‘Mobile home’

Jennings Historical Society
moves historic Victorian house to save it

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Writer

NORTH VERNON, Ind. (April 2007) – On Feb. 22, residents in North Vernon, Ind., were probably quite surprised to see a historical landmark in the town moving down the highway. The Jennings County Historical Society was moving a small Victorian house to its property in historic Vernon.

Jennings County House

Photo by Steven Mobley

A small Victorian house sits quietly before
being moved to a safe location.

“The undertaking was a huge community effort; many people and companies donated their time and money for the project,” said society president Chris Asher.
She said the home was designated by the Historic Landmarks of Southern Indiana as the smallest Victorian home in the state. The white frame home measures 16x16 feet and was a “pattern” home ordered from the Sears and Roebuck catalog and shipped via the railroad.
According to Asher, during the late 1800s with the development of the rail service, pattern homes became popular throughout the Midwest.
“It was much easier and quicker to simply look through a catalog and order a home than it was to cut the lumber and build one from scratch,” she said. Eventually, the pattern homes became big business for the company.
All of the homes had standard features that included three windows and corner gingerbread; the pieces were numbered and came in on the train. Because they were all of a standard size, a foundation could be prepared and laid before the house even arrived.
“Once you know the characteristics of pattern homes, they are easily recognizable. There are many in this area,” said Asher.
She said this particular home was originally purchased by Vernon resident Eldo Hicks, who along with his four sons worked as engineers and built railroad bridges. The elder Hicks bought the house to use as a railroad office. It was originally located on College Street in North Vernon, one block from the railroad. Asher said the original purchase price for the house was probably around $700.
In 1910, Eldo moved to Florida, and the home was sold out of the family. Asher said the historical society believes it was at that point the house became the home of an unnamed elderly gentleman. The little house never had plumbing, but electricity was eventually added to it in the 1930s.
Eventually, the home ended up as the property of preservationist Bill Williams, who recognized the little house was a piece of the county’s history and should be preserved. He donated the building to the society.
Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana gave the society a $10,000 loan to cover the moving expenses. “We have about 18 months to get the loan paid back,” said Asher, “but then we have to come up with the funds to totally renovate the house.”
Edwards Moving & Rigging Inc., recommended by Historic Landmarks because of past historical work it had done, was hired to do the actual moving.
“It took about three days of preparation before the home was actually moved to its new site 2.2 miles south onto historical society property,” said Asher.
First, the badly damaged roof was taken off, and the walls were braced from inside the building. Then, a huge tarp was wrapped around the building. Next, the house was jacked up and the creek stones used for the foundation were carefully pulled up and put in place at the new site. Finally, the house was slid onto a low-boy and traffic was stopped along Hwy. 7 for the 30-minute trip to the new site.
“People lined the highway to watch, and it was really exciting and fun,” said Asher.
The society plans to restore the home to its original state and use it as an extension of its headquarters.
The restoration is already under way; some of the pieces the home needs, such as door jambs and windows, were donated by people who had other pattern homes in the area before they were torn down or destroyed.
“The donations we received for the project were simply tremendous,” said Asher. Even the historical moving company donated money and supplies for a new roof to be put on the home.
She said several companies and individuals donated their time and effort, including excavator David Heilman and surveyor Brad Bender.
Lee’s Group donated concrete for the new footers, Goecker Lumber donated supplies for the foundation, St. John Trucking donated sand for mortar, the Jennings County High School Building Trade donated workers to help put in the footers, and Woodall Roofing removed the old roof for free, and are donating towards the new roof.

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