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Saturday, June 15, 2024

River Wonderland

“I’m not moving north of the Mason-Dixon Line!” I declared when my husband Scott proposed that we relocate to the Evansville area several years ago. I’m a diehard Southerner, yet now live north of that famous dividing line — in Newburgh, Ind., overlooking the Ohio River and the riverbank of northern Kentucky, a stone’s throw from the Civil War border. In fact, as we’ve learned, Newburgh was the first northern town captured during the Civil War, falling without a shot fired.

Moving from Little Rock, Ark., where we had lived for 30 years was a major change for both of us. After restoring a 6,000-square-foot, 1893-built Queen Anne Victorian home in Little Rock’s Quapaw Quarter, we became committed preservationists. Evansville real estate broker associate Carol McClintock took us on a tour of the Riverside Historic District, a convenient area where Scott’s office, Ten Adams, is located in a Victorian home on First Street.

Our tour ended in Newburgh where McClintock showed me the penthouse of the Riverwalk Condominiums on East Jennings Street. I saw it and said, “Scott will either love it or hate it!” I was right. The next day, he looked at the wonderful stained glass, the upstairs bar, and the river view. He immediately committed to owning the property.

We never had experienced condominium living, but this structure, an 1854-built Methodist Episcopal church, appealed to us with its rich history and unique character. In the ’70s, the building had a series of owners including the Newburgh Jaycees, a group of businesspeople who used the church as a clubhouse. Then in 1979, George “Butch” Corne bought the building and transformed the interior into the Sprinklesburg Manor. Well-known river rat Carl Riecken bought the property in 1993, and he and his wife Linda added more extensive renovations. Evansville Living featured the Rieckens’ home in the November/December 2000 issue (“Personal Space,” p. 19). Now, six condominiums fit snuggly in the building.

After Scott and I bought the 3,850- square-foot unit in 2008, he moved in and lived with patio furniture while I stayed in Little Rock to sell our home — a far more daunting task than we imagined. Scott, who is quite the handyman after living in five historic homes during our 33 years of marriage, spent his weekends focused on projects such as updating light fixtures and building an arbor over the upstairs deck.

Scott couldn’t do this alone, though. We hired a pair of local craftsmen — Joanne Williams and Dick Jennings (Jennings Construction) — to update the condominium. I am a “red” person, so we used a palette of dark crimson and gold in the large open spaces.

Along with Michael Wilson of Kitchen Traditions, Williams and Jennings also helped us gut and renovate the kitchen. We installed stainless steel appliances, custom-built mahogany cabinets, and granite countertops. Jennings also built a new fireplace surround for downstairs. Employees from Evansville’s Flooring Solutions replaced the beige carpet downstairs with hardwood flooring.

After two and a half years on the market, our Little Rock house sold, and I moved to Newburgh and started decorating. Scott and I became antique collectors when we bought our first Victorian home in the Central Gardens district of Memphis in the early 1980s. We also acquired several special pieces in Little Rock. Some of our favorite treasures: silk Parisian lampshades, an antique ebony grand piano from Austria, a leather settee from the Villa Marre (the house that was the setting for the Designing Women TV series), and two mahogany dining room hutches with hand-carved jesters from Paris circa 1885. We bought the latter instead of a car. I have never regretted that decision for one moment.

The eclectic collection of antiques from our Victorian home in Little Rock seems to fit in perfectly here. We have added a few more modern pieces such as overstuffed chairs and ottomans (so no more sitting on rickety Eastlake chairs). We feel like we have cozied up the place. As a fashion writer and photo stylist for more than 25 years, I always have enjoyed the “staging” aspects of my job. And here, it’s easy to imagine I’m on the set of a Merchant Ivory film.

Our 21-year-old daughter, who is in college in Arkansas, calls our new home the “Paris apartment,” referring to a trip she, my mom, and I took several years ago when the romantic Old World style in the French restaurants and hotels inspired us.

Though we have more projects in the works, we now sit by the fire and read The New York Times or watch the barges motor along the river and the strollers parade the riverfront trail. In Evansville Living’s first story on this home, previous owner Linda Riecken described her abode with a quote from William Least Heat-Moon from his book, River-Horse: “On the river there are no Mondays. Every day feels like a Saturday.” We couldn’t agree more.

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