The dream of reviving North Vernon to its former glory is being brought to life thanks to the locals who were willing to put their money into the cause.
One example of this manifest resurrection is the renovation of the large historic homes on State Street and Jennings Street.
Daniel Smith and Hayley Ballard, a young local couple, purchased the historic Tripp-Guthrie house at 208 South Jennings Street and renovated it while retaining as much of the original home as possible. They are the first people outside of the Tripp family line to own and live in a house. It was featured on the Jennings County Historical Society’s 2020 City and Country Tour and will be featured again this year. Currently also for sale.
Greg and Nita Hicks own 405 South Jennings Street, another of the Tripp family’s historic homes, which they purchased in November 2018. Nita said she has always loved Jennings Street and has been looking forward to renovating the old house for a long time. “People thought we were retarded for doing it at our age,” she joked.
The Hicks said the house didn’t need a major overhaul, they just remodeled it to suit their needs, turning the dining room into a kitchen and the old kitchen into a downstairs bathroom. They removed the wallpaper and tore up the carpet to reveal the original 134-year-old wood floors underneath. They also tour the old coach house and build a new garage. Most repairs lasted about 1.5 years.
Nita retired from Hilex Poly and Greg was Jennings County’s first director of economic development. Greg describes renovating their home as “another form of economic development that preserves our history.”
But perhaps the house that started the historic remodeling trend in North Vernon is the Queen Anne house at 305 South Jennings Street, known as “The Cone House,” which was completely dilapidated and destined for demolition before Historic Landmarks and Greg Sekula stepped in. to save it.
The Cone House, named after its builder Joseph Cohn, was designed by George F. Barber, a Tennessee designer whose designs were sold through catalogs. Many of the houses surrounding 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, founded in 1879, was in the manufacture of elm knitting needles and bushings. Cone also served on the board of the First National Bank from its founding in 1885 and served as president until his death. He also served on Jennings County Council.
The house was later owned by 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 almost turned into ruins. In 2017, the Jennings County Borough Planning Commission secured a court-ordered eviction and signed a demolition order. But then Greg Sekula of Indiana Landmarks stepped in.
“This place has been on our radar for years,” Sekula said in an article on the Indiana Landmarks website. “The commission’s actions provided us with our first significant opportunity to engage the owner in a home rescue strategy.”
Thanks to the efforts of many, the house was stabilized, put up for sale, and then fell into 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 still be seen to this day at the corner of Jennings and Vernon streets. According to Tyler Stock, Jordan’s realtor, Mike Whitehead spent countless hours working on this home, especially the woodwork. Thus, having fulfilled his mission, Jordan decided to put the house up for sale again.
The new buyer was a man named Rusty Hamilton, who was given the keys to the house last Friday. Indiana Landmarks holds a preservation deal for the home, and according to Sekula, they are working with Hamilton on his plan to reclaim the property.
“I think the restoration of the Cone House was the catalyst for the redevelopment of other historic homes in the State Street and Jennings Street areas,” Sekula said. , most recently, Dave and Pam Woodall, in evidence.
The neighbor’s Cone House at 306 South State Street is currently undergoing renovations. The home was purchased by Jennings County natives Dave and Pam Woodall of Woodall’s Roofing & Home Improvement. As the name of their company suggests, this reno is not the Woodalls’ first project, but they have never attempted to build a house of this magnitude, and this house is not for a client, but for themselves.
Pam Woodall said she has always been fascinated by Victorian-era homes. She recalled how she and her husband had walked past a house at 306 South State Street that had been empty for about five years and wondered why no one had bought it.
“We decided to look at it just 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 in January of this year, Pam found bound copies of his guarantee papers for 1825-1988; the first entry is by US government John Newland. She also found a related contract with Orlando Bacon to build a house. The guarantee deed shows that Bacon purchased the property on March 18, 1895 from N.D. and Eliza Gaddy, so the house was most likely built in 1895 or later.
With so much history to be preserved, Pam said their plan is to keep everything in the house as close to its original state as possible. The first task was to remove all debris from the inside of the house, then cut down the trees and vines that were causing problems for the structure, and demolish the old carriage house that was beyond repair.
Due to some wear and tear, the Woodalls replaced most of the windows, removed the concrete floor, and poured in the footer and new concrete floor for the front and side porches. The front porch columns have been removed and restored. As is the case with most historic home renovations, many other things need fixing, painting, repairing, ripping or replacing, which means someone is in the house every single day.
“There is still a lot to be done,” Pam said. “This type of work is a labor of love, and you need to have a lot of patience, because while fixing one thing, we sometimes find other things that need attention.”
So far, the hardest part has been finding curved glass for the missing window in the turret — a small turret on the side of the house — which, according to Pam, is “America’s lost art.” You won’t be able to replace the window because the surface is flat and the walls of the tower are rounded. After a long search, the Woodalls were able to find a company in Florida that specialized in curved glass.
What Pam loved most about this project was getting to know the design and construction of the house, as well as learning about the families that lived in it. She learned that her house was designed by Barber, as mentioned above, and she believes that her house is a Barber 36 design, as shown in the book Architectural Ragtime.
“I find the whole process exciting, but there are a few things that stand out,” Pam added. One of them was that the last layer of wallpaper in the living room featured a train, which Pam says is “perfect for a railroad town.” She sent an image of the wallpaper and the embossing on the back to a wallpaper designer and architectural historian. He told her that 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 on the tower saying ‘GWR 1941’ and in the basement ‘Furnace installed Lloyd H Robert, 9-1-41’, so it’s possible the Fitzgeralds did some refurbishment and repairs after their purchase.”
Finally, Pam loves the number of people who stopped by to share memories of the house. Pam is looking forward to family reunions, gatherings, book clubs and teas once the house is finished, which should be, “of course, God” sometime this fall.