Passion for Preservation

Campbells invest in saving
some of Madison’s historic properties

By Don Ward
Editor & Publisher

(October 2006) – John and Donn Campbell would be the first to to tell you that they are not ones to seize the limelight. They like to keep a low profile.

John & Donn Campbell

Photo by Don Ward

John and Donn Campbell are presented
the Dorothy Inglis Reindollar Preservation
Award on Sept. 15 by Historic Madison Inc.

But when you move into a small town the size of Madison, Ind., and within one year buy one of the largest buildings on Main Street, you tend to stand out. And there’s no place to hide in a town of only 13,000 residents.
Since moving into Madison six years ago from Key West, Fla., the Campbells have bought three houses and two historic properties – the largest of them being the former Masonic Lodge building that towers above East Main Street. Soon after buying the Masonic Lodge building from Robert Maile in 2001, the Campbells immediately began restoring the 10,000-square-foot structure and eventually leased the main floor to two retail businesses. They are still in the process of renovating the second and third floors, and by next year plan to lease the space to Woodburn & Kyle & Co. Inc. consulting firm.
They recently finished renovating a historic home at 714 W. Second St., and they have now turned their attention to a dilapidated house at Broadway and Third Street that once housed St. Anne’s Academy. The building, located at 420 Broadway, was a finishing school for girls where Catholic nuns from Sisters of Providence, based in Terre Haute, Ind., taught French and piano from 1814-1817. The home sat vacant for a decade, and the Campbells bought it at an August 2004 auction of the Cochran estate. When they finish restoring that house, they plan to turn it into a bed and breakfast.
Then there’s the federal style farmhouse they recently purchased out in the country near Kent that they plan to renovate sometime next year. Meanwhile, they live in a modern Madison hilltop home on the 36-acre Geyman farm just off Michigan Road. Since moving in with their four children in spring 2000, they have added a master bedroom, master bathroom and garage, and enclosed the game room and installed a swimming pool.
But it is their work on the monstrous former Masonic Lodge building that has drawn the most attention to this otherwise low key couple, who moved to Madison simply to raise their children in a safe environment.
And it is for their preservation efforts that the Campbells were honored as this year’s recipients of the Dorothy Inglis Reindollar Preservation Award, given by the city’s nonprofit preservation organization, Historic Madison Inc. HMI Executive Director John Staicer presented the award at a Sept. 15 reception, held at The Livery Stable in downtown Madison.

Campbell Vecchio

Photo by Don Ward

John and Donn Campbell renovated this house on West Second Street. It was featured on the Tri-Kappa Tour of Homes in October.

Established in 2000, the award recognizes individuals, residential owners or business owners for outstanding achievements in preservation and restoration efforts in Madison and Jefferson County. Previous recipients include Jae Breitweiser of Eleutherian College (2005); Robert Maile (2004); former HMI Executive Director John E. Galvin (2003); Staicer for his work in restoring the Schroeder Saddletree Factory (2002); and Christ Episcopal Church for restoring its stained glass windows (2001).
“It is a great honor, and we are very excited about it,” said Donn Campbell, 45, a native of Fort Myers, Fla., where her family operates Pepsi-Cola distributorship franchises in Key West, Tallahassee, Fla., and central Illinois. Donn Campbell and her two brothers manage the third-generation family business today. John Campbell, 46, spent 20 years working for Pepsi-Cola.
The significance of this couple’s preservation work in Madison was somewhat upstaged that night by the celebration of the city’s designation by the National Park Service as a National Historic Landmark District. The event included a series of short speeches by local, state and national dignitaries. But the Campbells’ accomplishments still deserve merit, considering the amount of money they have invested in the town and its inherent impact in just six years of living here.
During a late September interview with the couple at their newly renovated West Second Street home, the Campbells discussed the love they share for preservation, although it is apparent that they frequently disagree on their approach. “Our motto is, if it shows, it’s my call; otherwise, he can make all the decisions,” Donn said, laughing.
John handles such areas as plumbing, heating and air, and electrical work, while Donn picks the color of paint for the walls, decorations and furnishings. “Everything you see in this house I bought on sale,” she boasts.
They follow no particular philosophy or adhere to any national celebrity interior designer or HDTV personality. No, you won’t find Martha Stewart’s touch in a Campbell home. What you WILL find is authenticity and a genuine effort to bring back the original floors, woodworking and windows.
“I’m a big fan of dry wall,” John says. “And I love aluminum siding and vinyl, but Donn insists that we do it right, so that means a long, painstaking process of rehabing old doors and windows and floors – and we all work for Donn,” John jokes.
He then added seriously: “Donn has the vision and the passion; she’s the driving force. My job is to find out how to get it done.”
The Campbells have used several subcontractors for the Masonic Lodge building but now work almost exclusively with Hills Historic Restoration, owned by David Hill. “It took a while for us to find the right people to work with; no one wants to do historic properties,” John said.
When the Campbells arrived in Madison, they weren’t new to historic preservation or rehabing old buildings. While living in a modern home in on the northernmost end of the six-mile-long Key West island, they bought a historic home dating to 1865 in the downtown district and restored it. They lived there, near the famed Key West cemetery and only two blocks from Duval Street.

St. Anne's Academy

Photo by Don Ward

John and Donn Campbell are renovating this former girls finishing school that was once operated by nuns from Terre Haute, Ind.

Donn served on the town’s preservation board, and the couple won local and state preservation awards for their restoration work.
It was only a year after moving to Madison that they caught the bug again, buying the Masonic Lodge building from Bob Maile. The ongoing project has turned out to be a real challenge, they admit.
In addition to school, the Campbells are active in various local organizations: Cornerstone Society, Historic Madison Inc., Jefferson County Historical Society and Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana. Donn sits on the board of the Lanier Mansion Foundation.
Donn is also a member of Tri-Kappa Sorority and will show her newly renovated home on West Second Street on this month’s Tour of Homes. She renovated the home for her father, Don Vecchie, and stepmother, Pat Coleman, to stay when visiting from Florida, she said.
“It was just an excuse to buy it,” she admits. “I drove past this house all the time and never even noticed it. Then one day, I saw a ‘For Sale’ sign in the yard, so I decided to look at it.”
The owner of the home also owned and sometimes stayed next door. She used this home to store her vast collection of antiques, Donn Campbell said. When the house was sold, the antiques were hauled away, but the former owner left the Campbells one parting gift: a pane of glass from the former Inglis Drug Store. Donn proudly displays the glass in the restored home.
“We call it the ‘Aunt House’ because I think everyone’s aunt lived here at one time or another,” Donn Campbell said.
The Campbells spend much of their time raising their children – Ben, 17, Sam, 14, Emma, 13, and Maggie, 11 – and volunteering at Pope John and Shawe Memorial Schools. In fact, the school’s development director, Marta Belt, nominated the Campbells for the HMI award.
“They’re such good people and great volunteers, and they’re very difficult to thank because they don’t want the recognition,” said Belt. “They’re not natives of the area, but they have embraced Madison and put so much into making it a better community.”
The Campbells may agree with that assessment, but you would have a hard time getting them to admit it. “We normally don’t like to talk about ourselves,” John says. “You must have caught her on a good day.”

• Don Ward is the editor, publisher and owner of RoundAbout. Call him at (812) 273-2259.

City-wide celebration

Historic Madison Inc. holds reception to celebrate
Madison's National Historic Landmark District award

Historic Madison Inc. held a Sept. 15 reception at The Livery Stable in downtown Madison, Ind., to celebrate the city's recent National Historic Landmark District award. The event, which attracted more than 200 people, included a series a short speeches from various local, state and national dignitaries. A future date will be set to install the marker, which was on display that night.

Photos by Don Ward

Carol Ahlgren of the National Park Service compliments the city's work in earning the NHLD status.

From left, HMI's John Staicer, Madison Mayor Al Huntington, county commissioner Mike Frazier and retired HMI director John Galvin hold the plaque that will soon be erected in Madison.

Jon Smith of the National Park Service played a key role in the application process. He was formerly with the Indiana DNR

Marsh Davis, the new director of Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana, also spoke at the reception.

Kim and John Nyberg were honored for their preservation work in Madison. They have since moved to Nashville, Tenn., where Kim has accepted a state post with the Main Street Program.

The National Historic Landmark District plaque was on display at the reception.

Back to October 2006 Articles.



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