Putting its money where its mouth is, the Southern Region office of Indiana Landmarks recently restored a historic downtown New Albany home to convert into its offices.
The Kunz-Hartman House, located at 911 State St., was completed in 1899, built by Louis Hartman and his wife, Annie Kunz Hoffman. Historic Landmarks is a statewide organization dedicated to restoring and repurposing historic buildings.
Staff moved into the restored space earlier this month; a ribbon-cutting was held Monday afternoon. Historic Landmarks Southern Region Director Greg Sekula said descendants of both original owners have donated money and artifacts to help with the project and will be in attendance for the ribbon-cutting.
The history of the Queen Anne-style home is rich. Sekula said Hartman, who was a German immigrant and a prominent businessman who was involved in several industries, was well known for embracing diversity in a post-Civil War America. While many successful people were building homes on Main Street at the time, he chose to build his family home on the site where his original family home had stood, in a segregated neighborhood.
In addition, behind the property is a creek bed with small flood plain, and it is believed that former slaves making their way north, would use the creek bed as means to maneuver through town without being detected, Sekula said. After Hartman’s death, the house was used for four decades as an African-American funeral home.
The building had sat empty since 2012 before Indiana Landmarks acquired it, and it was the victim of a fire in 2017 that left gaping holes in the roof. Sekula said the former owners were looking to demolish the old home and sell the lot, as the property was zoned for commercial use. That’s when Indiana Landmarks stepped in.
“We had a lot of tricky negotiations,” Sekula, who declined to disclose the organization’s financial investment, said. “We had to kind of maneuver through a lot of issues to get the house in our hands.”
He said the former owners had already begun stripping mantels and woodworking, made of white oak, cherry, and butternut, out of the house to sell and had left it in a pile in the living room of the home. Workers who restored the structure essentially had to put the house back together again.
“It was like a jigsaw puzzle, figuring out where things went,” Sekula said.
The restoration included taking original woodwork, stained- and bevel-glass windows back to their original appearance, as well as rebuilding parts of the interior of the house, restoring the exterior and more. The main staircase, made from butternut, was restored as well, and a salvaged stain-glass window was incorporated in a second-story exterior feature that includes the 1899 construction date and an “H” for the Hartman family.
The work, completed by local workers and artisans, took 20 months, and was funded largely by the sale of the organization’s former offices in Jeffersonville and donations from organizations around the city and county. Architect Ron Stiller, of Floyds Knobs-based RCS + Associates, served as project architect.
Fittingly, the previous home for the southern arm of Indiana Landmarks also was a historic structure that was restored by the organization in Jeffersonville known as the Willey-Allhands House.
The hope is that by restoring yet another ailing landmark, Indiana Landmarks will inspire further investment in the surrounding neighborhood. The upper floors of the house are available for rent as offices.
Interestingly, the Kunz-Hartman House is a house Sekula often noticed when he would drive past.
“I’ve always been an admirer of Queen Anne architecture,” he said. “When the fire happened in 2017, I mentioned to our historian, ‘I have a feeling we may have a role to play in that house at some point.’ Little did I know it at the time it would become our office.”