When Nick and Jerri Schaefer bought Havisham House, the turn of the 19th-century brick farmhouse in Alto Pass, it did not have a name, and much like the infamous Satis House, the derelict mansion in the Charles Dickens novel Great Expectations, it was a wreck.
To be fair, the Havisham House has a long history, and recently, the elements were not kind.
A look at the past
The home was built by local entrepreneur A.J Rendleman, who broke ground on the house in 1888 and completed it in 1892.
In 1905, Rendleman sold the property to his nephew, John Foley. The Foley family maintained the house and property until it was sold to Jim Walker in the 1950s, at which point the first floor was used for a funeral parlor.
In 1967, the house was sold once more to Mike Jeremiah, who renovated much of the property over a period of years, restoring, fabricating and repairing much of the beautiful woodwork still seen throughout the building's interiors.
And in 2012, this beautiful home was severely damaged by a tornado and thereafter fell into severe disrepair. It remained in this condition until 2016, when it was saved by Jerri and Nick.
A beloved book inspired change
“Great Expectations is one of my favorite books,” said Jerri, “and one of the things that stayed with me is how Dickens described this beautiful house that was suffering from neglect because Miss Havisham was so distraught that she let it go to ruin. I always wanted to fix that house. I called this house Havisham House because of that.”
The Schaefers originally came in contact with the property when Nick and a few of his business partners bought it. “We fix and flip properties in our spare time, and one day one of my partners came across this house. It was a disaster,” Nick laughed.
Nick said the house was in such bad shape that it had been condemned. Vegetation growing through the window frames, a tornado had ripped off the roof, and a tree had fallen through one of the walls, but something about the place called out to be saved.
So they tried. But after a year of solid work, the partners decided to abandon the project.
“We originally purchased this place to make money, and in retrospect, what we should have done was raise the big house, use the debris for fill to even out the property, renovate the carriage house and resell it. It would probably have been a three-month job and we would have seen a profit,” Nick said.
Luckily, Jerri is the bookkeeper for the business and got wind of the plan to resell the property.
Hospitality in her heart
“I had wanted to be in the hospitality business since high school. I went to Southeast Missouri State (SEMO) and I pursued it as a career. It seemed to me this house was the perfect opportunity for me finally have my own place to run,” Jerri said.
Nick and Jerri met right out of high school. He grew up in Wolf Lake, and she in Thebes. While raising their family, Jerri put her time in learning the ropes: she worked for Charles and Jim Drury at The Drury Lodge Holiday Inn, the Convention and Visitors Bureau of Cape Girardeau and the Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce.
“One day in the middle of all that Jerri turned to me and said ‘Why don’t we buy it?’ So we did. We began work on November 16, 2016. We started even before the paperwork was completed for the sale,” Nick remembered. “I said if we are going to do this, we need to do it now if we are going to be ready to open in the spring.”
So the Schaefer’s set a date for a spring open house, March 18, 2017, and jumped into the world of home repair and renovation.
But the only reason they were able to make their deadline, Nick said, was because of a tremendous outpouring of community that came in the form of a group of friends who stepped in to help finish the project.
“At the beginning of all this I had asked a bunch of guys to save me some time in their spring schedules in case I needed help, and one day, when I really did need it, one of my friends just showed up and started working, and it went from there,” Nick said.
Nick said the final weeks leading up to the open house were akin to something you might see on TV.
“It was like one of those fixer-upper shows. At one point there were seven carpenters working on this place at the same time. We started moving furniture in about midnight the night before. I was literally hanging a picture on the wall as the first person was walking up to the house,” Nick recalled.
The big reveal
And the end-product of this project is a thing of beauty. You’ll find 18th-century novels on a table in the reading nook at the top of an antique staircase and a tome of Poe perched on a downstairs sideboard.
The floors and the woodwork are mostly original, and the house has high ceilings on both floors. In designing the interior, Jerri chose a classically neutral color palette to balance the heaviness of all that wood, which helps to give the place a light and airy feel.
The first floor’s cozy warren of rooms allow plenty of space for guests to spread out, and the custom kitchen is set up to accommodate just about any level of chef.
Everything about the home is appealing: The enclosed sun porch has a family-sized table and overlooks a newly seeded lawn, the formal dining room’s more formal setting is nonetheless bright and inviting.
A sitting room just off the spacious entry hall has a gas fireplace, a hide-a-bed and pocket doors to which allows larger groups to rent the place. The half bath Nick tucked under the gracious staircase makes that possible, too.
Upstairs two bright bedrooms share a sitting area and bath, but what a bath it is.
A huge soaking tub, a walk-in glass shower, and large stained-glass windows make a spa of the custom-designed bathroom. There’s a laundry closet hidden in there, too, to make longer stays more convenient.
“We’ve had several parties stay for longer periods of time, and we’ve had a bunch of people rent the entire property,” Jerri said.
A space for everyone
The entire property includes the carriage house, which sits at the back of the lot, and is bermed into the hillside. At the time the land was developed, it was really was used to house livestock and park a rig.
Now, that space has been converted into a quiet bedroom which looks out onto a terrace. Upstairs, there’s another bedroom for guests and an open concept living room-kitchen combo.
“This is a solid little building. We removed a wall between the kitchen and living space and that just lightened things up. As I said earlier, it might have made sense to just keep this and get rid of the rest. But apparently, that was not meant to happen,” Nick stated.
Nick said part of the reason for that was that the foundation in the main house was in unbelievable condition.
“They built the foundation with stone they pulled out of the creek that runs by the property, and it has remained in remarkable condition. It’s part of what convinced us to renovate the larger house,” Nick said.
The brick used in building the gracious, two-story, French-Victorian was made in a dale below the house, as was brick used in other buildings scattered throughout the town of Alto Pass.
Their manufacturer used up so much dirt that a small valley developed next to the house, a feature that Jerri is more than happy to have.
Happy times at Havisham House
“Nick just got finished regrading and seeding that lawn, and we will be hosting our first wedding on the property later in the spring. We are really looking forward to having people here and to share the home’s history,” Jerri said.
For some travelers, the part of the home’s history that includes its use as a funeral parlor may be disconcerting, but most people, Jerri said, find it more of a curiosity.
“People feel better when I tell them it was only used as a viewing parlor. Nothing else happened here. And besides, we had our priest bless it with holy water at the open house, so there are only good feelings in this place,” Jerri said.
Part of that good feeling also comes from the place the house inhabits in the community’s memory.
“We’ve had so many people stop by and share their stories with us. The house has existed in the memories of so many people over such a long span of time. People seem to love that there is a piece of the past that has survived all this time,” Jerri stated.
All in all, the house feels settled, and for lack of a better word, happy.
Part of that may be because for Nick and Jerri, their collaboration on the house was a terrific experience.
“You hear of people having just the roughest time doing something like this, but I loved working with Nick. It was a very positive experience. As a couple, we had a very positive experience renovating this house,” Jerri said.
Nick, too reported that it was one of the most fun things they have ever done together.
“It surprised us how much we loved working on this. And how much more we still want to do here,” Nick said.
Nick and Jerri call Anna home. Nick’s business, Shaefer Excavating, makes its home there, too. This year, their three daughters will graduate from 8th grade, college and graduate school.