Nunn Schoolhouse Burns Down


Posted by Cassie

It’s true what they say. All things come to an end. All your work in this life. All your worldly possessions. Even your house. Even a sturdy, century-old historical landmark.


The Nunn Schoolhouse ablaze in flames

Yesterday, on Blue Moon August 31, 2012 a little before 6pm  a fire started near the front porch of the old schoolhouse in Nunn, Colorado. It rapidly spread into the house through the open windows and soon engulfed the whole house in flames. In 7 minutes the volunteer fire department had arrived, but by then, it was too late. It was fully involved. Fortunately everyone in the house was rescued save for two cats who lost their lives. But all human and canine residents were accounted for.


The Nunn Schoolhouse on fire when it still had a roof

By 7:30 that evening the house was nothing but a ruin. The roof had caved in. The attic had fallen. The second floor and the staircase were reduced to ashes. The main floor reduced to a smoldering heap of soot. The triple-thick bricks fell from the top floor in a mess of black and orange-red mortar and clay.

And that is the end of the story. The end of an era. The end of a building that touched so many lives. All good things come to an end even old schoolhouses turned homes.

It may be the end of the story. But it’s not the whole story.


An old Nunn Schoolhouse and bus photo circa ??

You see this old building didn’t start out all fire and brimstone. It started out as a school. It was built in the early 1900′s and served all ages in the Nunn area for quite a while until the high school moved to what is now the town administrative building and community center/gym. From the 1960s until the about 1990 an older woman named Eva Veil lived there surrounded by thousands and thousands of books, and shoes and paintings and clothing until she was too old to take care of herself. People told us stories that she was very eccentric with long white hair. She lived in harmony with the bats in the attic and in the evenings she would sit outside at dusk while they flew from the belfry.

After Ms. Veil left, in early 1990 my parents went to an auction and bought the old dilapidated, but beautiful house (and acreage) that was filled with all sorts of strange old things from refrigerators full of blue chalk to a bed piled high with coats and literally tons of old heat radiators.  My dad wanted to buy it to tear it down for its bricks, but my mom couldn’t let him take down such a beauty of architecture. “Well, what should we do with it?” he asked and finally they decided to remodel it and make it our home. I was about 10 years old.

When we moved in, it wasn’t completely finished. I remember carrying dishes from the  kitchen upstairs to the bathtub to wash them since we hadn’t yet put in a kitchen sink! Over the next few years we continued to work on the house until it was the true beauty it had been hiding all along. People always asked us if it was haunted, but we never really felt spooked except in that attic and in the unfinished basement where many of those books from the 1800s ended up.


During its glory days as our house -The Davis Schoolhouse 553 2nd St

There are so many memories there. Birthday parties, Halloween costume parties, graduation parties, Christmas and white elephant parties. Britton picked me up there to go on our very first date. And of course that was the place of our wedding reception.


On our wedding day at the Nunn Schoolhouse

But we should not forget all those daily smaller memories. I could tell you stories in each room of that house. Breakfasts in the kitchen that my dad would cook on the weekends. Watching TV in my parents’ huge bedroom.  Slumber parties in the living room with sleeping bags strewn about. It was our home through and through. And yet it was also a piece of history to the community as well. People would often stop by and ask for a tour reminiscing about what it once looked like when they went there to school.


A Thanksgiving in the kitchen hearth area of the house


Celebrating my graduation from UNC at our house

Dad never stopped working on making that house more and more beautiful. From the original schoolhouse he and my mom along with a team of contractors:

cleaned it out
gutted rooms like the locker rooms
designed it
framed and finished the walls
added crown moulding
filled in a window space
made our kitchen and bathrooms with custom cabinets and features
added an upper and lower front deck
added a fireplace
added a three-car garage with a mud room
put in all new windows
installed a new roof
completely redid the plumbing and electrical to modern code
installed a sprinkler system, yard and trees

-and later-

added a huge side deck made of flagstone
added a pump house for the well
built a huge brick wall
added a flag pole


Entryway and staircase with refinished oak wood floors and chandelier

So you can understand how I have a sentimental attachment to this house that is not just any ordinary house. In 2003 I had moved out to live with Britton in Greeley. We both often visited my parents and brother and looked forward to Dad’s famous BBQ and breakfasts. And it wasn’t until shortly after my dad was diagnosed with cancer in 2007 that they lost the house because they could no longer afford to pay for it with all the medical bills coming in.

It was a sad day when we auctioned off most of the contents of the house and they finally moved away. Soon enough a new family, the current owners, moved in. But deep in my heart, this house with all this hard work would always be tied forever to us, and especially with Dad. So many things in the property had his mark forever on them. And that gave me a sense of comfort. Something as big and strong as Dad. That would last for another 100 years +.

So when I saw a strange photograph on Facebook of a building burning it took my eyes a few double takes to register that this was my old house! This was the Nunn Schoolhouse. My home in my heart.

When we heard what happened we decided to take a drive out this morning to see the damage. It was still smoking and the entire upper west wall of which had once been my parents’ room was completely gone. It had transformed from a magnificent schoolhouse mansion into an ancient charred ruin. What we saw shocked and burned me to the core. It is the death of a family member.


Someone called it “The Saddest Day in Nunn’s History”


They managed to save the garage (with Mom in front)


The entire upper west wall and part of the roof of the pump house -gone

Like a death, it really does just make you cherish your memories and realize that the time we have with anyone, and anything!, is definitely finite. I am so happy to have been a big part of the story of this old house, but I also feel like I have lost a friend or family member. It will never again be the same. I hope the family that lived there is able to heal and rebuild their lives and home. But never will we have a chance to walk up those stairs to my old bedroom or feel the walls that Jack (my dad) built.  It is gone forever, but it will live always in my heart and in the hearts of all it touched.

**A special thanks to Nick Jensen for some of the earlier photos of the house while ablaze.**

 

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15 thoughts on “Nunn Schoolhouse Burns Down

  1. Linda

    I am so sad for you Cassie..and your Mom, brother and of course Britton! It’s wonderful to have the memories deeply embedded and photos and video. On a blue moon.

    Reply
  2. Cassie

    Thanks Linda. It is so so sad. The blue moon is strange because it was sort of an unofficial current that ran through the time of our wedding. The band played the song, we drank the beer and we saw a cool old boat named that on our honeymoon in Puerto Rico. Strange to have this fire occur on one as well.

    Reply
  3. annie

    Dear Cassie, Britton, Char and Justin,
    I am so sad and shocked; seeing the ruins was just gut wrenching. Like you said, “so many memories” of happy times and sad too. Thought that house would all survive us all!

    Seeing Char and Jack in the video at that time when you were rebuilding the home was poignant — so happy and proud. Jack told me when Cassie and Justin were little and you were living in Greeley that he dreamed of building a beautiful brick home that would be a gift to his family, but especially Char, a gift of his love. Jack’s beautiful outside brickwork was just amazing – a lawyer who loved to do masonry as a hobby. The beautifully painted windows and balcony, the deck, the gleaming floors and wood – all gone! I remember looking out the upstairs windows (and especially Cassie’s for some reason) at the plains and thinking “such a special place.”

    It is interesting and spooky that it burned on the blue moon, shortly after your visit to Jack’s grave, incredible coincidence.

    Thanks for that beautiful video. My heart grieves with the losses the Davis and Kaufman familes have endured these past few years. This is just the most recent.

    But from ashes of the past will come new life and I am sure you will enjoy and experience a beautiful new chapter. Love to you all.

    Reply
  4. laura

    What a lovely tribute to the sad end of wonderful part of our family history.

    Grandma called me yesterday and told me about the fire and I nearly broke into tears. Like you said Cassie, that house has been like a family member for all of us. It served as a warm and loving home for your family, a place that others (like me) would look forward to visiting, and it just seemed “unbreakable”.

    I am so sorry for your loss. I know what this house meant to you and your family. When things like this happen, I am at a loss for words. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help or comfort you.

    When I would hear this song and watch this video, I would think of your and the Nunn house. Even though it is not the same, the memories will always remain.

    Reply
  5. Dawn

    I just want you to you know that I am sorry about the loss of the house. My parents had looked at it twice after it went on the market but ultimately decided not to move. But the house was beautiful and I took my camera back the next time we went and I took a ton of pictures. It was an amazing piece of history and your family did an amazing job restoring it. I’m glad your have your memories, and the fire is heartbreaking. Your video brought tears to me eyes. Thanks for sharing the home’s history.

    Reply
  6. tripp

    I just stumbled onto this blog. I was living there when it burned. My plan was just to stay there for a few months, and it was starting to feel like home. I was inside and upstairs when it started. The only thing I could save was myself and my dogs. I don’t think a house can burn any faster than that one did. The wind had a lot to do with that. One second I was trying to get a hose on the fire and in mere seconds it was the entire front porch ablaze. Everyone is ok…a little shaken up, but ok.

    I moved there like that due to having to move out of one place and not having another lined up. That house was pretty much a last resort. That made it feel like a refuge for me. I was so relieved to stay there and had been there a month and a half. It was a really terrible thing to have to watch.

    Reply
  7. Cassie

    Thanks for the comments Laura, Fran, Dawn, Tripp also! It’s amazing how many people this house touched.

    Tripp, your story is so powerful. I am happy the house provided refuge for you during your time of need. My dad always opened the house to others as well. That was part of its legacy as well apparently. So scary that it went up so fast. Just incredible. I hope everyone who lived there manages to put back the pieces to your lives. Must be so difficult when everything you own goes up in smoke. I wish you well and hope you find your footing soon.

    Reply
  8. tripp

    Cassie,
    The owners were actually fostering dogs out of the house. When I moved in there were 12 foster pups. It was like a tornado of cuteness when you let them out of their kennels. Only one was left…an amazing survival story too…when the house burned. We thought he was lost, but he somehow survived in the garage.

    When I moved in, I joked with them that when they took on two more foster dogs–mine–I was probably the first foster owner. We weren’t really foster anything, but it felt like it a bit.

    I shared this blog with some friends and family of mine, and they thought it was really powerful and told the story so well. It was such a hard place to describe.

    That song you used….it’s stuck in my head now. I keep replaying things…my dog sniffing the air–that was my cue something was going on. Running out, trying to do something, running away. When I relive those moments that song starts in my head! In the time it takes to play that song was about the time I became aware of something to the time I knew the house was lost.

    Your message at the end of the video brought me to tears every time I read it.

    Reply
  9. Anne

    I actually spent some time in the house as a little girl in the 70′s. I had family that helped Eva, when she lived there. My family was really her only companionship during that time. I would love to take a couple of minutes and talk to you on the phone. Thanks, Anne 351-0840

    Reply
  10. Mike Kimmick

    Hi Cassie,

    So sad to read this article! While I was only a “renter” for a short time, I still have fond memories of being in that house sharing stories with your dad!

    I hope your mom, dad, and family are doing well! Tell your dad I said hello, and I wish I could help with snow removal once again…much easier way of life! :)

    Wish you the best!

    Mike Kimmick

    Reply
  11. Mike Kimmick

    Cassie,

    I must apologize most sincerely!!! I found your page about your dad…so sad for me as well! I was only a short-timer, but he taught me so much! He was one of the few truly Jovial and Optimistic people I have ever met that still influences me today!

    RIP…Jack the Happy-Go-Lucky Mentor!

    Take Care,

    Mike Kimmick

    Reply

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