John and Sara Frenz, the new owners of 26 N. First St., went before the city’s Historic Review Board on Tuesday seeking approval for a list of additions and improvements for the 185-year-old structure.
The downtown building with a river view has spent its most recent years housing Bartholomew Wedding Photography, but John Frenz says a little digging produced a clearer picture of its more distant past.
In the archives of the former Vincennes Western Sun newspaper, Frenz found the first reference to the brick building in an advertisement for a little store, dated 1837.
“It said ‘we accept pork,’ ” Frenz said happily. “Perhaps they used to process pork in the basement,” he added, indicating the exterior basement entrance cut into the ground — and still in existence — may have been used to take pigs down to butcher.
Too, he told HRB members, the very construction of the building itself has been interesting to analyze and appreciate.
“They began building it in September 1837 and were done by the end of December of that same year,” he said, amazed at both the speed and craftsmanship of the work.
Frenz described a building that boasts limestone slabs in the basement, as well as simple, but expert brick work and rough-cut wood.
“It’s so neat seeing that kind of construction. It’s very simple, but it’s been there for 185 years,” he said.
The couple went before the board to request permission to add a carriage house-style garage, and to make changes to the driveway, existing decks, and the landscaping.
In seeking designs for a newly-constructed garage on the north side of the property, Frenz says they went to great lengths to ensure it will match the existing building as closely as possible.
“I took sample bricks from the original building and matched it as best I could for the carriage house and garage,” he said.
He did the same when selecting the style of door for the new construction.
“It’s not cheap to get that style, but it looks really good,” Frenz said.
The couple also plan to replace the current concrete driveway with brick pavers, noting that it will resemble Harrison Street, which runs in front of Grouseland.
HRB members were enthusiastic about the changes coming to the long-standing property, voting unanimously to approve the project.
“I love how it’s just going to give it a fresh breath again,” said board member Elizabeth Dunn. “You have a real piece of history in that building.”
The HRB also on Tuesday gave permission to local realtor Heath Klein to install new vinyl siding, soffits and gutters at 415 S. Fifth St.
Klein, who was representing his parents Victor and Priscilla Klein, said he has already completed some work on the front porch of the property, removing windows that had enclosed it. Now, he says, the property’s porch should better resemble its original construction.
After new siding and gutters are installed, and other minor interior work completed, Klein says his family will look to sell the home that is now serving as a rental property.