The Alison House

It’s a week of House Hopping with Preservationists! Continuing on from stop one in central Virginia, let’s make our way to Columbus, Ohio. Maria, a historic preservationist, is busy researching, planning and prioritizing restoration and other projects for her house. Read on as Maria shows us the significant architectural features and shares the first projects she and her husband have undertaken. 


By Maria Burkett

About a year ago, my husband and I purchased our first home, a beautiful little two-story brick vernacular house constructed in a working class immigrant neighborhood in 1914. The house is one of the newer buildings in the neighborhood, which dates to the 1860s, although most of the neighboring buildings on my street are from the 1890s and early 1900s. We are located north of downtown Columbus, Ohio and many of the early homeowners worked at nearby factories or shops. One of the early owners of our house (the Allison family) was an auto-mechanic and had a large garage in the rear of our yard, off of the ally. The garage is long gone, but the 1921-1922 Sanborn Map shows the location of the garage as well as the mixed development in the area with several multiple dwelling units and businesses mixed together.

Sanborn Insurance Map, 1921-1922.

One of the things that attracted us to the area was the diversity. The factories and garages have been replaced by restaurants and art galleries, and the area continues to change with many new developments planned for the neighborhood that will reuse the older buildings or appropriately in full the vacant urban lots. It is an exciting place to live.

It was love at first site for my husband and me with our house. First of all, it is one of the most unique buildings I have seen from the exterior. Although its form is rather plain, the buildings materials are unique. The front of the house is a beautiful yellow brick with red mortar and red brick details, and the other sides are a darker red brick, much darker than normal. Luckily for us, little repointing has been done, and we still have most of the original red mortar. The house has no additions and most of the windows are original, although all three of our doors have been replaced.

Front corner of our house—you can see the original 1/1 window, yellow brick façade, and red brick details and red brick side wall.

The interior is just as extraordinary; the house retains the original reddish hardwood floors and wood trim. The trim in the kitchen and first floor bathroom was painted, but one of my jobs this year is to remove the paint and refinish the trim.

The original floors and trim really excited us about the house when we were looking.

One of my distant projects is to remove the drywall in the firebox and find and appropriately sized gas insert.

My favorite part of the interior is the upstairs bathroom. Most of the bathroom has been redone (which I think is pretty ugly and will be giving it a makeover eventually), but the original clawfoot tub is still in place and there is a curved wall detail to accommodate the tub.

My beautiful bathtub—I can’t wait to rip out the tile and flooring.

We have done relatively little in the ways of improvements to the house so far. One of my husband’s requirements was that we did not, under any circumstances, purchase a fixer upper. Our house was move in ready, but like all houses, a person can dream up many projects. I made a three page list of every dream, which is why we delayed beginning work – in order to prioritize these projects. This past fall, we took the first step and insulated our attic. We like to think our house is warmer this winter, although the winter has been so warm it really is hard to tell.

After the insulation = a nice warm house. None of this existed in the attic before.

This spring we are going to start the task of repainting our exterior trim (one reason a brick house is so great, so little to paint!) and fix our gutters and front porch. The roof was incorrectly built and years of water and ice damage have left a considerable gap between where the roof ends and the gutters begin. I would also like to get some storm windows up and restore all of the rope and pulley systems in our double-hung windows, but that may have to wait another year.

One of my favorite details-a corner guard! We have several of these upstairs, although others are painted (for now).

In the meantime, I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of spring so I can continue work on my yard. For a house that is closing in on its 100th birthday, it had almost no landscaping to speak of until we bought it. I spent last summer putting in raised garden beds and planning perennials, azaleas, vinca, and whatever else I could get my hands on.

My nice garden last summer.

Our dog posing by a newly planted azalea.

The beginning of the garden. We later discovered that the dirt path running through out backyard is actually a concrete walk buried under several inches of mud. That is a project for this coming spring.

We are looking forward to continuing my battle against grass and installing a back walk this year. We love our old house and are constantly surprised and gratified by what we find and complete to make it our home.


Maria works in Columbus, Ohio where she lives with her husband and dog. She is part of the fabulous Mary Washington Preservation class of 2006 and a flamingo enthusiast since 2005. 

Thanks, Maria!  You are a great inspiration for how to carefully plan restoration and other home renovations. Good luck with this year’s projects. Last year’s garden looks beautiful.

Next stop on House Hopping with Preservationists, we’ll head further west to the Great Plains: Montana!

Field Trip: Gimbel Corner in Vincennes, Indiana

Information and pictures sent in by Maria Burkett.

318 NE corner of Main and 2nd Streets. Photograph by Maria Burkett.

I went to the very sad town of Vincennes, Indiana a few weeks ago and photographed the buildings here (in the project area) it is located on the corner of Main and N. Second Streets and is called Gimbel Corner. Think Gimbels Department Store from Miracle on 34th Street. Around before Macy’s Department Store, Gimbels is credited with the oldest  Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Old Gimbel Corner, Vincennes, Indiana. Photograph by Maria Burkett

The very first Gimbels opened in Vincennes, Indiana, formed by Adam Gimbel,  a Jewish Bavarian immigrant who started out as a pack-peddler in 1842 and opened the first store as dry goods in 1857.  Gimbel moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin and opened a large, successful department store in 1887. In the 1890s, Gimbels grew to Philadelphia and in the early 1900s, to New York City.


Photograph by Maria Burkett.


The short version of the ending is: after merging and being bought by other companies, Gimbels closed in 1987.

You can read more about Gimbels from the Milwaukee County Historical Society. Or at the Department Store Museum blog. The only source with lots of information seems to be the Wikipedia Gimbels article — without citations — does anyone have a good online source for Gimbels history?


Photograph by Eric Fischer on Flickr. Click for original source.

Also, to explore Vincennes, Indiana, check out this flickr set by Eric Fischer. Vincennes seems so sad, but with so much potential, don’t you think? Scan through the photos and you’ll see that there is some kitschy roadside architecture around Vincennes. What a great combination!


Burned Out Log Cabin

Photograph courtesy of Maria Burkett.

Photograph courtesy of Maria Burkett.

Photograph courtesy of Maria Burkett.

Ah, the perks of friends who have lots of fieldwork and survey assignments are evident when I receive intriguing photographs in my email.

These photos were taken recently in Belmont County, Ohio, which was one of the first areas to be settled legally by people in the Northwest Territory. Maria writes that it was just outside of her survey area, so she does not know more about it, other than it may be as early as the 1790s. Thanks for sharing, Maria!

Anyone else have some information? Any log cabin experts out there?

Preservation Photos #26

Is winter lingering for anyone? Here is the Conneaut Harbor Lighthouse in Conneaut, Ohio, seen in the March 2010, to keep you company. Built in the 1930s in the Art Moderne style, it is the 3rd lighthouse in the harbor (and was for sale a few years ago, not sure who bought it). It stands way far out on Lake Erie, only accessible by a rock jetty in nice weather (i.e. when the jetty and lake are not covered in ice). Photo and information courtesy of Maria Gissendanner.

Preservation Photos #16

The haunted Gimghoul Castle (originally Hippol Castle) in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Click on the image to read the ghost story.

Thanks to Maria Gissendanner for sending the photograph and the link.

Stewart’s Folly

By Maria Gissendanner

Stewart’s Folly is an interesting forgotten roadside attraction from the 1970s also known as the Round House of Logan, Ohio It is located on the outskirts of town as you are entering into Logan from the west along County Road 33A. I came across the mysterious structure this winter while doing a HAER documentation on a bridge in the area. I was driving along and almost found myself in the ditch as I craned my neck to double check what I just saw. On the side of the road in an overgrown lot was a round concrete building that appeared to have once been some sort of house that had been abandoned years ago.

I decided to turn around and go back and investigate this strange structure and sacrificed my body and car on the icy Ohio ground to get a closer look. Up close, it was clear that the structure was a poured concrete sphere sitting up on a rectangular pedestal and that it had been left to the elements years ago as all the windows and doors were missing and interior floors were collapsed rendering it impossible to enter along with the hazards of the ice. The concrete itself was still in good condition and I couldn’t help wondering what that forgotten structure was and why such a weird little building didn’t have anyone showing it any love. A quick Google search for “concrete round house in Logan, Ohio” got my answer; apparently I was not the first one to be stricken by this roadside oddity. I found out that locals refer to the building as “Stewart’s Folly” after the name of the man who designed and built the structure.

Logan Round House. Courtesy of Maria Gissendanner.

Logan Round House. Courtesy of Maria Gissendanner.

“Stewart’s Folly” was constructed as a prototype in the 1970s as a new durable type of housing to be constructed in hurricane and tornado-prone areas of the country. Its round design was supposed to make the structure wind resistant and its concrete construction and special windows also made the exterior of the building fire resistant. The concrete for the building was poured by using a special elevator system; the concrete was poured into the wooden shell mold from the top. It had 8-inch thick walls at the base and the rest of the building had 5-inch thick walls. The building had two floors with a basement, a porch and a garage. The building was never lived in. It was used for storage for several years and although meant as a prototype, no others were ever constructed although other companies have come out with similar designs.

For more information on “Stewart’s Folly” and to see pictures of the building while it was slightly more intact go to The Logan Roundhouse on Forgotten OH