Finding the Right Strategy to Save Historic Houses

Indiana Landmarks’ real estate program uses creative strategies and partnerships for houses in Hanover, New Albany, and Brick Chapel.

271 E Main, Hanover
In Melie and Daniel Orellana (above), we found the perfect buyers for an 1830s house in Hanover donated to Indiana Landmarks. Daniel, a general contractor, plans to use his experience to restore the house’s original details and install a rear addition. (Photo: Greg Sekula)

When it comes to investing in historic places, Indiana Landmarks’ real estate program employs a variety of approaches. Sometimes we buy the place, stabilize it, and sell it to buyers who can finish the work. Other times, preservation-minded owners donate properties to us knowing we’ll find stewards to ensure their future. Three houses acquired by Indiana Landmarks in the past year illustrate our adaptability.

When longtime members Bob and Grace Ireland donated an 1830s house in Hanover to Indiana Landmarks, it didn’t take long to find the perfect buyer. Daniel Orellana had worked as general contractor on the Leavitt House, a Queen Anne home we’re rehabilitating in Vernon. Daniel lives in Seymour with his wife, Melie, and works in North Vernon, Hanover, and Madison, so he was familiar with the area’s architecture and amenities. “I was thinking of flipping the property for my business, but when we got inside, we fell in love,” he says.

271 E Main, Hanover

271 E Main, Hanover (Photo: Greg Sekula)

Daniel brings technical know-how to the project, and Melie offers input on design. They plan to return the house to its 1830s appearance while adding modern amenities and a rear addition to provide more bedrooms for their family of five. “It’s the perfect house for us and we can’t wait to move in,” says Orellana.

In New Albany’s Silver Grove neighborhood, the 1885 Bir House has a long history on Ekin Avenue. Early residents gathered at the house to vote to incorporate the town of Silver Grove, installing Louis Bir as town board president. Decades later, many visited the place to buy meat at the M&J Market, a small grocery attached to the front of the home. When the house’s owner considered demolition, Indiana Landmarks partnered with Develop New Albany and the Caesars Foundation of Floyd County to acquire the property before selling it to local developer Andy Carter.

“So many people came to share stories as we started doing the work about how they went to the store or knew the family. It became more evident the more we got into it, there was a longstanding history that needed to be saved,” says Carter. “I’m drawn to a challenge and like to take places people have forgotten and make them become a home again.” He completely renovated the property, removing the market addition and returned the house to single-family use.

Just steps away from the house, pastor Jonah Sage watched the story unfold as he went to work at Sojourn Church, located in the historic Silver Street School. “My wife and I had been trying to move into this neighborhood for a long time to be close to church. It wasn’t easy because if something was renovated, we couldn’t afford it, but something outdated we couldn’t afford to renovate,” says Sage. “When we saw this house, my wife said, ‘I think we could do this. I think it could be great.’”

They collaborated with Carter and moved into the Bir House in November. “I’m kind of a dreamer and I like watching things come back to life. One challenge my wife and I always face is that I want something with character and history, and she wants something safe and not falling apart. This felt like a sweet opportunity,” says Sage. “You had to have a vision to see beyond the mess. It was overwhelming and at times a frightening process, but a lot of fun too.”

In rural Putnam county near Brick Chapel, a lightning strike during a nighttime storm in August 2019 sparked a fire at the 1879 O’Hair House, destroying the roof and much of the second floor. By the time the home’s owner contacted Indiana Landmarks, the house had been roofless for more than a month. Though his insurance company counted the building as a total loss, the owner recognized its historic value and turned to Indiana Landmarks for help.

He decided to donate the property to Indiana Landmarks, along with funds towards the cost of a new roof. In 2020, we led work to stabilize the property, installing the new roof, beginning work on the fascia, soffits, and gutters, and securing window replacements for the fire-damaged openings. With a sale pending at the end of the year, it’s the kind of turnaround we like to celebrate.

Last year, Indiana Landmarks also sold properties in Connersville, Richmond,
Vincennes, Indianapolis, Hillsboro, and Ligonier. Visit to see historic places currently on the market.

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