Historic French House undergoing renovation | News

Kim J. Clark

Work is underway to restore the historical French-Parks House to its former glory.

Susan and Loyal Plumb have owned the house for about a year now. Susan Plumb cited her contractor, who found the house structurally sound – in particular its “quoins,” or outside corners.

“Quoins make a really solid house, so [the French-Parks House] doesn’t have the issues that many older homes have,” said Plumb.

Having ensured the house had no major structural issues, Plumb set her sights on other projects.

“I think our plan was approved by the National Parks Service by the Department of the Interior and the state’s Historic Preservation Office,” said Plumb. “If you want to get certain tax advantages and have input from the Historic Preservation Office, they will approve your plan and you will receive tax benefits if you adhere to those rules.”

Plumb said these regulations include keeping rooms with particular purposes, like a kitchen or entertainment space, located where they would have been in the past. Other elements must also remain accurate to the time period.

“The big item is the windows,” said Plumb. “If you replace the windows, they need to be historically accurate. If they were wood, [the new windows] need to be wood or look like wood. You can’t put in aluminum storm windows.”

Plumb said the house’s windows are in good shape. However, other parts of the home are scheduled for renovation. Plumb’s contractor, Robert Blocker, said he has worked on homes from the 1800s before.

“Susan is wanting to go back as original as possible as it was built,” said Blocker. “She’s not wanted to bust down walls.”

Most recently, Blocker has taken off the roof, pulling out three or four layers of shingles installed throughout the house’s history.

“We tore it back to the original decking,” said Blocker. “It was all made of red oak, so that house was built stout from day one. Incredible.”

Blocker said there has really only been one “scary bit” so far: the removal of one of the largest bee hives he has ever seen. He recounted the removal of three 55-gallon barrels of honeycomb and other hive material.

Painting contractor John Jauck, who led the bee removal, said there were “a lot there” – around 45,000 bees. But he said that’s normal for the time of year.

“I saved the bees and they went to another beekeeper,” said Jauck. “I can’t keep them in my front yard. I have about four hives.”

Jauck keeps bees as a hobby and also relocates about 70 hives every year.

“It took a long time,” said Jauck. “There were multiple layers.”

On the sides of the house, Blocker said, ivy was a concern as well.

“We started taking the ivy off last year,” said Blocker. “It embeds in the brick.”

The ivy was killed and removed so it could not cause any more damage to the house’s exterior. After the outside is completed, work will move to the home’s interior.

“Susan’s a stickler for brining it back to life, back to the original,” said Blocker.

Plumb doesn’t have plans to move any interior walls, but will likely be relocating the kitchen.

“The kitchen was in the basement,” said Plumb. “There is no remnant of the kitchen, but there is a flue down there where they probably cooked with a wood stove, and because there is no longer a kitchen down there, we can put the kitchen where we want to, probably on the first floor.”

Some areas of the French-Parks House will be living spaces, but Plumb plans to make the first floor available for events, like business meetings and baby showers.

“I don’t at this point plan to hire any staff, so it will be limited,” said Plumb.

She also expects to landscape the property so small weddings can be staged outside.

“I’m trying to keep it period-appropriate,” said Plumb. “I have some of the old pictures and know some of the history.”

The French-Parks House was built a over 100d years ago a “prairie Gothic” style.

“The house was built in in 1889,” said Plumb. “It was built by Dr. [Johnson] Thompson, who built the Thompson house. He built this house for his daughter.”

Plumb said Thompson built another house for his son nearby. That house is now located across the street from Sweet Arts Bake House.

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