The Clover House: A History Restored
Old homes can be found in nearly every community, but what exactly makes an older home significant? While its age is certainly a contributing factor, the architecture, the history, and the people who built memories inside it are what make it truly unique.
Few people understand this better than Charlie and Tricia Kirksey, a local couple who lovingly restored a beautiful craftsman home near downtown Exeter. While their act of preserving a piece of history may seem like a nod to the past, it is just as much a symbol of dedication to the future.
Three years ago, Charlie and Tricia were happily settled into their three-bedroom Exeter home, a place where they assumed they would reside until retirement and beyond. But, as it often does, life threw an unexpected curveball in the form of a large and dilapidated 1908 craftsman home. Armed with a hammer and a lot of passion, the Kirkseys purchased the nearly unlivable home with the “impossible” dream of restoration.
“If somebody else would have gotten this house, it would have been torn down,” said Tricia. “It was in such bad shape. A lot of people did not understand how we were going to do what we did and thought we were crazy.”
Flipping through a photo album filled with almost unrecognizable “before” pictures, Tricia pointed out spots where the floors were falling apart, where the ceiling was deteriorating, and where siding was falling off the house. Nearly 110 years of tenants had taken its toll on the Exeter landmark, and to some it seemed the only option was to tear it down.
Nine years before the Kirkseys purchased the home, a man named Wes Clover and his wife Marion became the owners with the dream of fixing it up as a venue for the Exeter community. With unplanned barriers in their way, years passed and their dream never became a reality. Faced with a tough decision, Wes approached long-time friends Charlie and Tricia about buying the house from him, knowing that if anyone could fix it up, it would be them.
“Wes was very community-oriented and had a huge heart for this city and wanted to do a lot of things for it,” said Tricia. “Wes talked to Charlie at length about what his vision was and what he knew Charlie was capable of doing, so we agreed to purchase it.”
In May 2014, the nine-month renovation began. As a contractor by trade, Charlie worked on the house full-time to bring it back to life. He researched craftsman style architecture and décor and even duplicated many of the home’s original features to ensure consistency in both style and era. For example, in what used to be a front screened-in porch, Charlie handcrafted box-beamed ceilings to match the existing beams in the living area. Other duplicated features include some of the kitchen cabinets, the siding on the outside of the home, and the intricate dentation molding on the staircase banisters.
The century-old house was in an unlivable state when the couple got started. Even still, there were surprisingly many original features intact, including the wood flooring, most of the windows, the dining room’s built-in cabinets, the stone fireplace in the main living area, the banisters on the staircase, the entryway closet, and most of the doors throughout the house.
During the renovation process, one of the most difficult and time-consuming tasks was stripping the paint off the walls to get to the original wood. For four months straight, Charlie and his crew of at least four men peeled back decades of paint, finally revealing the wood that withstood 100 years of man’s attempt to cover it up.
“For Wes, bringing the wood back was one of the biggest things he wanted,” said Tricia. “You see some of the old pictures with seven to eight layers of paint, and just think ‘how could someone do that to a house of this character?’”
Charlie even uncovered several pocket doors in the kitchen that had, for possibly 60 years, been preserved beneath seven layers of paint. Charlie explained, “There’s no telling how long they’ve been in there. I opened the walls and completely rebuilt the track, but the doors were in great shape. Opening it up made me think about how long ago someone even touched those doors.”
While the Kirkseys were restoring the home’s physical character, they also made efforts to research and uncover its rich history and purpose, which ranges from a railroad home to a private residence to a home for the developmentally disabled. In fact, Tricia grew up right across the street and, as a local real estate broker, has sold the house twice in her career. So the home’s history is significant to the Kirkseys in more ways than mere fascination.
The house was originally built in 1908 by M.C. English for a man named Jonathan Grant Kirkman, who brought the railroad company to Exeter. With the railroad company located just behind the property, John would do business from his home office. The conductors would enter through the former screened-in porch (now part of the main living area) and walk directly into John’s office, which could be closed off from the rest of the house. In fact, the Kirkseys use this study today and have furnished it with craftsman era antiques that reflect that time period.
Throughout the home, the Kirkseys have displayed antique furniture and special pieces they’ve purchased from close friends and family members. Perhaps some of the more rare and significant items include two genuine Stickley chairs, which Charlie restored after finding them in a Visalia antique store. Other special pieces include an authentic 1880s sleeping couch, a vintage Murphy bed acquired from a friend, a craftsman-era clock placed above the mantel, a Tiffany lamp that belonged to Wes, and a tea cup that belonged to his wife Marion. The Kirkseys see their home as a place where they can bring together aspects of Exeter history; they’ve even kept a book listing the provenance of many of the antiques.
“A lot of the antiques that we’ve bought from family and friends, have history behind them,” said Tricia. “They are excited knowing that we brought those pieces here and they’re going to be used and shared with other people.”
And sharing that local history, of both the home and of Exeter, has been one of the Kirksey’s greatest joys. In addition to being a wedding and event venue, the couple has made the home available for historic tours to locals and tourists. In December 2015, they opened up The Clover House to the Exeter Woman’s Club Christmas Home Tour and had 400 guests come through while their family and friends dressed in period clothing.
“We were really excited to be on the Exeter Woman’s Club tour because it brought so many people through who didn’t realize the history of Exeter and the railroad history,” said Tricia. Charlie added, “And there are still a lot of local people who don’t know about the history, so that’s what we want to share.”
While most of the home is period authentic, the Kirkseys added several features to make it accessible for large events. Charlie converted both of the downstairs bathrooms to be handicapped accessible and built a large back veranda with a ramp to accommodate a variety of guests.
For Charlie, an Exeter resident since 1972, taking on this project was a natural fit. Even though he spent 20 years as a truck driver before becoming a contractor, he always enjoyed doing work with his hands. Once he got into construction, much of his work revolved around remodeling older homes.
“When you deal with an old home remodel, it’s very hard when you don’t know what’s going to be behind a wall,” said Tricia. “But Charlie has been around old homes for a long time and knows how to do those, so that’s his specialty.”
Though Tricia has played an important role in bringing this dream to life, she credits Charlie with the creative process saying, “We both had a vision for this, but this is all his gifts and talents and a showcase of what he’s had to offer for a long time…And there were a lot of people who were here helping us—a lot of my family members, like our son Jake; my sister Terri and her husband George; my sister Brenda and her husband Robert; my nieces and nephews; and just friends that have given their time and love.”
Perhaps the most encouragement came from family friend and owner of Hometown Emporium, Kristy Alves. Like many Exeter natives, she was also good friends with Wes, who came in to her shop for lunch almost every day. Through that relationship, she came to understand his dream for the home, and she continues to be involved with The Clover House as their exclusive caterer.
No matter what the Kirkseys did to the home, they wanted to make sure it reflected Wes’ vision. In fact, before agreeing to take on the project, they told Wes their only stipulation was allowing them to name the house after him. And so it became “The Clover House,” not because it is painted green, as many people assume, but because of a special man with a dream for his community. Sadly, Wes passed away in 2014, about six months into the renovation, so he never got to see the final product. But his vision lives on as a piece of Exeter history where new memories will be made for years to come.
“It has been a labor of love; a lot of time, a lot of money, and a lot of resources, but it’s definitely worth it because this is home to us and something we want to share with the community,” said Tricia.
While the Kirkseys never imagined taking on such an immense project, their love of history, their commitment to their community, and their dedication to the future made them the perfect, if not only, fit for restoring The Clover House.
“You wonder if in another 100 years, will the house still be here and will people be talking about our history and legacy?” asked Tricia. “There’s history behind every house, whether it’s new or not, and you want to leave that legacy.”
In February, The Kirkseys were awarded with the Exeter Chamber of Commerce’s 2016 “Beatification Award” for their work restoring The Clover House as an Exeter landmark.