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Friday, June 14, 2024

Restoring ‘The Farm’

When Meg Diekmann realized her husband’s grandparents’ farmhouse in western Vanderburgh County was to be theirs — for her and Doug to restore and in which to raise their three boys — she immediately thought of filling it with lots of young people.

“It’s been my dream to have high school and college kids welcome here,” says Meg.

It’s a dream rooted in shared family traditions. Meg (Margaret Norwood), a Harrison High School graduate who taught at Cynthia Heights Elementary School before staying home to raise her family, grew up in Young Life, the international Christian organization for middle school, high school, and college students.

Doug Diekmann, whose grandparents bought the farm in 1964, recalls family events — every birthday and every holiday — joyously celebrated there.
“My grandparents were strong people of faith and they relied on prayer in everything they did. They are all about heritage,” says Doug.

So it would be of no surprise to the Diekmanns’ friends or relatives to stop by, as I did on a recent day that was a school holiday, and be greeted by a young woman — not a babysitter (Joey, 14, Joshua, 12, and Luke, 10, no longer need babysitters); a college student just resting and enjoying the Diekmanns’ home and the company.

“They’re amazing,” says Hannah Minchin, a University of Southern Indiana student from Crawfordsville, Indiana, and Campus Outreach member of Meg, Doug, and their boys. The Diekmanns host weekly Young Life club gatherings in one of their barns, and the spacious movie room is a popular gathering spot for family members and Young Life friends.

According to Doug, who works as the business and financial consulting manager at Morley and Associates, the land on Marx Road originally was granted in 1819 with the Indiana land grant. The pioneer family who was given the land built a four-room log cabin in 1839. In 1865, the family built an addition of two rooms (now the kitchen and the master bath), a back porch (now the dining room), and the summer kitchen (now the office).

The heritage of the 1839 log cabin was restored and renewed in 1964 when Doug’s grandparents, Francis (Joe, also known as Grampy) and Frances (Jim, also known as Grammy) Hahn purchased the property which became known in the family as “The Farm.” At the time, the house had been abandoned for nearly 20 years. Windows were broken out, animals lived inside, there was no plumbing, and no central heat. Doug says that with much prayer, Joe and Jim began the daunting task of restoring the property to its former rustic glory. The couple began by exposing the original log walls that had been whitewashed and wallpapered.

“My grandmother spent countless hours cleaning walls and prepping them for refinishing,” says Doug. “When my grandparents restored the house, they exposed some original log walls by refinishing them and chinking them while others (primarily exterior walls) they hung drywall on to try to improve the insulation value. All of the interior walls originally chinked by my grandparents still are exposed today.”

Jim died in 2012. Joe has been able to witness his grandson’s restoration of the home, and enjoys visiting.

“I think it thrills him that we’ve kept the home in the family,” says Meg. “It was a very special place for him. We’re still finding things he kept in the barn.”

When the Diekmanns purchased the home in November 2012, they knew they needed to insulate the exterior walls of the home. As a result, they prepped the exterior walls for foam insulation exactly as Doug’s grandparents had done nearly 50 years before.

“We removed the original chinking with a claw hammer and hauled out countless buckets of dried mud and sticks from the walls,” says Doug. “After we had the exterior walls sealed up and insulated, we decided that we wanted to refinish and expose additional log walls. We found an excellent contractor from New Harmony, (Indiana), Chris Koester, who had experience working with old homes and was knowledgeable in restoring and chinking the walls.”

The couple also relied on Doug’s employer, Jim Morley, an engineer who sat down with them as a friend. Jim Balbach, vice president of Fehrenbacher Cabinets, was instrumental in the renovation of the kitchen, which involved vaulting the ceiling and fitting cabinets on walls that were not level.

DeWeese Construction served as the contractor. Meg worked with interior designer Kip Farmer and also cites houzz.com and Pioneer Woman as sources of inspiration.

The family moved into the home last summer. Previously the Diekmanns lived in the Windmere Farms subdivision on Evansville’s North Side.

“Meg did such an excellent job of giving an old farmhouse a new and updated feel while maintaining the integrity of the original structure,” says Doug. “She incorporated new cabinets, new appliances, and an island in the kitchen with the Dutch door, the old farm table, and the log walls. She also introduced the vaulted, stained, knotty pine ceiling in the kitchen to tie the remodeled kitchen with the restored log walls.”

“I loved doing it,” says Meg. “I still love doing it,” she adds, noting that it will likely never be completely finished, and that is part of the satisfaction that comes with owning “The Farm.”

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