Downtown residents open homes for Preservation Foundation
By Bill Richardson
Among other things, downtown Vincennes is a residential community.
That’s the message the Vincennes/Knox County Preservation Foundation, with the help of a group of the downtown residents, is trying to drive home with the inaugural Historic Holiday Home Tour on Dec. 1. Five historic homes in the downtown district have been selected for the self-guided tour, which will take place from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. The cost is $20.
“People really don’t know much about the historical district in Vincennes, and it’s the largest one in the state,” said Jennifer Nelson, who moved into downtown Vincennes from Seattle about three years ago and is helping to organize the tour. “The whole idea came about when we were sitting around, talking. We’d been on tours in the past. We said, ‘What if we did a little home tour, to raise awareness about opportunities available in the district?’”
Nelson, Elizabeth Cutter-McNeece Doll and a few other residents of downtown district, pitched their idea to the V/KCPF. The result is a tour, which all involved hope turns into an annual event around the holidays.
Part of the dilemma, according to Nelson and Cutter-McNeece Doll, is that most of the public is unaware that the downtown district includes more than just businesses.
“We’ve had countless people drive by and tell us they had no idea there are homes in the area,” Nelson said. “They’ll say, ‘We just thought it was a business.’”
The truth is, the stops on the tour, as well as a number of other places, are historic landmarks.
“All of these homes have such history and such rich, colorful stories,” Nelson said. “We want to create awareness for the historical architecture in the community, and we want to create awareness for preservation. Sadly, a lot of them are getting torn down.”
Cutter-McNeece Doll hopes the tour attracts others who’ll consider moving into the downtown area. She says it’s not as expensive as one might think.
“There are people to support you,” she said. “It’s not a silly investment.”
At each stop, “booties” will be provided, so that mud and grime won’t be tracked into the historic homes.
The tour will begin at the Klein Real Estate building, known as the Peck Bayard House, at 505 N. Sixth St. Tickets for the self-guided tour will be sold there. Other stops on the tour are the Von Knappe House (400 N. Sixth), the Hack House (427 N. Fifth), the American National Bank Building (302 Main) and the Wise Home (404 N. Fourth).
Cutter-McNeece Doll hopes the V/KCPF is able to put proceeds from the day to good use.
“We’d like to see the money be allocated for helping protect structures that might be in jeopardy of being lost,” she said. “Or it could be used as a grant or incentives for someone who’s new into the district and is taking a structure and turning it into a single-family residence and making it their home.”
Narrowing the list of homes for the tour wasn’t that difficult, according to organizers. Already, according to Cutter-McNeece Doll, a number of other downtown homeowners have indicated that they’d like to be a part of the tour in the future.
“People are like-minded,” said Nelson. “They see the vision. They want to help promote and educate people on everything we have to offer in this area.”
Nelson and Cutter-McNeece Doll are hoping that some of the downtown businesses will take advantage of the situation to open their doors on that day.
Black Friday and Shop Local Saturday, they note, are on the two days preceding the home tour.
“If some of the downtown shop owners want to open that day, I think it would be great,” said Cutter-McNeece Doll.
Two downtown businesses, the Vincennes Brewing Company and Procopio’s Pizza and Pasta, have pledged to donate 10 percent of the sales that day to the cause.
If nothing else, organizers hope that the tour will get the community into the Christmas spirit.
“Everybody loves Christmas,” said Nelson.
“It’ll be a great way to kick the holiday season off for everyone,” added Cutter-McNeece Doll. “It could become a great family tradition for people to get together and get into the holiday spirit.”
The Peck-Bayard House, 505 N. Sixth St.
The home was built in 1861 for Dr. H.E. Peck, a homeopathic druggist, in the ornate Italianate style. It was remodeled in 1913 to the Classic Revival look by Mr. and Mrs. J.L. Bayard , one of the early presidents of First National Bank.
In 1931, the Roseman sisters leased the property from the Anglin’s, then owners of the property since around 1920, to start a tea room called St. Ann Tea Room, which was a very popular spot for many years. Eventually the home was purchased by Sigma Pi Fraternity with the two sons of J.L. Bayard being amongst the first initiates. In time the property became the home of Kemper CPA Group. Then, after extensive renovation and restoration it became the home of Klein Real Estate in 2017.
The Von Knappe House, 400 N. Sixth St.
Built in 1904 in a Romanesque revival architectural style, the Von Knappe house, designed by Jeffery Campbell, was an homage to the old-world architecture of Europe where Dr. Von Knappe spent many years traveling and studying holistic medicine. Known to many as “The Castle,” Von Knappe carried out his medical practice from the lower level of the house, and used the upper two floors as a private residence for himself and wife Olivia.
The couple had no children and after their deaths, the lower level of the home was converted to an holistic bath house by new owners circa 1939. After that, Vincennes resident, Dr. Norman Denny lived in the home with his family for more than 50 years, and held his medical practice in the same space as Von Knappe.
After a brief time as a used-bookstore, the Von Knappe house was purchased in 2016 by private owners who have spent the last three years restoring the property back to a single-family dwelling.
The Hack House, 427 N. Fifth St.
Eugene and Dora Hack built this Queen Anne style home in 1888. Hack and Anton Simon bought a small brewery from John Ebner in 1875 and operated at the property until 1928 when it closed due to prohibition. In 1914, the Hack’s daughter’s wedding took place in the music room of the home.
From 1994 through 2005 the Vincennes Housing Authority operated the home as a women’s shelter. In 2005, Dave and Cathy Lane bought the house, and in 2016 sold it to Tara and Eben Lips.
American National Bank Building, 302 Main St.
Architect John W. Gaddis designed this six-story neoclassical structure in 1917. It was being built as the German National Bank. However, the United States declared war on Germany in April of that year. On Jan. 18, 1918, the directors changed the name to American National Bank and changed the inscription above the main door.
The bank opened its doors on July 4, 1919. It originally had marble, glass, and brass cage teller boxes and tall marble columns with gilded Corinthian capitals. In the early 1960s the Third Street entrance was installed as a walk up/drive up window with overhead heat lamps. Around this time, the bank installed an air door that blew warm air across the entrance to keep out cold air and insects. In 1980, the bank acquired the old restaurant and poolroom next door, and remodeled it with brick colonial facade. In 2013, Leah and Clint Richter bought the building and have recently renovated it into event space known as The Grand Bankquet Hall.
The Wise Home, 404 N. Fourth St.
William J. Wise built the Federal/Italianate style home in 1859 for an unidentified widow woman that he intended to marry. However, the marriage never took place.
Wise was a “capitalist,” according to local legend, and was one of eight brothers to move to Vincennes to become businessmen. Wise made his fortune by packaging pork.
In 1880, William and Elizabeth Miles and their 6-year-old daughter May moved into the home to care for Elizabeth’s elderly uncle.
In 1896, Isaac and Carrie Lyons, along with their two children, moved into the home before it was purchased in 1915 by Lawrence and Mary “Mamie” Ebner. Ebner was the owner of Ebner Ice Company.
Mary Ebner died on Feb. 4, 1933. Lawrence Ebner soon remarried, but died on Jan. 31, 1934. The Ebner Technology Center on the Vincennes University campus is named after him.
Ebner’s widow sold the home to Henry and Eleanor Mackey, her sister and brother-in-law. Mackey operated a haberdashery called “Mack’s Men’s Shop” in the Pantheon Theater Building on Main Street. When that shop closed in approximately April 1962, Mackey continued to operate the Siebler custom tailor clothing line out of his home.
Jim and Betsy Corridan purchased the home in 2000. In November 2012, Elizabeth Cutter-McNeece and her daughter, then-2-year-old Vivien, moved in. It is now the home of Elizabeth and her husband, Aaron Doll, and Vivien.