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“The Lady of Lost River”

May 7, 2012

A version of this story first appeared in the Bloomington, Indiana Herald-Times in June of 2011, http://www.heraldtimesonline.com/stories/2011/06/25/homes. qp-3931499.sto. This beautiful home is now for sale and might not retain the features seen in these photos for long. Click on any photo to enlarge.

“The Lady” has faced the road near Orleans for 140 years.

Halfway between Orleans and Paoli, at the side of State Road 37, stands a beautiful old Victorian farmhouse that passing motorists always admire. Surrounded by three old silver maples of immense size, this Orange County landmark is formally known as the Turner House.

“It was built by the Huddleston family, and came into my family in the late 1800s,” explained owner Joana Jones, who was born a Turner. “Four generations of Turners have lived here.” The Turners were dairy farmers and added elaborate Italianate brackets and window trim to the exterior of what had originally been a plain rectangular house. They also extended the house at each end with large floor-to-ceiling decorative bays with large windows.

The built-in china cabinet and fireplace are original; the cabinet also opens in back, on the kitchen side, to serve as a pass-through.

Ceilings are ten feet high, keeping the old home cool on hot summer days. Original features include transoms over every doorway, a unique china cupboard in the dining room that opens into the kitchen on the other side so dishes can be passed through, and a lovely staircase with the original balusters and rail.

“One of the best things about growing up in this house was playing hide-and-seek,” said Joana’s adult daughter Jordana. “There are about a hundred good places to hide. The basement is pretty infamous! If you’re little you can hide behind the curtains; when I was young I hid inside the bed among the pillows. There are lots of old wooden chests around the house that you can climb into. And the back stairway was great.”

Several generations of young family members have entertained themselves by sliding down the banister.

This second stairway is small and narrow, with a bend, rising from a closed door in the dining room directly to the master bedroom above. Another game was sliding down the banister rail; both Jordana and Joana laughed at the memory of playing on it as girls.

“You can really build up some speed on that railing!” Jordana said with a smile. “There are photographs of us stacked up on the banisters. The house was great also for sleepovers and dress-ups.”

The front door opens onto a long hall with the staircase; on the left and right are the living room and family room. Behind them are the modern kitchen and the dining room. An addition at the back of the house contains a study and a luxurious bathroom that replaced an earlier incarnation. Bear in mind that homes of this era did not originally have running water or indoor bathroom, so for many decades there was only a single bathroom (added in the early 20th century) on the main level. An upstairs bathroom was added just before Joana’s mother was married, to save her the indignity of having to go downstairs in her wedding gown to use the bathroom there.

Bedrooms are furnished with quilts, satin coverlets, ornate curtains and floral wallpaper.

Joana inherited the home when her parents died, and moved there with her daughters. She thoroughly updated the kitchen and bathrooms, along with new plumbing, wiring and HVAC, giving the old home a complete new infrastructure and adding a third bathroom. The house had been white for decades; Joana painted it a soft salmon with contrasting colors on the trim and the Italianate brackets, in the style of the San Francisco “Painted Ladies.”

“You see these window and door openings in this one room?” she said, standing in the family room. “Each one represents sixty to eighty hours of work, stripping eleven coats of paint. When we stripped down to the wood we found shadows of dentils that used to run along the top, so we made new ones to match.” She added, “I thought this ‘old lady’ just needed a facelift, but she actually needed a heart and lung transplant.”

The original house was built before indoor bathrooms existed. Subsequent bathrooms are retro in style but modern in comfort.

Elaborate wallpaper and window treatments have been added. The home has a classic Victorian feel to it.

“Many of our furnishings today are so utilitarian that we need to add decorative elements to add interest,” Joana observed. “But Victorian furnishings are so ornate that nothing else is really necessary.”

Joana has dubbed the house “The Lady of Lost River” because the river runs close to the property. This curiosity runs along the surface of the ground in places but vanishes several times to run underground.

Joana’s daughters are now grown. Both live in the Pacific Northwest, and she has a grandchild there. Joana oversees a non-profit (the Asian Children’s Mission) that requires frequent travel to Asia. Therefore she has made the painful decision to leave the family home for good.

“It’ll be hard,” said Jordana, her voice trembling. “I’m delighted to have my mother inOregonnear me, but it’s still hard to think there’ll be no going back. It’s sad to think that this may be my last time visiting here.”

Carved gingerbread in the gable end.

“I really hope that the new owners will respect the house and take care of it,” Joana finished, her eyes swimming with emotion. “One of the last things my dad said to me before he died was ‘Joana, take care of the house.’ That last drive out of the driveway will be hard, let me tell you. But I’m excited about starting a new chapter.”

See the Web site www.ladyoflostriver.com for more information and photos.

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