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Preservationists say not enough was done to thwart demolition of a 116-year-old historic home on Main Street. The two-story brick house at 205 N. Main St. was razed Aug. 26. The site will indefinitely serve as a grassy lot for neighboring Owenton First Baptist Church, which acquired the house and a quarter-acre lot in a $220,000, tax-free deal reached four years ago with former owner A.T. Morgan, according to county property records.
“At this time we don’t have any long range plans for the site,” said Bro. Brad Banks, pastor for First Baptist Church. “We’re just trying to get some grass growing before the winter time.”
A playground has already been erected partly on the site. Church officials could eventually add landscaping and plants to the lot, Banks said.
Originally built in 1894 by Owenton physician Dr. W.E. Foster, the structure featured double Ionic columns and Queen Anne windows. It boasted four over-sized bedrooms and two corbelled brick chimneys. The house was integral in defining North Main Street’s historic neighborhood, according to historians and preservationists.
“I stood there and almost cried when it went down,” said Jeannie Baker, president of the Owen County Historical Society, located directly across from the razed site. “It’s another piece of history that’s gone.”
Baker said she wanted to salvage a small oval window from the house – one of many trademarks of the turn-of-the-century eclectic-style residence – to display at the local history museum.
Family members of the former owners reportedly salvaged the home’s marble counter tops and oversized doors – remnants that were once showcased in the old St. Nicholas Hotel in Owenton. They also reclaimed a hand-carved totem pole from the property’s edge. The pole faced south toward the Baptist church, and Morgan reportedly carved a new totem each time the church hired a new minister.
Neighbors remember the home’s yard for its elaborate rose garden. More than $300 worth of peonies were also planted on the site about five years ago.
Baker would like the church to erect a plaque on the site to address its historical and community significance.
The Dr. W.E. Foster House was listed by the National Register of Historic Places in January 1984. At that time, records from the Owen County Historical Society listed the house in good condition – although the property deteriorated over the past few years. The property was assessed at $186,900 this year, according to property records.
Before demolition, its façade was crumbling and one wall had completely caved from neglect, according to neighbors familiar with the property. Storms had damaged the home’s roof and guttering system, neighbors said. Church officials estimated it would’ve cost as much as $400,000 to fully restore the house.
“It just proved too costly,” Banks said. “The final decision of the church was the demolition of the building.”
Although its historical designation made the house eligible for federal preservation tax credits, none were ever sought, according to Kentucky Historic Resources Inventory records.
Community preservationists were attempting to raise money to restore and relocate the structure. Many hoped it could serve as an Owen County welcome center – but activists were unable to secure funding and a site for the building before demolition.
Neighbor Peggy Davis – who’s lived next door to the site with her husband, John, for more than 35 years – said the demolition of the house was bittersweet.
“I hated to see it go down, but I was relieved because of the way it was looking,” she said. “I watched that house like I watched my own. It was like part of our family going down.”
Four years ago, Davis and her husband wanted to buy the house to save it from impending demolition.
“We didn’t need the house – and we didn’t want the house – but we knew if the church bought it, they would tear it down,” said Davis, who is also a member of First Baptist. “It made me sick for about six weeks” after they bought it.
Davis said she watched storms ravage the house’s roof and tear down the gutters. She said its chimney collapsed last winter.
“It was always kept so well. Then it went down,” she said. “Now, it’s completely gone and I’ve been very depressed about it.”
The home’s former owner, Morgan, resides in a Lexington nursing home. The 96-year-old couldn’t be reached for comment. A family member of Morgan’s didn’t return phone calls seeking comment.