Friday, February 11, 2011

Victorian Architecture Sleuth: What WAS it? AND why it needs your help!

Remember, the Victorians didn't build "ugly" houses, Victorian houses only got that way because of "ugly people" who came later, who could not appreciate the Victorian Aesthetic.
Here we can see that a tower was here and it was "decapitated". Also windows have been moved and added but this is all correctable. If it has a "familiar look" its because its similar in style to the Gamble House but obviously never lavished with gingerbread like that house was.

I must confess I have driven by this house hundreds of time and never REALLY looked at. I was intrigued by the fact it was big house but I just assumed it was some late 1890 house that had been through serious remuddling over the years. However recent events have cause me to revisit this house, First of all we are working on our Historic Building Inventory report and two, this house just came up for sale....for 6300.00!

When I looked at this house in the photos, some things became clearer to me. This house was perhaps 20-25  years older than I thought and it was once a very classic house. Yes, it is hard to tell now. The years have taken their toll on it. Windows were added, windows were removed, but the one thing that caught my eye was "there used to be tower on this house"! You can see it in the intersection of the two wings of the house. Towers were routinely "lopped off" because they often needed maintenance and of course as this area grew and became reforested there wasn't much to look at. Interestingly the city tore down a shotgun house that sat across the street from this and now it has opened up a view across the valley that wasn't seen before.

The other telltale sign was the roof line. This house has a very low pitched roof line, later Victorians had a higher pitch to show off lots of fancy gable detail. This house was not some Victorian from 1890 but an "Italianate Villa" that once had a fanciful tower so one could look out over the valley. This style was built typically between 1830-1970.
The 1869 Titus Map shows this was a large tract of land If its right we know this house was probably built shortly after that. However only a more exhaustive study will show when this was built given some of  the inconsistencies in the maps of the era and the fact Fairmount was a separate town back then.

So the next step was to check the Titus map for our area. There is given in Preservation documentation, that you determine based on the facts you have available. Having said that, the maps themselves have inconsistencies. There are some houses we know were built pre-1869 that are not on the map period and outlined locations (like the Schuezenbuckle" are 'locationally wrong" on the 1869 map, as to where we know they stood based on photos. They didn't have GPS and aerial photography back then so there are errors, but we know that this house originally sat on a single large track of land, and his land was divided later for construction of another house that stood at the corner of Blain and Fairmount (a Barber style 1890 high style that the city senselessly bulldozed in 2009).  The Titus map show a street to the west which is actually not now a street but relatively intact city stair set that leads from Knox to Fairmount.. It is interesting to note that Knox Street was called Irwin back then.. In terms of ownership we know the "Gum family" owned it from 1970-1994. There is a high probability that they owned it before that, as it seems the auditors records tend to start in 1970. Then I looked at the transfer records, I had to reminded myself that this neighborhoods decline only happened over the last 10-15 years. This house SOLD in 1994 for 70,000.00! And yes, this house is clearly endangered as the city already has some orders on it. Finding a history minded buyer for this house is critical! Given the value of a 1/2 acre lot, and the view I would not rule out the possibility that if the city doesn't demo it some speculator or builder will, as our area is becoming ripe for new construction infill . I do know this house doesn't need another investor or slumlord owner and our group will fight vigorously to see it restored. Certainly if any of you have the time and would like to volunteer to research this house at 1794 Knox.

And what a pretty house this would be painted a cream yellow or pale green with ivory trim and its tower restored, the windows where they should be with new shutters. A new porch perhaps? Imagine climbing up in the reconstructed tower and looking out over the valley toward price hill with the city off to the southeast. A "million dollar view" in an up an coming neighborhood with an estate sized lot.
Further research might reveal that this was built as a summer kitchen , It is clear its been added on to. Today its best use would be a guest house or home office but with some work it could be a useful structure.

With the small building east of the main house (summer kitchen originally?) you could have a guest cottage, maybe rework it into a gardening  green house or maybe a studio or home office. Barring finding an original photo, the tower would be a historic  'reconstruction' based on educated guesses of similar houses built in the same era but certainly this house, and the accessory building, would be well worth the effort as big houses on big lots, will be highly desired properties in our area in the coming years.

So what should this forlorn house look like? Well look below at this house in Boone County and you will have pretty good idea how beautiful this old house "could be" with some love, inspiration and hard work. So if you know anyone who may wants to save piece of Knox Hill history let us know ASAP before this house is lost forever.
Yes this is probably what 1794 Knox looked like with a tower. By removing later siding on the Knox House, one should be able to determine the original window placement and if the first floor was enclosed (more typical) or open like this example.

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