Tomorrow is going to be one of the best experiences of my life, and an amazing day for my family.
I can’t wait to tell you about it. But first, you need the back story.
It begins over 12 years ago when my wife, Becky, stumbled across a property. It was an in-town farm with 11 acres of land. She immediately fell in love with the home, the pasture, the woods, the horse barn, and more. Everything about the property resonated with her. It’s a spectacular piece of land, situated right in the heart of Atlanta.
Becky and I could imagine our family loving living there. We could have our horses in a meadow behind the house. We could wander in the woods. We could build a tree house with our daughters. It’s even a short 10 minutes from my Midtown Atlanta office, practically next door in terms of Atlanta traffic. It checked all the boxes for us. We started calling it the Dream Property.
Of course, we couldn’t afford to buy it. Becky and I made it our long-term goal to be ready to purchase it in the future. It was our dream and goal for over a decade. I kept helping our clients at Bunnell Idea Group grow their businesses, and BIG continued to expand because of their success.
I finally approached the prior owners about four years ago. They are absolutely wonderful people, now good friends, but they weren’t interested in selling their home. They had lived there 35 years, raised their children there, saved bunnies and owls, and entertained friends and clients. They lived in this home. Their daughter even had her wedding in the meadow on a sunny, spring day. I got a firm, “No. We’re not looking to move.”
That was disappointing, but I persevered. I kept trying. I asked again a few months later. Becky and I kept pursuing our goal. After three years of working with the prior owners, we found the win for everyone. We struck a deal and closed on the house soon after. My family and I moved into the Dream Property almost exactly a year ago today. A ten-year dream, satisfied.
The move-in day was sunny, crisp, and cool. It was the kind of fall day that makes me happy to live in Atlanta. The next week was Thanksgiving week, and trust me, we gave plenty of thanks! Even though we ate prepared food from Publix, sat our drinks on moving boxes, and barely could walk through the tool-filled kitchen, it was our best Thanksgiving ever. We ate dinner on the back porch, horses in view, dogs at our feet, and with leaves falling around us in an explosion of color. We had an “I can’t believe it actually happened!” level of thankfulness.
We had an interesting conversation at dinner. We wondered about the home. Who had lived here? What were their stories? Who made this specific change to the home? Or that one? Filled with curiosity, we had to know.
My Mom and I hatched a plan. She would play the role of library genealogist, finding names, newspaper clippings, and other clues. I would play the role of front-line salesperson, finding a way to contact these people, and then, reaching out to them.
We had very little information to go on: some oral history from the prior owners, some original architectural drawings with the name Dr. Calvin Sandison as the client and Philip Shutze as the architect, and the historical title search from our closing attorney. It was a short list of names, but little else.
Then, two breakthroughs. Somehow, my Mom found out that Dr. Sandison had a daughter named Denie. Denie’s husband had a phone number on his website. I found an old sign in the basement with the name ‘Rising Creek Farm’. I googled it. That led me to a daughter of the next owner, now an adult, who had a charity with Rising Creek in the name. Their website had contact information. Two names and two phone numbers. Hope!
I decided to call these people. Would they think I was crazy? Would they call me back? Would they even care? I was so nervous to make these calls. I talk to folks I don’t know as a living. I teach others how to develop relationships. But here I was, scared to death, rehearsing opening lines and messages like it was the first time I called someone. I cared so much and I was afraid to make a mistake.
Heart pounding, I made those calls and left messages. Success! I heard back from each person within a day. They were so happy I called! They couldn’t wait to share their stories, to connect with someone that cared about the home as much as they did. I found this home resonates with everyone who lived here, just like it does for my family today. You can move on from this home, but this home doesn’t move on from you.
Those first two calls led me to others: brothers, sisters, cousins, neighbors, and family friends. Each person had one thing in common: they cared. Every person added to the story. Every person also added a plot twist, like the page turner at the end of a mystery novel chapter. The more I learned, the more there was to explore.
I learned Shutze designed the home based on The Fairbanks House, the oldest timber frame home still standing in North America, built in 1636. I learned that Judge Clark Howell’s 1850s sawmill was either on our property or right next to it, and that he would have walked a path that we walk on today to get to it. I learned as many as 5,000 Federal troops marched through our property during the Civil War, on their way to take Atlanta.
I found everyone that had lived in the home had amazing childhoods: riding horses on Buckhead’s dirt roads before it was engulfed by Atlanta, climbing trees along Nancy Creek, and camping in the woods behind the house. Jim Sandison even made a boat out of two metal trash cans and 2x4s and set sail down Nancy Creek in 1940s.
I found everyone had amazing adulthoods too: the last wooden ship designer in the Navy, a member of President Carter’s cabinet, and an ex-FBI agent that held a party in our living room with actress Susan Hayward and Atlanta Mayor Hartsfield in attendance.
Meeting the amazing prior owners has been the best part of this journey. It’s the back story to why I’m excited for tomorrow, and it’s a story unto itself.
Back to today. So, why am I so excited about tomorrow?
They’re all coming back.
Tomorrow, we’re hosting a Home Homecoming, and all these amazing people are coming. Nearly thirty of us are meeting at our home to get to know each other and share. We’ll be joined by the world’s deepest expert in Philip Shutze’s work. We’ll be joined by the world’s leading expert of Sherman’s Civil War campaign. We’ll be joined by the architects and craftsman that have been helping us transform our basement into a 1930s tavern.
Tomorrow, everyone will meet each other in person. Thirty of us will celebrate our common connection. Thirty of us will weave new memories, creating new bonds. Thirty of us will pay tribute to what a wonderful home can do to a person’s soul.
Today I feel grateful. I’m grateful I kept trying to buy this home, even though I was told no several dozen times, and was scared at times to try again. I’m grateful I made those initial phone calls to prior owners, even though I was scared they’d think I was crazy. I’m grateful we’re hosting this party, even though I’m already exhausted from a busy week.
Today, I definitely feel grateful.
But even more so, I’m so excited for tomorrow.