It’s not every day you walk in the footprints of your ancestors — unless you’re Houston and Lowry Igleheart-Keach. When the Henderson couple moved into their sprawling historic farm named “The Elms,” the home already had weathered four generations of Keaches — not to mention the Civil War, World War I, and Prohibition. It was because of this rich history that the Keaches took such care during their two-year renovation of the home and other structures on the property.
“I never thought I would live in this house,” says Lowry, who first knew The Elms as the home of her Evansville Day School classmate, Houston Keach Jr.
Built in 1852 from bricks molded on site, the Federal-style home as well as its detached kitchen house, smokehouse, and icehouse were a wedding gift to William and Elizabeth Barret from Judge Thomas Towles, the father of the bride. Towles also was a close, personal friend of French-American ornithologist John James Audubon.
“By the time Houston’s grandfather bought the home, it already was historically significant,” says Lowry.
When Houston Sr. married, he and his wife, Alice Lee Thomson, moved into the home and welcomed the first of two sons – effectively giving the home three generations of Keaches to care for all under one roof.
“I can’t imagine being a new, young wife, having two boys, and living with your husband’s parents,” says Lowry.
But imagination isn’t necessary when the evidence still exists in the form of notch marks on the walls that tracked the growth of all the Keach children — a sentimental feature she and Houston Jr. refused to paint over during the renovations.
For all its hustle and bustle, The Elms entered into a brief vacant period after the passing of Houston Jr.’s mother, Alice Lee Keach, in 2009.
“It wasn’t a question of what to do with the house,” Lowry says. “This was and will be a family home.”
Considering the fact that Houston’s brother, Scott, and his wife, Jennifer, were already living at a neighboring farm, it made sense for Lowry and Houston to make the move. Previously, they lived on Holloway Lane in Henderson. “I was worried because this was the house Houston grew up in, and although it was beautiful, I knew that there was no way I could live in it without some changes.”
Not only did the antebellum home need basic updates like electricity and plumbing, but Lowry also says her mother-in-law was a steadfast fan of all things from the Victorian era, including wallpaper, chandeliers, and furniture. That was something that Lowry, a clean-line-loving, decidedly more contemporary person, knew would be a sticking point. However, rather than remove all of Alice Lee’s influences from the house, Lowry decided to celebrate her mother-in-law in the form of a memorial formal rose garden in the back yard. That garden includes several David Austin roses as well as two roses from Alice Lee’s own landscaping.
Once the issue of décor was out of the way, it was time to focus on the big picture. Lowry and Houston drafted and prioritized renovation plans with the help of Louisville architect Frank Pierce and Henderson-based Logan & Logan Construction.
“The heritage of The Elms and heritage of the Keach family are a perfect marriage,” says John A. Logan IV.
As one of only 90 Southern Living Custom Builders, he knows a thing or two about antebellum homes.
“It is always a pleasure to work with families who are proud of their heritage,” Logan says.
For Lowry, celebrating “where” was certainly more sentimental than “when.”
“Bringing the plumbing and electric up to date was priority one,” says Lowry. “The walls are brick, so the wiring was all paneled on the surface. I didn’t know how we were going to fix that.”
That’s where the Keaches relied on the expertise of Logan, who had faced similar issues with other historic homes in Henderson. His solution was to meticulously drill out a channel in the bricks to hide the electric wiring so as to maintain the home’s historical aesthetic.
Next, the team turned their focus to the kitchen — undoubtedly the most evolving room of the house. The original kitchen was a separate building in the back yard — as was the custom in the 1800s. When the kitchen was moved inside the home, the exterior kitchen was converted into a small guesthouse. Lowry, who spent 35 years in the culinary field and owns Maxine’s Café and Bakery in Evansville, knew the existing small kitchen wouldn’t be enough to accommodate her needs, especially since she and Houston enjoy entertaining guests. As a result, the team members put their heads together and decided the best way to achieve maximum new space with minimum structural changes would be to convert the carport into the new kitchen and the existing kitchen into a luxurious pantry.
“We wanted to protect the integrity of the original house as much as we could,” says Lowry. “Houston also was very concerned that the back elevation of the house be as attractive as the front. Our architect was brilliant solving all the problems we threw at him. It was his idea to pull the wall of the kitchen back from the brick columns to maintain their importance and, in doing so, it also means the sun doesn’t shine in your face as much as it would have otherwise.”
“I felt that preserving the round columns was a must,” says Logan. “It was a very unique part of the original architecture.”
The beadboard ceiling of the carport was left intact as the kitchen ceiling. It was even left the same shade of pale green. The resulting long, narrow kitchen was fitted with custom cabinetry, reclaimed long-leaf pine countertops that were once the subfloor of the Henderson Hosiery Mill, and state-of-the-art dual gas range and stainless appliances. The kitchen was floored with cork, which makes the long hours cooking much more bearable.
Of the three other exterior structures, the pool was a priority. It was uncovered and relined with a gray pool liner in an effort to appear more organic with the farm backdrop. The smokehouse, which the family still uses to cure ham, is original to the home, as was an icehouse, which was torn down and replaced with the pool in the 1970s.
All new brick walks, steps, and patio were constructed with reclaimed 1800-era brick, and the new front doors were adorned with old coach lights found in Louisville. Lowry even added large stones from her grandparents’ home in McCutchanville, north of Evansville, enhancing the land’s connection to family that much more.
As for the rest of the exterior landscape, Lowry transplanted several of her favorite plants from her previous home — including hostas, Lenten roses, tree peonies, ferns, columbine, iris, epimedium, arum italcum, and lavender.
Fueling the last year of the two-year renovation and landscaping was the August 2012 wedding date of Lowry’s daughter, Lindsay Keach Bronstein, who chose The Elms as her venue.
“We had 200 people coming for the wedding,” says Lowry. “We moved in in July and then 10 days later hosted the wedding here.”
While it certainly added to the stress of the home’s overhaul, the Keaches wouldn’t have had it any other way. To them, the home has, is, and will always be the backdrop for every struggle and success — and most definitely every party.
“My mother was so furious when I told her we were going to move in and renovate (The Elms),” says Lowry. “She said I was either going to end up in the hospital or divorced. But we did it! And I’m healthy, happy, and still married.”
As for The Elms, the recent renovations are akin to the home getting its second wind. Of Houston’s two daughters and his brother Scott’s two sons and stepdaughter, it’s anyone’s guess who the property’s next owner will be. But Lowry insists life will have a way of pushing the right person forward.
“I’ve never had a plan,” says Lowry. “I just let life take me along and lead me where I’m supposed to be, and right now, it’s here.”
For more information about Logan & Logan Construction, call 270-869-5563 or visit www.loganandloganconstruction.com. Architect Frank Pierce of Louisville may be reached at email@example.com.