Small Loss, Big Win
Even if you don’t like Victorian architecture, you’d notice the Newkirk Mansion in Connersville. And if you like towers and ornament, and the more-is-more styles typical of the age, you probably love the Newkirk Mansion. The house atop a hill overlooking the town drew Indiana Landmarks’ attention: in 2017, we put it on our 10 Most Endangered list as a place we just had to save.
Completed in 1880 by the owner of a furniture manufacturing company, the mansion at 317-321 Western Avenue retains original, ornate black walnut, cherry and butternut mantels and woodwork. Long vacant, the house declined under a leaky roof that damaged the woodwork and plaster. Vandals wrecked some original features. An arson fire destroyed the property’s historic two-story carriage house in late April 2017.
To save it, we used a tactic that we came to rely on during the recession, when we had zero spare cash, and continue to use because it’s just smart business. We took a real estate option for little money that allowed us to market the site.
We fielded calls from throughout the U.S. and even one from overseas, but when we found the perfect buyers closed to home, we exercised our option and immediately re-sold Newkirk with protective covenants. So, okay, we lost $9,000 on this one—we negotiated down from the original asking price to $65,000 and sold it for $56,000. But even though we lost, we won, wouldn’t you say?
Indiana Landmarks sold the Newkirk Mansion to Mike and Jenny Sparks, who bought it for the second time. After owning the mansion from 1987 to the early ‘90s, they sold it to a couple committed to maintaining its historic character, but after about 18 months, the man was killed in a car accident, and the property declined under a subsequent owner. In recent years, the couple had avoided traveling down Western Avenue because they found it too painful to see how far the house had declined.
What made them buy the house back? “I’ve never seen another stairway with solid cherry hand-carved panels instead of turned balusters. It’s beautiful and massive, and the newel post is taller than my wife,” Mike Sparks notes. “We love the black walnut parlor mantel. We love the ornate butternut trim around the doors and windows, and the deep crown molding. We love the size of the rooms. And we love the site overlooking the city of Connersville. It would be a spectacular house anywhere, but the setting adds to its appeal.”
They expect the restoration to take several years, but as soon as they signed the purchase offer the couple and their two adult sons began clearing away the tangled overgrowth and cleaning the interior. A little more than two weeks after we inked the sale, they staged a tour for the community.
“We hope the house becomes a catalyst for downtown revival in Connersville,” Mike declares. “We intend to do what we can to fuel that. For example, we’re happy that Indiana Landmarks has attached a protective covenant to the deed of the Newkirk Mansion. If that had been in place, the house would never have reached the dire state that landed it on the 10 Most Endangered list,” he notes. Finding the perfect stewards—priceless.
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