Californian honors family's legacy
Treasure chest of memories
Tuesday, February 25, 2014 10:00 AM
A two-story Greek revival home in downtown Madison is back in the hands of the family who commissioned the build 180 years ago.
NOT MUCH HAS CHANGED: Ruth Donohugh holds a 1920s-era photograph of her ancestral home at 718 W. Main St. while posing in the living room of the home Monday. A northern California resident, Donohugh recently bought the home and is tracing the history of her family and their Madison ties. (Staff photos by Ken Ritchieemail@example.com)
Ruth Donohugh, a retired restaurant owner from northern California, purchased the house earlier this year from Ron and Vangie Greves.
The home at 718 W. Main St. - in front of Lydia Middleton Elementary School - was built in 1834-37 for Donohugh's great-great-great grandfather, Jacob Shuh.
Shuh, who moved from Maryland, operated a stream mill in the Crooked Creek area of Madison and was one of the area's first industrialists, Donohugh said.
In September 1846, the mill was destroyed in a flood that killed nine people. Though Shuh stayed in Madison and worked as a carpenter and the city assessor, he never regained his financial footing after the incident, Donohugh said. He died in 1860.
The family relocated to Arkansas in the 1860s prior to the outbreak of the Civil War.
Donohugh said preserving and continuing the home's legacy is "redemption" for her ancestor, who worked so hard but ultimately lost much of his livelihood and fortune.
For years, Donohugh knew the home existed. But last year, she spotted a for-sale sign in the front yard during a rivertown trip with her husband.
Ron and Vangie Greves maintained the house well in the three decades of their ownership, she said. The family preserved the original materials, deed documents and even held on to old drawings and photos.
"They've been great stewards," she said.
In addition to the Greves family, Donohugh said she found information about the home and Shuh from local researchers and historians.
She feels fortunate Madison puts such a high focus on maintaining its historic properties. If the house were in any other American small town, Donohugh isn't convinced it would still be standing today.
"If it wasn't for the fact that it was in Madison, it probably would have been bulldozed," she said.
The structure still has its authentic charm inside, with detailed trim flowing around its high ceilings, original flooring and banisters.
The home has architectural similarities to the nearby Francis Costigan home, which was built in the 1850s. Costigan was a prominent 19th century architect and builder who is credited with building St. Michael the Archangel Church and the Lanier Mansion.
While Donohugh now has a piece of her family's history, she said she's eager to find out more about her great-great-great grandfather's experiences in Madison and his journey to the town.
She also hopes to contribute toward Madison's alluring historical presence.
"I just hope to be a small part of what you have here," she said.