The dream of resurrecting North Vernon to its former glory is manifesting itself in reality thanks to locals who were willing to put their money where their mouth was.
An example of this overt resurrection comes in the form of the renovation of grand historic homes on State Street and Jennings Street.
Daniel Smith and Haylee Ballard, a young local couple, purchased the historic Tripp-Guthrie home at 208 South Jennings Street and renovated it while keeping as much of the original house intact as possible. They are the first people outside of the Tripp family line to own and live in the house. It was featured in the Jennings County Historical Society’s 2020 Town and Country Tour and will be featured again this year. It is also currently on sale.
Greg and Nita Hicks own 405 South Jennings Street, another historic Tripp family home, which they purchased in November 2018. Nita said she has always loved Jennings Street and has long been waiting for a chance to renovate an older house. “People thought we were backward for doing this at our age,” she joked.
The Hicks said the house didn’t need a lot of renovations, they simply modified it to suit their needs by turning the dining room into a kitchen and converting the old kitchen into a downstairs bathroom. of the road. They removed the wallpaper and ripped the carpet to showcase the original 134 year old wooden floors. They also visited the old carriage house and built a new garage. The majority of the renovations took around 1.5 years.
Nita is retired from Hilex Poly and Greg served as Jennings County’s first Director of Economic Development. Greg describes the renovation of their house as “another form of economic development, it is the preservation of our history”.
But, arguably, the house that started North Vernon’s historic home renovation trend is the Queen Anne at 305 South Jennings Street, known as the “Cone House,” which has been completely dilapidated and condemned to the cannonball of demolition before Historic Landmarks and Greg Sekula intervened. to save it.
The Cone House, named after its builder, Joseph Cone, was designed by George F. Barber, a designer from Tennessee, whose designs were sold from catalogs. Most of the houses surrounding the Cone House were designed by Barber, but Indiana Landmarks describes this particular house as the most elaborate.
Joseph Cone was a prominent local businessman who served one term as mayor of North Vernon in the 1910s. His business, established in 1879, was associated with the manufacture of elm spokes and hub blocks. Cone also served on the board of the First National Bank from its inception in 1885 and served as chairman until his death. He also served on Jennings County Council.
The house later belonged to Indiana State Senator Ray Max Baker, who served in the legislature from the late 1950s to the early 1960s.
But unfortunately, over time, the house could not be maintained until it fell into near ruin. In 2017, the Jennings County Regional Plan Commission won a court-ordered eviction and signed a demolition order. But then Greg Sekula with Indiana Landmarks stepped in.
“The place had been on our radar for years,” Sekula said in a post on the Indiana Landmarks website. “The commission’s action provided us with the first significant opportunity to engage the owner in a strategy to save the home.”
Thanks to the efforts of many, the house was stabilized, placed on the market and then in the hands of Tony Jordan. Over the past few years Jordan has continued to restore the house to its former glory and the fruits of his labor can be seen to this day at the corner of Jennings and Vernon streets. According to Tyler Stock, Jordan’s real estate agent, Mike Whitehead spent countless hours working on this home, especially the woodwork. And so, his mission accomplished, Jordan decided to put the house back on the market.
The new buyer is a man named Rusty Hamilton who received the keys to the house last Friday. Indiana Landmarks holds preservation covenants on the house and, according to Sekula, they are working with Hamilton on his plan to rehabilitate the property.
“I think the restoration of the Cone House was a catalyst along with other historic home rehabilitations in the State Street and Jennings Street neighborhoods,” Sekula said, which definitely seems to be the case, with the work of Smith and Ballard, the Hicks and more recently Dave and Pam Woodall as evidence.
The Cone House’s neighbor at 306 South State Street is currently undergoing renovations. The home was purchased by Dave and Pam Woodall, Jennings County natives of Woodall’s Roofing & Home Improvement. As the name of their business should suggest, this renovation isn’t the Woodalls’ first project, but they’ve never attempted one of this magnitude, and this house isn’t for a client either, but for themselves.
Pam Woodall said she had always been fascinated by Victorian houses. She recalled how she and her husband would walk past the house at 306 South State Street, which had been vacant for about five years, and wonder why no one had bought it.
“We decided to take a look out of curiosity, but once we saw the character and beautiful woodwork of the house, we wanted to see it restored,” Pam said.
After buying the house last January, Pam found bound copies of her warranty deeds covering the years 1825-1988; the first entry is from the US government to John Newland. She also found a tied contract with Orlando Bacon to build the housing. The warranty deed shows that Bacon purchased the property on March 18, 1895 from ND and Eliza Gaddy, so the house was probably built in 1895 or later.
With so much history to preserve, Pam said their plan was to keep everything in the house as close to its original state as possible. The first task was to remove all debris from inside the house, then cut down trees and vines that were causing problems to the structure as well as demolish an old, irreparable carriage house.
Due to some deterioration, the Woodalls replaced most of the windows, removed the concrete floor, and poured a footer and new concrete floor for the front and side porches. The columns of the porch have been dismantled and restored. As is the case with most historic home renovations, many more things need to be patched, painted, repaired, ripped out or replaced, which means someone is home every day.
“There’s still a lot to do,” Pam said. “This type of task is a labor of love and requires a lot of patience because when fixing one thing sometimes we find other things that need attention.”
The hardest thing so far has been finding curved glass for a missing window in the turret — a small tower on the side of the house — which Pam says is “a lost art in America.” A replacement window would not work as the surface is flat and the turret walls are rounded. After much research, the Woodalls were able to find a company in Florida that specialized in curved glass.
Pam’s favorite thing about the project is learning about the design and construction of the house, and learning about the families who lived there. She learned that her house was designed by Barber, as mentioned above, and she believes her house to be Barber’s design 36, as shown in the book “Architectural Ragtime”.
“I found the whole process exciting, but there are a few things that stand out,” Pam added. One of them was discovering that the final layer of wallpaper in the living room featured a train, which Pam says is “perfect for a railroad town.” She sent a photo of the wallpaper and the stamping from the back to a designer and architectural historian who specializes in wallpaper. He told her he thought it was from the 1940s.
“In 1941, William and Marie Fitzgerald became the second family to own the house,” Pam explained. “We found markings in the turret that read ‘GWR 1941’ and in the basement ‘Kiln installed Lloyd H Robert, 9-1-41’, so perhaps the Fitzgeralds did some renovations and repairs after their purchase. “
Finally, Pam loves how many people stopped by to share a memory they have of the house. Pam looks forward to hosting family vacations, reunions, book clubs and tea parties after the house is finished, which should be “God will, of course,” this fall.