Bertucci family making home in Natchez

Published 12:01 am Monday, May 9, 2011

ERIC SHELTON/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Ronnie Bertucci does construction work on his new house Saturday afternoon on Union Street in Natchez.

NATCHEZ — Establishing a residence in Natchez has been a family affair for Ronnie Bertucci, his wife Lisa and teenage children Alex and Sara.

The family was in the middle of renovating their house when The Dart landed on North Union Street in Natchez Saturday.

It was two and a half years ago when Lisa, who was Bertucci’s girlfriend at the time, insisted on a weekend getaway to Natchez from their home in New Orleans where he is a police officer in the city of Kenner.

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“We stayed at the Briars and took a carriage ride,” Bertucci said. “Natchez has the charm of New Orleans without all the people, and the people here are nice. I enjoyed riding around and learning the history of the place, and I’m a fan of the architecture.”

It didn’t take long for Bertucci to realize that Natchez felt like home, or at least a second home.

Without the assistance of a Realtor, Bertucci and Lisa started looking for properties.

They knocked on the door of the house at 508 North Union St., which was built in 1890, and before they knew it, were signing on the dotted line.

“It’s a cool house and I just fell in love with it,” Bertucci said. “Lisa thought I was nuts.”

They bought the house from Eddie Forbes, and the long renovation process began. Bertucci said Mimi Miller, executive director of the Historic Natchez Foundation, provided photos of the property in its original state.

“I learned a lot about Natchez history,” Bertucci said. “After the Civil War, a lot of these big homes became rooming houses. Walls were put up and arches were cut out. Luckily the original molding was left in this house. My goal is to get the exterior of the house like it was, and modernize the kitchen and bathrooms.”

With a small crew from home, Bertucci and his son, Alex, have ripped out walls and oddly-placed doors.

“Alex is my demolition man,” Bertucci said. “If something needs to be torn down, he’s here with a hammer.”

The Bertuccis have made numerous fascinating discoveries around the house, including a third-floor room that had been walled off. Bertucci made a tight crawlspace to access it. The room has a stained glass window and plastered walls.

“We don’t know why this room was closed off,” Bertucci said. “It’s extremely bizarre. No one can answer that for me.”

They also found a photo taken in front of the house.

“We found the photo behind the mantle of six people standing in front of the house, probably when it was first built,” Bertucci said. He didn’t have the photo with him, but Alex produced a piece of molding torn from a closet with an inscription on the back that said, “Ms. A.L. Triche” dated April 16, 1941.

“I also found a beanie cap from Mississippi State University and mailed it to them,” Bertucci said. “They said they’d never seen anything like it.”

Bertucci has taken much of the renovation into his own hands, and has not set a deadline to finish the house.

“I’m a jack of all trades and a master of none,” Bertucci said. “I don’t like to deal with deadlines. I get depressed if I don’t reach them. So I will keep chugging along until it’s finished. Lisa, Alex and Sara have helped me the whole way.”

Bertucci said Lisa came up with a name for the house, which has special meaning to her.

“She believes in signs,” Bertucci said. “Her grandmother had a Wesson Oil jar, a piece of pottery with a blue stripe, which was lost. I love antiques and Lisa has a more contemporary taste, but she wanted that jar. I would look for it at antique shops but never could find it. When we came to look at the house we knocked on the door and Mr. Eddie just let us in. Lisa saw that same Wesson jar and she got goose bumps. She asked if we bought the house, does the jar come with it? So she decided to call it the Wesson House.”

Bertucci said the house was originally gray, and Lisa, who is an artist, is picking new colors.

“She calls herself a girly-girl,” Bertucci said. “And right now she said staying here is like ‘camping indoors.’”

Bertucci said he will convert the third floor attic area into an art studio for Lisa.

Their love story has direct ties to Natchez, where Bertucci said he hopes to eventually relocate and retire.

“I proposed to Lisa on the Natchez Bluff on Valentine’s Day two years ago,” Bertucci said. “It was a misty, foggy morning. We were looking at the river, she turned around, and I was on my knee. She screamed.

“I guess I proposed to her on the bluff because if she said ‘no’ I could throw her over the fence,” Bertucci joked.

Sara said she can’t wait until the house is ready, and she is in love with the neighborhood.

“It’s been interesting seeing how it all progresses,” Sara said. “I like the neighborhood too, I can ride my bike. It’s really peaceful and quiet.”

Alex likes his new house too.

“But it has been a lot of hard work,” Alex added.

The Wesson House, with 121 years of untold stories, will be home to new ones within time.