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One of city’s oldest homes honored with historical marker

Marker details history of the 1850s railroad house on Buckeye Street

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Chuck Duncan

HISTORY — Chuck Duncan unveils a new historical marker on the Industrial Heritage Trail.

A home that was a day away from being demolished has been restored and designated as a historic site in Kokomo.

Last week, the Kokomo Historic Review Board, Howard County Historical Society, and city officials unveiled a historical marker at the site of the small home on Buckeye Street that, dating back to the 1850s, could be the oldest home in Kokomo.

“The Historic Review Board strongly supports the recognition and preservation of historical landmarks in Kokomo so that they’re not lost forever,” said Chuck Duncan of the Kokomo Historic Review Board.

The city acquired the home, which sits on the Industrial Heritage Trail, in 2017 in order to extend the trail north and planned to demolish it. The day of the closing, Mayor Greg Goodnight had street crews set up for the next day, ready to level the home, but it was during the closing that Jon England, the most recent owner of the house, commented on the fact that the home had served him well, considering it pre-dated the 1900s.

That raised some eyebrows, said Goodnight.

“I called Joe Ewing (director of street and refuse) to tell him to slowly peel back that vinyl, that aluminum siding, and let’s take a look at this,” Goodnight said. “It was hidden by vinyl siding, aluminum siding, so it looked like a normal home. You couldn’t tell anything about the period it was built.”

Once some of the layers were peeled back, it became apparent that the home was ancient. Goodnight determined the house would be kept intact and called on Jon Russell, the county historian and owner of Russell Design, to take it from there.

“That slight comment at the closing from Joe England helped preserve this house, and I think that’s important,” he said.

Russell, who has extensive experience renovating old structures, said there were clues that helped him pinpoint the age of the home. Under the vinyl siding was old-fashioned wooden siding, commonly known as weatherboard, where individual wooden slats are nailed together to cover the house. The pieces were put into place on the Buckeye house with handmade, square nails, which haven’t been used since the early 1890s, said Russell.

The style of the house itself also was indicative of the times. The house was built with a balloon frame, a style that came about in the 1830s and spread rapidly through the Midwest, according to Russell. The style of framework relied solely on nails to secure each piece of lumber, rather than using wooden pegs that were used in the earlier style timber framing.

Jon Russell

BACK IN TIME — Jon Russell gives a tour of the inside of the small home, which is said to have housed railroad workers.

Russell also dove into area census, deeds, and Sanborn Fire Maps to paint a picture of what he believed the house once was.

Due to its proximity directly across from Kokomo’s first train tracks and the cheap way the house was built, Russell believed the structure was created to house railroad workers who laid those very tracks.

After extensive restoration work on the home, which still is being finished, it closely resembles what Russell believed the house once looked like before additions were put on it over the years.

Now, a historic marker sits in front of the home, drawing attention to the home’s extensive history.

The project was made possible, in part, by Indiana Landmarks, which gave the city a $5,000 grant through the Efroymson Family Fund to help restore the historic home.