City Daily photo / JOHANNA FEREBEE)

Johanna Ferebee can be reached at johanna@localvoicemedia.com or @j__ferebee on Twitter

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