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Couple home at last with 1886 house

Staff writer

The first time Jennifer McDonald walked into 203 N. 2nd St. in Marion, she knew she was home.

“This house, it took my breath away,” McDonald said, her hand all but caressing its grand stairway.

Mesmerized by its porch, bay windows, and the stories it housed for 137 years, she’d been checking it out from the Historic Elgin Hotel, where she works as manager.

McDonald had a similar feeling when she first saw the Elgin.

In February, she and her longtime partner, Jamie Bitonti, closed on a house that sat vacant for nine years. Tampa State Bank lent them the money to restore the home, which once was a boarding house.

“I was very intimidated after we bought it,” she said.

McDonald is a dreamer. She grew up in California, after all. But she’s also a doer.

When she wants something, she’s going to take a risk, evident when she applied at the Elgin. She returned an application and wrote on the envelope “From Jennifer, future employee of the Historic Elgin Hotel.”

“This home has definitely been a leap of faith,” she said. “We’ve been together 11 years, but we’ve never felt at home. It’s going to be our first home.

“My claws are in it, and I’m not budging.”

Records McDonald scoured indicate taxes being paid on the land as early as 1877. Appraisal records show the house as built in 1886, the same year as the hotel.

Tampa State Bank lent McDonald and Bitonti money to buy the home and restore it.

“Here at the bank, we do like to see projects where people are trying to preserve and enhance existing homes here in town,” vice president Kevin Fruechting said.

The to-do list to finish the two-story home to McDonald’s standards is long. Some of it — electrical work, heating, and cooling — isn’t fun or how she’d prefer spending thousands of dollars.

“All the things you can’t see have been done,” she said during a tour last week. “I want to be in by Christmas, but I will not complete this home until we’re 85.”

Now 47, she forever will be redecorating, rearranging, redoing.

They’ve hired a contractor, but they’re doing as much of the work as they can themselves. An upstairs bathroom is almost finished.

When they pulled up carpet on the first floor, they found that wood floors in some places that simply weren’t salvageable. The discovery was a disappointment, but there have been many interesting surprises, too.

Take the “coffin,” for instance.

An intriguing half-size door off a landing catches one’s eye right away.

But what’s inside does so even more.

A piece of wooden furniture of some sort that most definitely looks like a coffin is tucked inside.

McDonald is thinking about making it into a bench — perhaps upholstered with pink velvet — because, quite frankly, they’re not sure how they’re going to get it down the stairs.

That room will be a “secret” play area for their 9-year-old daughter, whose favorite color is pink.

The landing? Maybe a library.

The kids’ bedrooms will be upstairs.

Rooms up there are numbered — literally — 1, 2, 3.

Their bedroom will be downstairs and feature one of two sets of bay windows that sit on either side of the front door.

McDonald points to where kitchen cabinets, appliances, and an island will go, where re-purposed space will become a mudroom/laundry room, smiling the whole time.

There’s where they’ll put a fireplace in the living room.

That’s where a TV set will hang.

A powder room here, their bathroom there.

“I think she and her husband have a lot of talent and gifts they can use,” Fruechting said.

Last modified April 6, 2023

 

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