Among the many well preserved historic structures in Anna-Jonesboro, one of the most stately and impressive homes belongs to Larry and Melody Keller and sits majestically atop a slight hill beyond a stone retaining wall, just a few minutes outside of Jonesboro. On what used to be the main thoroughfare for travel to Cape Girardeau from Union County is now a quiet and peaceful four acre piece of property which serves as a beautiful retirement oasis and family gathering spot for the Kellers, as well as an important landmark in the history of Southern Illinois. The white columns that adorn the entryway of the brick home welcome visitors to immerse themselves in the history of the property, while also enjoying the cozy comforts within the charming abode.
Brick by brick
The Keller’s home was built in 1938 by Dr. Benjamin W. Brooks, the first physician to practice in the Jonesboro area. Dr. Brooks saw patients in one of the rear rooms of the house and also served as a surveyor, county commissioner and, later, a member of the Illinois legislature. After moving from Pennsylvania to attend medical school in Louisville, Kentucky, Brooks purchased roughly four hundred acres of land and began construction of the home straightaway, with the bricks used in the structure manufactured on site. The home has twenty-four inch thick exterior walls made entirely of that original brick, while the interior walls are an equally impressive eighteen inches thick. The building is a classic example of Federal style architecture, square in shape, two rooms deep, with columns in front and symmetrically aligned, rectangular windows all around.
“The interesting thing about a Federal style house, they have center halls downstairs and upstairs and the four main rooms in the house are exactly the same measurements, the same windows, the fireplaces are all in the same place,” shared Melody.
The home has several noteworthy nods to its previous owners, with the buggy step just off the front porch reading “J.V. Brooks” for James Vance Brooks, the son of Dr. Benjamin Brooks and the second owner of the home. The crank style doorbell on the back door, which patients used to announce their arrival to Dr. Brooks’ practice, still rings loud and clear throughout the home while the doorknobs show a patent date of 1842. The pristine limestone foundation and the root cellar that sits below the rear portion of the home have stones likely sourced, at least in part, from the bluff directly behind the house. The home eventually moved from ownership within the Brooks family to other families, at times sitting empty, until Larry and Melody purchased the home in 2015. While the structure of the home is still very sound, the Kellers had a hefty undertaking with the renovations necessary to make the home hospitable. But they were up for the challenge of renovating an historic home and were excited to purchase a piece of property just a bit outside the busy streets of Anna-Jonesboro.
Not a day too soon
“The style was always appealing to me and it had a little more ground around it,” remarked Larry.
The couple worked for close to seven months, renovating the home while they lived in a camper on the property. Larry, who worked as an electric lineman for Southern Illinois Electric for over thirty years, and as a drywall installer for ten years before that, had the tools and knowledge to perform much of the work himself with a few hired hands. Other than the new HVAC system, plumbing updates, and the roof, Larry took it upon himself to replace the flooring throughout the main level of the home with rich oak, perform plaster repair to the walls and ceilings, completely remodel the kitchen, and repair baseboards and other woodwork within the home.
“We lived in a camper for about seven months while Larry worked on the house. It was the day before Thanksgiving and I was having twenty-one people over. So we moved in the day before Thanksgiving,” said Melody.
Making it their own
A homemaker, wedding designer, and cherished culinarian to the couple’s three daughters and their respective families, Melody was ready to settle into the home, with a brand new kitchen to boot.
While local designer, Ethan Hostetler, created the exquisite white custom cabinetry in the kitchen, Larry and Melody worked on a few of the other tasks in the room together, including the gleaming white tile backsplash. Perfectly speckled quartz countertops and the rich oak floors are a beautiful contrast to the red brick fireplace in the kitchen, which sits just behind a spacious island outfitted with tall chairs, creating a cozy, crisp atmosphere for quiet meals between the couple.
Across the hall from the kitchen is the space that was originally Dr. Brooks’ office and exam area, but is now home to an office, workspace, powder room, and laundry room. Just in front of the kitchen is the dining room where the Kellers enjoy meals with their lively brood of children and grandchildren. The dining room, like all other rooms in the house, is airy and uncrowded, with high ceilings and natural light streaming in abundantly from the six-over-six style windows that stretch nearly floor to ceiling.
“The house faces the east and it has light all day long. Light always makes you feel better,” said Larry.
The rhythms of life
The two front rooms on the first floor were originally parlors and now tend to separate the men from the women at family gatherings. The room to the right of the hall has a fern green mantel, with somewhat earthier tones the room draws the male members of the Keller family to congregate together. The bright and cheery room to the left of the center hallway is decorated mainly with bright whites and is a warm and vivacious oasis for the women. The fireplace boasts a beautiful gilded mirror above the mantel and originally came from Mobile, Alabama, eventually making its way to a local auction house.
You have free articles remaining.
Each room in the Keller home is stunning and well-appointed with antique furniture and lamps. Larry is a savvy collector of antiques and his finds are mainly nineteenth century pieces that look as though they were placed in the home at the time it was built. The craftsmanship of the many bureaus, cabinets, tables, and armoires is beyond compare, standing testament to Larry’s prowess as a buyer.
Upstairs, the two bedrooms to the right of the center hall serve as elegantly designed guest rooms for family and friends to enjoy. The rear bedroom has a towering four-poster bed with a silky fabric insert in the canopy that is fit for royalty. The front bedroom, decorated with various shades of cheerful blue, has another four-poster bed topped with a dreamy crocheted canopy. The bedrooms do not have closets but are outfitted with wardrobes produced in the 1800s. Most of the antiques on the second floor of the home are knock down pieces, made to be disassembled and moved with ease.
The two bedrooms on the opposite side of the hall are now a master suite and an additional guest bathroom. The front room is the master bedroom, with a large walk-in closet and an immaculate marble bathroom behind it.
The more things change
The Kellers are passionate about keeping the home true to its original state, and while the home originally had four bedrooms and no bathrooms, not many changes were made beyond what was necessary to its survival as an almost century old building. The home now boasts three bedrooms and three bathrooms with new oak flooring and marble tile on the main level and new windows throughout the home.
“It had a couple of bathrooms added over the years but overall nothing had been changed. The flooring is original upstairs. We tried to keep it within the framework of the original building but the modern amenities we brought on because we live here and it’s better for the house,” shared Larry.
The home has retained its character with some serious work to preserve its appeal. All of the mantels over the fireplaces are original to the home. The transom windows above the doorways remain useful avenues for light to travel between rooms, while the ceiling medallions are still in pristine condition. The baseboards and moldings are mostly original with just a few repairs made during the renovation, and the poplar floors on the second level of the home are splendid in appearance. While the windows were replaced for better efficiency, they are the same style as before.
“A lot of people would say not to take the old windows out but it was the right thing to do,” said Larry.
See for yourself
While the pleasure of experiencing the abundant history, beauty, and charm of the home is an honor in itself, any visitors who have the distinct opportunity to tour the Keller home when it is decorated for Christmas are in for a special treat. With Melody’s background in wedding design, the cheery holiday decor is the perfect addition to the already well appointed home. Glittering red and gold garland adorns the handrail of the central stairway, while cheery, lighted trinkets, statues, and ornaments fill in corners and nooks to make the holiday season extra special. Wreaths hang in many of the tall windows in each room of the home, and lighted, glittering trees are artfully placed in the common areas, creating a warm glow.
The Kellers are gearing up for the second annual Hadley’s Haven Home Tour, which takes place in early December each year. The tour is one of many fundraisers to honor the legacy of the Keller’s late granddaughter, Hadley, who tragically passed away after a courageous battle following a number of birth defects and surgeries during her short life. Melody cared for Hadley in the home five days a week and the couple treasure every moment they experienced with their beautiful granddaughter.
“She was wonderful. She was really special. Everybody called her the miracle baby. We had her for 19 months and 23 days and that too was a miracle,” shared Melody.
Hadley’s Haven is working to raise the $750,000 needed to build an inclusive playground at the Anna City Park, that will have play opportunities for persons of all ages and abilities. The Kellers, along with eleven to twelve other families, open their decorated homes to ticket buyers in December, to peruse the beautiful holiday decor while also supporting a cause to enrich the lives of locals throughout the year.
Larry and Melody Keller have worked tirelessly to restore the spirit of an important piece of architecture in Southern Illinois. The repairs, renovation, upkeep, and design performed by the couple elicit admiration from any who walk through the doors of the beautiful structure to experience firsthand the historical importance of the home.