Restoring Curb Appeal
New owners renovate
Madison’s Fairmont House
Public can view home during
July’s ‘Moveable Feast’
(July 2013) – “We just wanted another adventure” reflects Gary Valen.
And an adventure was just what Valen and Betsy Lyman got when they set out to fulfill their dreams of a new home after retiring. The Maryland couple had a specific vision for what they wanted. They were seeking a historic home – one that would make visitors come up the drive and say, “What a house!”
But equally important was finding the right house in the right setting. “A nice, small community” mattered to them, Valen explained. For two years, the couple searched for just the right property, often disappointed as they discovered houses with architectural potential, but located amidst a crumbling town.
A trip to Indiana brought them to Madison. As they drove down the riverfront and through Main Street, they were struck by the carefully tended parks and well cared for downtown area. “All the signs of a vital, thriving community,” says Lyman.
Valen agreed, saying, “We looked at each other and knew this is it!”
Photos by Lela Bradshaw
Betty Lyman and Gary Valen
pose at the home with their
grandson, Skylar Valen.
Valen and Lyman were drawn to the beauty of Fairmount House and delighted by the gardening potential the spacious yards presented. However, they realized that they would be facing extensive restoration work, particularly after Historic Madison Inc. Executive Director John Stacier gave them “an honest and somber appraisal of what we were going to get ourselves into,” says Lyman. While the couple believed they were up to the challenge, “Everybody else though we were crazy,”she said, laughing.
So far, Valen and Lyman have spent two years working toward their vision of Fairmount House and Gardens. They have been busy with roof work and floor restoration, as well as rehabilitating an unusual carriage house and barn on the property. In May, the couple was honored for their achievements to date and plans for the future with the Dorothy Inglis Reindollar Preservation Award, presented by Historic Madison Inc.
Stacier explains, “This year’s award is bestowed upon a project which has preserved and improved a very important building which has required a generous helping of TLC and tremendous vision to see it through. The preservation of this Madison landmark ensures that another important building in Madison has a bright future for current and future generations.
“Betsy Lyman and Gary Valen follow in the tradition of John and Ann Windle (founders of HMI). Like the Windles, they moved to Madison because of its beauty and charm, and have devoted themselves, with little fanfare, to rehabilitating their new home.”
Valen says that upon receiving notification of the award, “We were stunned. To us we were just getting started!” The couple deeply admires the work of past Reindollar winners and is extremely honored to join that list. And on a personal note, they were touched to discover that the award’s namesake would have been a neighbor to their home.
On Friday, July 23, Fairmount House will join with other Michigan Road properties in celebrating the road’s recent designation as a State Scenic Byway. Indiana Landmarks will present the Madison Moveable Feast, kicking off with guided tours of the Fairmount Cemetery and Cravenhurst Barn. Fairmount House will offer appetizers before guests move on to the Clearing House building for dinner and an awards presentation. Tickets for the evening are $35 for Indiana Landmarks members, or $50 for a year’s membership and event tickets.
Laura Renwick, Community Preservation Specialist for the group’s Southern Regional Office, explains that the evening offers, “an opportunity to highlight these great places… to celebrate some outstanding preservation projects.” She points out that part of the draw of the Movable Feast is not only the historic locations, but also the chance to meet and spent time with “a great group” who are interested in preservation work.
Lyman said he is excited by the opportunity to present Fairmount House as a part of this event saying that it is good, “to be able to share it with liked minded people who understand what a house in progress looks like.”
Preservation work meant that it was almost a year before the couple was able to finally settle their furniture in to the house. “We had one bed that we kept moving around to different bedrooms,” Lyman said, laughing.
Rather than being an inconvenience, the constant motion “gave us a chance to really look at the beauty of the structure without the furnishings, it showed us the genius of the architecture,” she says. When the time came to arrange their things throughout the home, “mostly we tried to get out of the way of the house” and allow the craftsmanship and lovely details to shine.
The experience of being unable to use the entire house the moment they arrived also gave them a peek at the Victorian tradition of closing off certain rooms in certain months due to heating and cooling issues. Even today, with most of the major renovations complete and the entire house again accessible, the couple finds themselves naturally gravitating toward different areas of the home as the seasons change.
Fairmount House was constructed between 1870 and 1871 for Arleis Gibson by Boston architect George Rand. Gibson was a lumberman and used the house as something of a showcase for different types of wood. Different rooms are devoted to displaying the decorative potential of various woods including oak, walnut and butternut. Hand-carved cherry doors and an intricate cherry stairway invite guests to take a closer look at the minute details. The Queen Anne style house represents the spirit of the Arts and Crafts movement – the inlaid wood floors and exquisitely tooled door hinges allow a sense of carefully designed beauty that is welcoming and not overpowering.
The friendly house is well suited to entertaining, and the couple looks forward to their role as caretakers of a beloved Madison landmark. They have been delighted to welcome back some of the home’s former residents and have enjoyed the chance to share memories who those who knew the house in earlier days. “A lot of people ask us if the house is haunted,” Lyman says with a smile. “We say it must be – it has the best spirit!”
• The couple is interested in getting in touch with anyone who has stories from Fairmount House. They invite anyone with memories or photos of the property to contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org. For tickets to the Madison Moveable Feast, please visit www.indianalandmarks.org or call (812) 284-4534.
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