My heart never left

by | Aug 1, 2017 | Features

Photo by Liz Chrisman

Billy and Marlene Newton’s breathtaking home is built on natural and family heritage.

Just a few miles east of Russellville sits 500 acres rich in biodiversity. The land offers sanctuary for native wildlife and for a family with deep roots in the River Valley. Billy and Marlene Newton call this property home. The Newtons own Newton’s Pharmacy and Old Bank Sports Bar and Grill, but they are also nature enthusiasts, and this is reflected throughout their grand home.

I was in awe before even entering the property. A massive tree, branches stretching far, is depicted on the entry gate. Silhouettes of deer, a few rabbits, and turtles are part of the design along with squirrels and birds perching in the branches. This is just the gate, but it gave a glimpse of what awaited on the other side. The paved driveway winds past rows of towering pine trees that suddenly open up to prairie. Bluebird houses can be spotted from the road.

The house itself has a naturalistic opulence: two-stories with rock exterior and green roof befitting the rural setting. “There are three things you will see a lot of — you’ll see a lot of rock, a lot of wood and a lot of different colors,” Billy said.

Twenty-seven different colors to be exact.

The house was years in the making, with Marlene and Bill pouring over details, searching for just the right features. “We tore out of magazines forever,” Marlene said. “And when it came time to build, one of Billy’s poker friends offered to draw the plan. He’s not living anymore, but he told me, ‘just tell me what you want the front of the house to look like and then we will just go from there.’”

As Marlene gave a tour of the house, she offered stories about where items came from or who built them. It was apparent that the Newton’s not only support local businesses and craftsmen, but they take pride in the finished product.

“The stain glass window above the door was custom made at Soos in Maumelle,” Marlene said. “I went to them not knowing what I wanted but talked them through my ideas.” The window depicts a creek flowing near a few trees and the sun setting in the background. “He did a really good job. He did some work for Old Bank too,” she added.

The house took two years to build, and this will be their eighth year living in it. I asked Billy what it was like when they first stepped into their completed home.

“It was a really exhilarating feeling,” Billy said. “I mean because it was our house, it was our ideas, our thoughts and what we wanted. The themes that we had wanted we felt like we had accomplished. We wanted to kind of blend in with the environment and we did. That was real important — from the green roof to all the wood, rock on the exterior and the colors on the interior.” Laughing he said, “We weren’t trying to build Buckingham palace, but we think it belongs here.”

The interior of the house carries much of the exterior character inside, but at the same time gives a cozy impression. “When we did the house, I wanted space for all four of my children to stay,” Marlene said. “So we have four bedrooms in addition to our bedroom. Now we don’t really need that most of the time. At Christmas time and usually in the summer it’s big enough for everybody.”

In addition to the bedrooms and bathrooms, the Newton home has a study, dining room, spacious upstairs and downstairs living areas, several reading nooks that come with gorgeous views, and of course, a purple kitchen. “We knew this would be our first, last and only chance to build a house,” Marlene said. “So when I picked out the colors I knew I wanted a purple kitchen.” The purple is a dark almost plum color, but next to the wood trim and furniture it blends nicely.

Whether the walls are a dark, pool table green or a milky blue, the Newton’s have done a tasteful job pairing paint color with their décor. Not only did nature influence much of their design choices, there are influences from family members as well. “A lot of things came from Bill’s dad,” Marlene said. “He had a lot of influence on our house even though he passed away before it was finished.” Marlene recounted how the dining room set Billy’s father had given them was too big to fit in the size they drew out for the blueprints. “I started looking at his plans and I said to our builder Joe McCurdy, ‘My table is not going to fit in this room, we need to make it a little bit bigger.’

Of course you can’t do that without expanding everything. We started over a lot.” On the back wall of the dining room is a cherry cabinet that stretches floor to ceiling. Inside the cabinet are various pieces of cut glass dishes that once belonged to Billy’s mother.

The Newton’s also have furniture pieces that have historical ties to Russellville.

“This bed frame and two other furniture pieces once belonged to a jeweler named Faulkner,” Billy said. “Back in the early 1900s, they had this bedroom suite shipped either up from New Orleans or down from St. Louis. Not sure which, but it was shipped into Russellville somehow, and it’s really a nice piece. This has been in Russellville for probably over a hundred years. I believe it was made in the US.”

“It’s made of burled oak and is a solid piece of furniture,” Marlene added. “It was brought to the Faulkner’s and has been here ever since. We kind of ended up with it by default. It’s an interesting piece of furniture, if nothing else for the historical impact.”

Interesting pieces don’t end there. Items reflecting their interests and hobbies can be found throughout the house. The upstairs living space is visually engaging. Framed arrowheads of various shapes and sizes hang on green walls with more pieces of the immense collection displayed in a glass cabinet. “Bill’s dad started the arrowhead collection when he was a boy and then Billy joined him and his mother. And when I joined the family we still looked,” Marlene said.

One wall features glass shelves displaying dozens of colorful vintage figurine liquor decanters from the 60s that once belonged to Bill’s dad. Two arcade machines that Billy grew up with sit on one side of the room, while on the other side is the Newton’s at home pharmacy. “These came from the upstairs of the Old Bank,” Billy said. A flash from the past, their pharmacy booth is equipped with stools, sink, marble top scales with a brass pan, and an antique register. Behind the booth is a glass cabinet of old pharmaceuticals. “Some of the bottles are 100 years old,” Billy said. “That’s quite a collection of antique bottles of pharmaceuticals.”

 As the tour continued, we made another stop at the stairs. “We wanted a wine cellar, so we put one under the stairs,” Marlene said. It was like stepping into Altus — slightly dark with vines picked from the farm draped across the ceiling. Clumps of lighted grapes lit up the space. “We’ll drink a glass of wine occasionally, but the kids are really good at knowing their wines so they have helped us out a great deal,” Marlene said. “The wood paneling came from a barn in Dover. We found the stain glass in the door when we were on a pharmacy trip in Quebec.” The stain glass depicted a country setting of grape vines, wine bottles and cheese wheels.

Upstairs and down the hall is their grandchildren’s favorite room, and I could see why. It’s an inviting colorful space with large mix-matched brightly colored tile complete with stacks of books, toys, and craft supplies for the grandchildren to enjoy. “I use the space for different projects, but the kids just love it,” Marlene said.
“It’s just a happy place. Colors make you smile. It’s something special for the kids,” Bill said.

Behind the house sits a rock patio complete with a hammock, patio furniture and a fire pit. The patio faces a well-groomed backyard with bird feeders and the most natural looking waterfall. The birds and waterfall add a soothing auditory element to the outdoor ambience.

The Newtons have put in a lot of work in cultivating an environment that allows wildlife to thrive. “We really love all the animals,” Billy said. “We plant milo and millet for the deer, turkey and rabbits. We try to take care of the animals.”

Through the years, the Newtons have planted over 10,000 oak trees, countless pine trees, hawthorn, plum, and shrubs on the property. “In the spring you can’t imagine how many flowers are on this place, Billy said. “In the fall all the colors of the trees are beautiful.”

“Even in the winter we can walk on the side of Crow Mountain and see great distances without the leaves on the trees,” Marlene said.

“It’s a place for all seasons and we enjoy it,” Billy said. “There is a lot going on here, either fishing or hunting or just exploring the 500 acres.”

Wandering the property will take you back to the pioneer days. Old barbwire fences and gnarled trees run parallel on a lonely dirt road. A trail marker tree points to a creek crossing. Deer bound through fields where remnants of old homesteads still stand. “There used to be a county road that went through the back of property to Crow Mountain to the North,” Billy said. “About six homes back there is what my dad told me. He even knew the names of the people.”

As we drove through the fields he pointed out several dug well houses, echoes of the people that once lived there. “One of my aunts grew up in one of the homes a little ways from here,” Billy said. “The house right here, in the spring you can see where they planted flowers around their house and down their walk way.”

Closer to the house is a renovated work shed and pavilion that is used for celebrations and family get togethers. “We’ve had six or seven weddings, we have a Fourth of July fireworks show every year that is pretty big and an Easter egg hunt at the pecan grove on Palm Sunday.”

It’s no surprise that the Newtons built their home on such a beautiful landscape. “See, I grew up in the area behind Lowes,” Billy said. “We were in the middle of the interchange. In the early 60s, the interstate came through and took our house. I grew up there and got displaced, but I guess my heart never left.”

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