Nina Simone's birthplace, shown here in a photo from earlier this year, is finally slated for a full restoration. Ben Lovett/Carolina Public Press

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Nina Simone’s huge life, full of music, strife and success, began in a 600-square-foot wooden home on a hillside in Tryon. Thanks to recent developments, her birthplace, at 30 Livingston St., is slated for a preservation project that could serve as a lasting tribute to her origins and legacy.

Simone, who was born in 1933 and died in 2003, was raised as Eunice Kathleen Waymon before adopting her stage name. Her mastery of various musical styles, along with her civil-rights advocacy, made her an international star, but Tryon has struggled to pay the town’s most famous native her proper due.

Her birthplace, for example, was destined for demolition before it was purchased in 2005 by Kipp McIntyre, a former Polk County economic planner with a yen for local history. McIntyre launched a piecemeal restoration, but ran out of funds and was forced to list the house for sale last year.

The fate of the structure seemed woefully uncertain.

“We had put the house on the market, but there was nothing happening at all,” McIntyre said in an interview this week.

This September, though, McIntyre got a surprise phone call from Dan Riedemann, a Kansas-based carpenter whose company, Nineteenth Century Restorations, specializes in historic preservation work. Riedemann is beginning a series of restorations of the birth homes of several famous Americans, and pitching a reality-TV show on the projects.

Riedemann had already gotten contracts to restore the birthplaces of Johnny Carson (in Corning, Iowa), Woody Guthrie (in Okemah, Okla.) and Mickey Mantle (in Spavinaw, Okla.), and was negotiating with the owners of the childhood homes of Muhammad Ali, Rosa Parks, Aretha Franklin, Lucille Ball and other notables.

“Most of these houses are tiny, and in small towns,” he said. “These iconic figures in American history all came from such humble beginnings.”

Riedmann asked McIntyre if the Simone birthplace could be added to the restoration roster.

“It was incredible,” McIntyre said. “It was the answer to every single worry and problem that I had about this house, about what to do to protect, preserve and share it.”

Nina Simone — then Eunice Waymon — in Tryon at age 8, near her birthplace. Photo courtesy of the Nina Simone Project.

McIntyre and Riedemann recently inked a deal to make the restoration happen. To advance the plan, McIntyre formed a nonprofit corporation, Nina Simone Birthplace Inc., that will accept donations solicited by Riedemann. If the necessary funds are raised, the nonprofit will purchase the home and provide for the ongoing upkeep and operations of what will become a kind of period-piece shrine to Simone.

Riedemann is optimistic about securing the funds.

“We’re finding celebrity benefactors who are willing to step in and donate some money and be a part of these projects,” he said.

George Foreman, for example, has said he wants to help fund the Ali house renovation, and musician Arlo Guthrie is pitching in to help restore his father’s birthplace. A major benefactor for the Simone house project, Riedemann says, has chosen to remain anonymous for now.

McIntyre, for his part, is both relieved and ecstatic about the house’s sudden new fortunes.

“The house is now secure,” he said. “This will put this where I always dreamed it would be.”

To follow and/or support the Simone house restoration, visit the Nineteenth Century Reservations website. See a photo gallery of the house here.

Jon Elliston

Jon Elliston is the lead contributing open government reporter at Carolina Public Press. Contact him at jelliston@carolinapublicpress.org.

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  1. This is the best news I’ve read in months! I’ve been worried about whether this house could continue to be restored and preserved, as Mr. McIntyre began a few years back. This project overall sounds like one of the best ideas for preserving valuable American History that has come along in years. Fingers crossed that it reaches fruition.

    Nina Simone is a shining star of Western North Carolina culture and history. A “core artist” of public radio WNCW.

    Martin Anderson
    Music Director,
    WNCW-FM
    Spindale, NC