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Editorial: Historic housing


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Cheryl Carter Jones has some stones she wants to sell. Not diamonds, not pieces of jade, really, not any kind of gem whatsoever.

Her stones are of the limestone variety — the kind that are used in the construction of homes, buildings and monuments.

She has dozens of them stored in a field in the northern part of Morgan County. They’re not exactly trinkets. Large slabs, many weighing hundreds of pounds, might be a more appropriate description.

While you won’t find much limestone in jewelry stores today, the material is definitely more expensive than your run-of-the-mill rocks. It’s almost a must for high-end homes and buildings.

But Cheryl, a Columbus native now living in Marion County, thinks there’s an added value to her collection — a direct connection to Columbus’ history and its industrial beginnings. Her limestone once was part of one of the Reeves’ homes on Fifth Street.

Specifically, her limestone came from the 19th-century residence of Girnie L. Reeves, former president of Reeves Pulley Co., a business founded by his brothers, Milton O. and Marshall T., in 1888. It would grow under the leadership of the three brothers (Girnie joined the operation in 1889) to become the leading employer in Bartholomew County. Q.G. Noblitt and Clessie Cummins, who later would go on to be co-founders, respectively, of Arvin Industries and Cummins Engine Co., once worked on the pulley company’s assembly lines.

The Reeves brothers were close in more than blood. They were neighbors.

Each had a residence on Fifth Street, mere steps from one another. Marshall’s place was at 722 Fifth St., while Milton and Girnie were directly across the street from one another at 912 and 913 Fifth St. Their offices were a couple of blocks away in the plant on Seventh Street.

Their homes weren’t exactly bungalows. Mansions would be more like it; but then, Fifth Street wasn’t exactly a low-rent district. Around the turn of the century, one of their closest neighbors was Joseph Irwin and his extended family living in the Irwin mansion.

The Irwin mansion and its gardens still are a prominent part of Fifth Street, but all three Reeves’ homes were demolished years ago. Today Lincoln School stands on the land where Marshall had lived. Milton’s place in the 900 block has been replaced with apartment units, and Girnie’s property is a parking lot.

In its day, Girnie’s mansion was almost palatial. He acquired the property sometime after 1910. Actually, it had been built in 1850 by Dallas Reeves, an uncle, but several years later it was sold to a farmer named William Burnett. He held on to the property until Girnie brought it back into the family.

It went through an intensive remodeling spearheaded by architect and builder Elmer Dunlap. Some of its more ornate features included fireplaces in the billiards room, living room, library and master bedroom. Over the living room fireplace was a picture sculpted into the plasterwork depicting Christopher Columbus landing in America.

No expense was spared in the furnishings and woodwork. The local Orinoco Furniture Co., noted for its quality products all over the world, put in all the moldings and cabinetry. Outside remodeling included a porte-cochere (what today would resemble a carport) intended for horse-drawn carriages. It was lined with some of the limestone that Cheryl wants to sell.

But that is only a small fraction of the limestone she has available. The land in Morgan County also is the repository for several other exterior arches from windows and porches and several rooftop caps.

Girnie Reeves lived in the home until his death in 1947. The family sold the property to Dr. David Adler in the 1950s, and his family lived there for almost 10 years. It went through several transitions after that. SIECO had offices there for several years, and two local investors converted it into an apartment house. Finally it was purchased by St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in the late 1970s and sat empty for several years. In 1982, church officials elected to have the building demolished, converting the property into a parking lot.

The materials from the house were offered at auction with one proviso: The purchaser had to dismantle and cart away the acquisition. The purchaser in the case of the limestone was Jerry Jones, an Indianapolis attorney who later would marry Cheryl Carter.

For three decades the limestone has been on the Morgan County property. The couple thought at one time of using it in the construction of a new home but never got around to that undertaking.

Recently, Cheryl decided to return to her Bartholomew County roots and began disbursing some of her holdings. She has offered the Bartholomew County Historical Society first rights on the purchase of the limestone because of the history involved.

Members of the historical society board are debating the offer, but a number have indicated that finances and lack of proper storage are big hurdles.

Cheryl would prefer the historical importance of the material be taken into consideration by any prospective buyer. Given the fate of Girnie’s original house, that kind of customer might be difficult to find.

Harry McCawley is associate editor of The Republic. He can be reached by phone at 379-5620 or email at harry@therepublic.com.

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