Indiana Landmarks wants to save a house in Hanover and is asking the Jefferson County Commissioners for help in doing that at their meeting Thursday.
Greg Sekula, representing the Southern Regional Office of Indiana Landmarks, asked for $7,500 to help save a two-story house located at 263 East Main Street in Hanover, just across the street from the town’s post office.
The Commissioners tabled any action on the request until their next meeting scheduled for Dec. 21, to research where the funds might come.
“We are interested in doing something,” said Commissioners President David Bramer. “Oftentimes it’s focused strictly in Madison for historic preservation, but we have an opportunity to help folks out there” in another part of the county. “When you have places like this, you try to do something to clean it up.”
“We have extensive history working here in Jefferson County over the years with a variety of projects” including bringing the structural engineer after the 2009 fire to the Jefferson County Courthouse, Sekula said. “One of our keystone programs at Indiana Landmarks is working to save endangered historic properties” including now “to save one of the beleaguered houses of Hanover.”
He said Indiana Landmarks is working with the Town of Hanover along with support from Hanover College “to help improve conditions in the community to be attractive for students in the college.” The organization has met with Lake Lambert, president of Hanover College, and Keith Mefford, Hanover clerk-treasurer, “to come up with a strategy to hopefully find a preservation sensitive buyer for this house.”
“There’s a great deal of need for the property,” Sekula said, noting the $7,500 request would be used for getting dumpsters and hiring workers to assist with the cleanup of the building to make the property a little more presentable for marketing purposes. The building also has structural concerns that need to be addressed including “a gapping hole in a back of the one-story section that we want to get patched,” he added. “Our goal is to clean the house out, take out the old carpeting and some of the paneling, and to expose the original good bones of the house which is a great 1855 Greek Revival style house.”
Sekula said that any time Indiana Landmarks is involved in a real estate transaction, covenants are attached to the building requiring a future buyer to present a rehabilitation plan and to be certain the rehabilitation program restores the historic integrity of the structure. “We will be guiding that process along when we hopefully find a buyer,” Sekula said. “That covenant goes with the deed on the property and it extends in perpetuity.”
Based on that all subsequent buyers will be bound by that covenant which involves keeping the house in good repair along with an annual inspection by Indiana Landmarks. “We ask them to make repairs over the years. It’s a long-term commitment that we have to the property.”
Sekula said Jefferson County and Madison are known throughout the state and the nation for their historic preservation efforts. “We’re hoping that culture will extend into Hanover as well. There’s a lot of good structures there, and I think there’s a strong commitment on the part of the town to want to see improvement to preserve some of these endangered historic properties,” he said.
Sekula noted that Indiana Landmarks was also involved in the restoration of the Levi Butler House, a circa 1847 house in Dupont. The house, an outstanding example of Greek Revival style, was saved from foreclosure and neglect in 2015, and has now been restored.
“We believe strongly in trying to preserve the heritage of the county and that extends beyond Madison to include other communities here in the county,” Sekula said.
The house targeted in Hanover features nearly 2,800 square feet of living area on the two floors. Indiana Landmarks’ research shows that John P. Smith purchased the lot on which the house sits in 1851 from the heirs of John Shannon. Smith sold the property in 1867 to John and Ann Litson, who owned the property until 1872. There were a succession of owners in the late 19th century including Hanover College professor Edward J. Hamilton.
Sekula noted the 19th century porch was recently removed from the house due to safety concerns but materials were retained that could help with restoration. “We dismantled that and saved everything,” he said. “All the scroll work is stored in the house right now. The posts are in the back under a car port structure. We had to take it down. It was dangerous. But we did save all those pieces. The obligation of a new buyer would be to put the porch back onto the house.”
Sekula added “most of the original windows are there and a lot of the wood trim. You just don’t see it because you’re focused on paneling, dropped ceilings” and other aspects of the house that overshadow the structure itself. The house also retains some two-panel doors and poplar flooring along with the staircase, which he said is one of the distinguishing features of the house.
Sekula said doing substantially more rehabilitation on the property would cost much more than the $7,500 Indiana Landmarks is requesting from the Commissioners but there needs to be a start somewhere.
“We’re treating it incrementally,” he said. “If we can get it cleaned and reveal the structure with the hope of finding a preservation-minded buyer that way.” He added that depending how that goes, Indiana Landmarks will then determine if it needs to invest more on the structure. “We are treating this as let’s do a little bit” with the market currently being strong. The house, currently on the market for $27,000, is something Sekula thinks can’t be found in Madison, particularly with the amount of square footage in the Hanover house.
Sekula also noted that other houses in vicinity of 263 East Main Street have recently been rehabilitated so the neighborhood is trending positive and once this house is done, “that block is really going to be turned around.”
He hopes seeing that impact will provide impetus toward restoration of other distressed properties in Hanover. “Things are moving in the right direction,” he said.