Perhaps John W. Hays and Tamra Gormley didn’t know just how much of a treasure the house at 224 Montgomery Avenue in Versailles was when they bought it. But they soon learned.
Even “back in the day” the house was considered special. An old newspaper article Tamra found called it “one of the most tasteful houses on the prettiest street in Versailles.”
John and Tamra had wanted to relocate to Versailles, where Tamra had grown up, for some time. (John is from Pikeville.)
One day in late 1995, Tamra and their children, Hannah and Matthew, drove past the house while on their way to visit Tamra’s parents.
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“I saw the ‘For Sale’ sign in the yard,” Tamra said. “I told my parents about it and my mom said it was my Aunt Celie’s house. I had no idea.”
Tamra called John and said, “We’ve got to look at this house.”
When he met her there, he brought an engineer friend with him. The engineer warned them up front: “Oh, you’ve got some work to do.”
And so they bought it.
Tamra, a retired judge, had long wanted to do some kind of restoration work on a house. As their engineer friend had warned, the endeavor required a lot of work. It took an entire year to finish the project.
While the house was being restored, Tamra and John, a lawyer, lived with Tamra’s parents.
“We gutted it,” Tamra said. “We took the whole house down to the studs. It was more than we had originally planned, but we knew we needed to do it.”
Tamra and John wanted to keep all the light fixtures and hardware, as well as the fireplaces with their lovely tiles and mantels. The hardware is especially distinctive: Door hinges match the doorknobs, creating a quaint, unifying touch.
The original windows are still in place, evidenced by their thick, wavy design. The old-fashioned doorbell further added to the house’s charm.
All the fireplaces burned coal, and the residue covered many of the light fixtures. Tamra and John removed them and had them professionally cleaned.
“The floors were the same way,” John said. “They were black (from the coal). We cleaned them up really well.”
The couple had new wood trim custom milled to match the old trim. They even matched some of the wallpaper based on remnants they found.
“We really wanted to make sure everything stayed the same,” Tamra said. “We tried to stay historic.”
The outside received some attention, too. Julius Schnurr and Sons in Louisville restored the stucco exterior.
“We were told that originally the house was clapboard,” Tamra said. “Stucco was a big Italian thing and my aunt was from Italy, so we think she is the one who applied it to the house in the 1920s.”
They made some modern additions and upgrades, such as a porch on the back of the house and a row of window seats in the family room/office. They added an island and custom cabinets to the kitchen.
The first-floor bathroom is handicapped accessible. Tamra’s father lived with them for a while and this feature proved to be a great asset.
Also on the first floor is a formal living room/library, which boasts custom built-in floor-to-ceiling cherry bookcases and pocket doors.
Upstairs, the owners’ suite has a whirlpool tub and a separate glassed-in shower. Between the two bedrooms that once belonged to Hannah and Matthew is a Jack-and-Jill bathroom with two sinks. There is also a laundry room.
Tamra thoroughly enjoyed the process of making the house a comfortable, inviting home again.
“I thought it was a blast,” she said.
Tamra has meticulously researched the home’s history.
She uncovered a fascinating story about people such as Capt. William Henry, a former Confederate soldier with Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner, and his wife, Josephine Williamson Henry, a suffragette who was the first woman to run for statewide office in Kentucky. She is credited with passage of the 1894 Kentucky Married Woman’s Property Act.
The Henrys bought the lot for 224 Montgomery Avenue in 1875, the same year the first Kentucky Derby was run. They sold it to Victoria Gray Railey in 1900 for $1,200, and she and her husband, Irvin, built the house that now stands there.
The Raileys moved to Buck Run Farm in 1912 and sold the house to Salvatore and Cecilia Granducci Pelosi. The Pelosis owned a confectionary shop in Versailles. Cecilia’s niece, Dorothy Battalia, lived at the house with them from 1914 to 1916.
Dorothy was Tamra’s paternal grandmother. Dorothy’s husband, John Edward Gormley, an Irish stonemason, and their son, Mark Edward Gormley Sr., Tamra’s father, constructed the stone side porch. Tamra has a photo of her Aunt Celie sitting in the back yard on a millstone, which covers a cistern that still holds water.
Tamra and John have loved the house and are proud of the way it has been restored, but now they are planning to downsize.
“We felt so blessed living here,” Tamra said. “It has been really wonderful and we’re glad we were able to restore it.”
“It’s a comfortable house,” John said. “I like the brightness, too. Having the sun in the house is a great thing. The other nice aspect of the house is the back porch. In the evening, that’s a great place to sit outside.”
In a scrapbook and a glass-front cabinet in the kitchen, Tamra has collected treasures found during the gutting and remodeling of the home. Some of the objects include nails, bottles, an old light bulb and playing cards.
There is even a sign from the Pelosis’ confectionary shop. When they removed the fireplace mantels, they found even more treasures — photographs and bills and letters.
“We preserved everything,” Tamra said.
Tamra intends to leave the cabinet and its contents for the next owner(s). She wants to be sure they treasure the home as much as she and John have.