Thu August 9, 2012
Historic house's future uncertain
Opening the gate into the front lawn of the Moses Fowler House in Lafayette is in a sense unlocking the history of city.
How the community became what it is today is in many ways tied to this home.
“Even though Moses Fowler wasn't like the founder of Lafayette, he was instrumental," said Kathy Atwell, "and an example of what early men brought to the town and really built it the town and built it up from a river town to where it had schools, and libraries, and grand mansions like this.”
Sitting on the porch of one the oldest Gothic Revival houses in Indiana, Kathy Atwell reflects on the history of the more than 11,000-square-foot pink building along South Street in Lafayette.
She is the Executive Director of the Tippecanoe County Historical Association, the home’s third and current owner.
Moses Fowler built the house in the 1850s. His grandson, Cecil Fowler, inherited and renovated it in 1916. The Association took ownership in 1940.
As Atwell opens the door and enters the home, it’s hard not to marvel at the architecture and history that greets you in every room.
“The really neat thing about the house is the attention to detail," said Atwell. "The Gothic Revival pattern is carried out in the door frames...it's just so beautiful.”
The Historical Association had used the home as a museum, but lack of interest, budget cuts for school field trips, and other economic factors forced it to shut down several years ago. It’s currently used just for private events, such as weddings.
Now the organization is considering selling the house. The upkeep costs are piling up and the Association can’t afford the expenses.
Atwell hopes another group comes in and preserves the structure and its history, but admits that comes with challenges.
“We have to be a little careful that we don't put such restrictions on it that no ones going to want to come in and do the remodeling that they may need to do, whether it becomes a home, a bed-and-breakfast, a restaurant," she said. "But, we also have the responsibility to the town, to the neighborhood, and to our own mission to collect, preserve, and interpret local history.”
“We currently have it's current replacement cost at $800,000," said Tippecanoe County Assessor Linda Phillips.
She says the replacement costs for the Moses Fowler House do not necessarily dictate its market value.
Phillips says because the house is so unique, it’s hard to gauge how much the structure is worth.
“It's on a 1.3-acre parcel in a desirable location for a business, but maybe not such a great location for your home," she said.
"It's an enormous old house. It's a magnificent house, but what somebody would pay for that is just anybody's guess at this point.”
Whoever buys it, Jeff Boswell wants them to keep the Moses Fowler House as is.
"It's one of the highlights of the whole community. On this side of the river, you could probably count on one hand the prominent architectural buildings and that's like number one," he said. “This is what home is about.”
Boswell and his wife Jane have both lived in the community for more than 50 years and are down the street from the house.
Jane fears a new tenant could mean the loss of the home’s history and the history of Lafayette.
“This is a cradle, a little cradle, where things, items, collections, on a small scale can tell the story of this community," she said.
Kathy Atwell vows that the Historical Association will try to find a buyer who will protect the memories of the Boswell’s and others who have enjoyed the Moses Fowler House.
Because she says, if not, they will be lost forever.
"If it's gone, it's gone," she said. "They can have pictures of it on the internet and they can maybe have holograms that we can walk around in it, but you have to go pretty far to hear the sounds of the footsteps and that's sort of what I tell people with the collecting, if something happens to the house and it's gone, you can't rebuild it.”
The house’s history does have some protection. It is on the National and State Registers of Historic Places.
That means the next owner can make interior modifications, as long as they use only private funds.
Exterior changes require the approval from the city.