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Wellborns enjoy downtown festivities in Sullivan-Wellborn house on Front Street

Immaculately trimmed boxwoods add character on the front lawn of the Sullivan-Wellborn House on Front Street. (Photo by Jen Fouts-Detulleo, JFD Photography & Design)
Immaculately trimmed boxwoods add character on the front lawn of the Sullivan-Wellborn House on Front Street. (Photo by Jen Fouts-Detulleo, JFD Photography & Design)

MADISON – Chris and Suzanne Wellborn feel that historic homes have a soul. On the corner of Buttermilk Alley, they live at 23 Front Street in the Madison Station Historical District.

“Old houses are not for everyone … drafty windows, small baths, lack of storage, smaller rooms. But nothing compares to the warm feeling of an old home,” Suzanne said.

For Suzanne, the house says, “I’ve been here a long time, seen lots of things and now it’s your turn to make your memories here.” Suzanne “feels the house smile when we take care of it and it takes care of us.”

In 1859, Huntsville landowner James Clemens sold this property to brick kiln owners John Cosby and James Bailey (killed in the Civil War). Dr. George Sullivan, namesake of Sullivan Street, bought the lot in 1868.

Built in 1889, the house had four owners from 1891 to 1910, when merchant William Binford Humphrey bought it. Rodney Whatley purchased the property in 1999 and sold it to the Wellborns in 2010, when Chris Wellborn retired as lieutenant colonel from the U.S. Air Force.

The Wellborns found the house “full of personality, great charm and potential” but needing fresh paint and “TLC” after sitting empty. The bungalow has a spacious front porch with sunburst detail on the railing. Original heart-of-pine floors were immaculate. All windows have original wavy glass.

All walls are plaster without insulation. “Wintertime can be a little challenging. We use all the fireplaces, which makes for a cozy feeling,” Suzanne said.

They upgraded the master bath from “a frightening brown 1970s capsule tub,” heating/cooling, attic and “‘gussied up’ the kitchen cabinets. I had to figure out how to turn a sow’s ear of a kitchen into a silk purse,” she said. “It’s charming now but way too small.”

The five-bedroom house has two baths, a den, living and dining rooms at approximately 2,900 square feet. Early American and English Country are their decor choices.

The Wellborns have custom floor-to-ceiling brown velvet draperies. Wall color is neutral wheat, except for customized terracotta in the back hall and dining room. The dining room is Suzanne’s favorite spot for “gorgeous light as the wavy glass causes dappled sunshine to glow on the terracotta walls” and a “heavy brass chandelier that came out of a posh London hotel.”

“When our family was stationed in England, I frequented antique auctions in Diss, County of Norfolk,” Suzanne said. She acquired an English Welsh pine dresser that “would feel at home in Downton Abbey’s kitchen. A Belgian linen press of cherry nearly gave the movers a hernia.”

In the nursery, a Welsh baptismal gown was worn by Suzanne for her baptism and daughter Elizabeth at her christening. Made in the 1800s, the gown came by ship from England to Canada and eventually made it to Mississippi to her grandmother’s family, the Hughes.

The lawn has massive shade trees. A previous owner planted a boxwood garden with “a great English cottage feel,” she said. “Sadly, we had to remove a gigantic oak, dying of an irreversible disease, that was 23 feet in circumference. The middle section weighed 18,000 pounds.”

They wanted to raise their children in the South and live closer to family. Suzanne grew up in Kosciusko, Miss. where “everybody knew my family and waved as they passed. Even grocery shopping was a chance to socialize. I wanted my kids to have that experience.”

They’re flexible about living amid downtown gatherings. “We love having a front-row seat to all festivals, parades and gazebo concerts. It just feels like a big house party,” she said.

A native of Jackson, Miss., Chris works as a defense consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton. Suzanne worked as an Air Force educational counselor until her first child was born. Their children are Marshall, 11, Elizabeth, 8, and eight-month-old Benton. Their three rescue cats are Harry, Socks and Daniel.

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