Renovators dive into home's 19th century history

Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald Bramwell-McKay Masonry Restoration employees Chris McAtee, left, Tyler Simmons and Konrad Gabhart placed a steel bar under the house in order to jack it up several inches so that it sits level on Friday. The house at 1209 Mill Street in Jasper, owned by Eric Curtis of Jasper, was built in the 1890s using cornerstones made of sandstone that was likely mined in St. Meinrad. Once the renovations are complete, the house will feature a modern foundation. The cornerstones weren’t able to be saved like Curtis had hoped.


JASPER — Toward the end of the 19th century, Jasper looked quite different than it does now. Many of the city’s current neighborhoods weren’t even part of the city and were vast expanses of land.

Most homes came after industry sprouted; however, records show at least one home, located at 1209 Mill St., stood before the neighborhood’s factories were built.

The two-story home still stands today — directly behind Heichelbech’s Restaurant and Bar — and RC Industry of Jasper is knee-deep in its renovation.

This 1909 map shows the house marked in yellow on the left side of the map.

“I’m going to make it look old,” said Eric Curtis, owner of RC Industry. “I want it to look as historically correct as I can.”

Curtis is in the process of gutting the 1,600-square-foot house, while also trying to preserve its history. Parts of the home have been updated through the years, such as its replacement windows and wood-paneled walls.

Something that suggests its time, Curtis said, are the square nails used to construct the home, versus the round ones used in today’s construction.

“They were forged,” he said of the square ones.

He said the steepness of the staircase leading to the home’s second floor also indicates its old age, as does the cellar that was covered up and filled in beneath the house. Curtis found some old kerosene lanterns and cork bottles there.

The three-bedroom, two-bath home also sits farther back from Mill Street than neighboring houses and doesn’t sit square to the street, which suggests to Curtis that the home was there before the street.

The house’s foundation — which Bramwell-McKay Masonry, Restoration, Consulting, and Education has already replaced — also had cornerstones made of hand-hewn sandstone from St. Meinrad (the same stone used to build the St. Meinrad Archabbey, founded in 1854). The home’s sandstone — which Bramwell-McKay was unable to save — was placed directly on the dirt, which Jason McCoy with Bramwell-Mckay said is typical of the late 1800s.

“The cool thing about the way people used to build these a long time ago is that when this house was constructed here, they weren’t mixing concrete,” he said, adding that foundations are now placed on top of a concrete footing.

Handmade nails were used in the construction of the house.

“I would imagine that this house, I’m guessing, I would say it’s one of the older homes on Mill Street, judging from that foundation,” McCoy said. “Also, the plate, which is the first piece of wood that goes on top of the foundation was also hand-hewn with an ax. It wasn’t saw-cut, it was hand-hewn in the same method that the Schaeffer Barn was constructed. That’s indicative of a building that’s really, really old.”

Records at the Dubois County Courthouse indicate the land the house sits on was platted in 1861. It’s unclear who first owned the land; it could have been developer Isidor Schumacher who sold the 1209 Mill St. plat to Bernhard Schroeder in October 1884. Schroeder sold it to Charles Seiler, a Civil War veteran, in August 1887. The next owner, Agnes Becher, bought the property in September 1896 and had it until her death in February 1906. Her will included items that would be found in a house, indicating the home was already there at the time.

While there’s no way to tell exactly when the home was built, it had to be Schroeder, Seiler or Becher who built it. So, it was built sometime between October 1884 and February 1906.

Bramwell-McKay does masonry and foundation work on older buildings — recent or current projects include buildings like the Jasper Lofts, Vine Street Lofts and the River Centre development. McCoy said the Mill Street home “seems like 1880s construction to me.”

Historian Ron Flick of Jasper agreed. He said most homes on Main and Jackson streets were built in the 1890s and even 1910s; however, he said the 1209 Mill St. house could be even earlier.

He said Victorian styles were popular in the 1890s — he owns one on Ninth Street — but the Mill Street home isn’t that. He calls it “a simple, double-gable style.”

“What is curious about that house is the trim on the windows,” he said. “Makes me think 1880s or '90s. There was enough differentiated style then, people had more money. People were building bigger homes.”

Sandstone cornerstones, likely mined in St. Meinrad, were used in the 1800s construction of the. Once the renovations are complete, the house will feature a modern foundation. The cornerstones weren’t able to be saved like Curtis had hoped.

A 1909 map of the area that Flick has in his archives shows the 1209 Mill St. home sitting on the block by itself. Across the street sits the Jasper Novelty Works building — now Indiana Furniture — that was built in 1906. According to a history of Indiana Furniture on the company’s website, “The neighborhood grew as workers soon began building their homes nearby to be within walking distance of their new jobs.”

Dubois County historian Art Nordhoff said the home hasn’t been deemed historical by any entity. Historical declarations are typically based on a building’s design and who lived there, he said.

The home had many owners after Becher. She willed it to a family of Kreileins. It was then home to Lorenz Mehringer, Roman Bohnert, Anna Whelan, Jeanette Schuler, Kathryn and Edward Kendall, Edward and Edna Hardwick, and Alford Hardwick. The Ahrens family took possession of the home in 1973 and owned it until last year when Curtis purchased it.

“I knew something about this house was unique,” said Curtis, who plans to sell the home once the renovation is complete. “Anybody else would have just bought this and torn it down. I feel like this is part of our history.”

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