Making a house, a town––a home
Rose Noakes came to Lenoir deliberately, scrutinizing cities in the Southeast, staying in hotels for weeks at a time trying to find the place with the right ingredients — community, culture, people.
It wasn’t an easy journey, but when she got to Lenoir, it was an easy choice. Noakes was looking for a place to start her dream — a bed and breakfast. In 2005, she found it on Harper Avenue in Lenoir, the house now known as Irish Rose Bed and Breakfast.
Before Lenoir and the bed and breakfast, she had lived in big cities all her life, in Toronto working as an insurance broker, at a Chicago consulting firm and in Motorola’s intelligence department.
Noakes was born in Toronto in 1948, moving in 1982 to Chicago, where she lived for 20 years, becoming a naturalized American citizen and marrying husband Paul.
They retired and decided to build a home in Florida for their life together. Two months after the house was finished, a heart attack took Paul from Rose, and two years later she was done with Florida.
Noakes did not get teary talking about it, saying she was more fortunate than most having had an amazing 24-year marriage with a great man.
In those two years, as the “plastic society” slowly drove her away from Florida, she was “trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up.”
The answer was owning a bed and breakfast, and Noakes set out to find the perfect one, searching seven sites spread across four southeastern states: Tennessee, North and South Carolina and Georgia.
“I was looking for a life, I wasn’t looking for a job,” Noakes said. “I put everything in storage, did a ton of research and had seven B and Bs that were for sale that I could stay at.”
She stayed in hotels for weeks at a time, talking with community members, chambers of commerce, economic development officials and business leaders.
She saved Lenoir for last, the place with the only house on her list that wasn’t already a bed and breakfast. In April 2005, she checked in at the Comfort Inn and began checking around. She drove up and down the streets, talked with the Chamber of Commerce and local business owners.
In previous towns she visited, Noakes said that residents gave out a woe-is-me air, a depressing “poor us” attitude that turned her off from the communities, but in Lenoir, she said, “I never picked up the sorry-for-ourselves vibe.”
When she finally did tour the house on Harper Avenue, she had hardly walked through the door when she knew it was the one. She bought it, for $289,000. The house was built in 1925 by Finley Coffey and sold to his son Archie, an early Lenoir furniture magnate, who lived there with his wife, Carrie, and family.
It wasn’t in horrible shape, Noakes said, but she spent 10 months and roughly $600,000 refurbishing the property, redoing the old wiring and plumbing, redoing floors and bathrooms, breathing life back into the property. She used all local labor, even if that meant a more expensive job, but having never lived in a small town, she was amazed by the support and loyalty this earned her.
Noakes said that one night she had a pipe break and called Leon Dalton, owner of DL Dalton Construction in Lenoir, who came at 1 a.m., and again the next morning to help her out, and charged her nothing.
It’s times like that that really bring Lenoir’s true spirit to Noakes attention, and something she attributes that to is the genuine, honest nature of the people.
“I think people here, whether they’re a redneck, highly educated or middle class, people here live their faith,” Noakes said. “They don’t go on and on about it, they just do it. And I know there are exceptions, but I’ve not run into it. That’s why I love this town.”