Restoring a landmark
Eddie and Melba Barnes have made a large circle and are returning to their roots in the Leachville area.
Eddie, a retired contractor, grew up near the State Line in Arbyrd. The former Melba Bryan grew up living across the street from Leachville High School. She was the 12th of 13th children.
“Leachville was always home,” Melba said. “I worked at the Melody Theater on weekends and at the courthouse on Saturdays. In those days the city clerk had to write everything by hand. The clerk had arthritis and so I would go in on Saturdays and write the checks.”
Melba is a nurse practitioner and has worked in Hot Springs for the last nine years. Before Hot Springs, the couple enjoyed two years in Alaska. Melba worked as a nurse and Eddie was a contractor. They lived in Juneau.
Of all the places they have traveled and lived both agree Alaska was one of the most interesting.
When they started thinking about moving back to Leachville, they started looking for a house.
Melba said realtor Barry Kirby knew they wanted to come home and he knew what they were looking for. When the older home built in 1947 by the late Buddy and Nola Howard became available, Melba was thrilled.
They had looked at it a couple of times and knew they wanted it.
Renovating homes is something the couple enjoys. As a matter of fact, Melba said since their marriage in 1971, they have renovated 12 houses.
They purchased one new home and within a year, they were making their own changes.
The Howard house is located on Highway 77, 3rd Street in Leachille. It has over an acre and the needed repairs did not sway Eddie and Melba in the least.
She has a knack for seeing the potential in all of their projects. She designs it and Eddie builds it (with her help). They make a great team.
The house has such a history, Eddie and Melba decided they wanted to do more than renovate, they wanted to restore it to its original look as much as possible.
Martha Jo Smith, the daughter of the original owners of the home, was so excited to be invited to see the work being done. Her parents built the house in 1947 and they lived there until 1957. As their funeral home (Howard's Funeral Home) continued to grow, they decided to move to Blytheville. The house was sold to the Bonds Family and later the Childress family owned it.
Martha Jo said the stone around the house was brought in from Batesville in a huge block and placed in the yard.
“A man hand cut each piece,” she remembers. “My mom would come over every day to see the progress.”
“My mother would be so happy to see the house being brought back to life,” Martha Jo said.
Martha Jo had some old pictures of the house when it was new and they enjoyed comparing the finished work.
They are still in what Melba calls stage one of the three stages they have planned for their new home.
It is the 12th home they have renovated and both have decided this one is a keeper.
“We love it here,” Melba said. “We have such good neighbors on both sides. When we were working on the house, coming back and forth from Hot Springs, we came home and our yard would be mowed. How nice is that? We have never lived where we had lawn fairies.”
Eddie and Melba agree, they got the house just in time. It was in need of a lot of repair and tender, loving care.
They have roofed it, put in all new wiring, new plumbing, new gas lines, moved walls, new windows, made doors, created a sun room off the living area, floors, added a side porch and more.
Their son, Brandon, is a Master electrician and owns Barnes Electric in Paragould. His wife, Bonnie is a nurse. They have three children Zach, a senior in high school, Paydon is in his first year of college and Kaylea is a junior in high school. Paydon works in the family business when he is out of school.
Their daughter, Karman Matthews, is married to Chris Matthews and they live in Paragould. She is a fashion consultant. They have 16 year old twin sons, Chance and Chase, juniors in high school.
“The whole family jumped in and helped us,” Melba said. “It really has been a family project.”
The 3,200 square foot house sitting on 1-1/2 acres is just what the Barnes were looking for and they are excited to see it all coming together.
“Every inch of the house has been touched, moved or painted,” Melba said. “If we couldn't find exactly what we wanted, I designed it and Eddie built it."
They finalized the sale in March and hit the ground running with a jack hammer and a plan.
The second stage, which they hope to hit next year, is the landscaping and making any changes they missed in stage 1. Stage 3 is the final landscaping, circle drive, and maybe putting a dock at the back of the house to Honey Cypress ditch.
Melba is also excited to have one of her sisters, Ann, and her husband, Dewayne Cornelison, back in Leachville.
“When we lived in the Village at Hot Springs, we lived a mile apart and now we are about a mile apart in Leachville," Melba said. “Another sister, Cindy, and her husband, John Crawford, have always lived here and they have been helpful in helping us in our contacts for the jobs we don't do ourselves."
Melba and Eddie are glad to be back to the place they have always called home. Having their children and grandchildren a few miles closer makes the move even better.