Tunnelton’s Guthrie Mansion
[This article originally appeared in the Bloomington, IN, Herald-Times, http://www.heraldtimesonline.com/stories/2012/11/10/homes.tunneltons-historic-guthrie-mansion.sto. Click on any photo to enlarge.]
Caring for an old house is a real commitment, a genuine act of love. This is even more the case when the house is question is a notable landmark of Lawrence County: the 1879 Guthrie Mansion in Tunnelton, 25 minutes southeast of Bedford. Annette and Doug Fultz, the new owners of the house, made their purchase five months ago, filled with admiration for both the architecture and the location.
“My husband and I lived near downtown Bloomington,” Annette said. “We came down here one day with our dogs and saw the ‘For Sale’ sign. I saw the house, but my husband saw the 130 acres.”
They hesitated before making an offer. Annette had always wanted an ornate Victorian house but the few that still stand in Bloomington were beyond her budget. But when her father came across the Guthrie house on a separate trip of his own and saw that it was still for sale, he nudged her into taking another look.
“My husband and I started thinking seriously about it,” Annette remembered. “We had a lot of ‘what-ifs,’ like what if we got sick, and so on. But we sold our restaurant – Soup’s On – in three days, and our house in two weeks. It was meant to be. And here we are.”
The house was built by Alfred Guthrie, a self-made man who was born into modest circumstances but profited enormously when the railroad came through. (Tunnelton is named for the long railroad tunnel there.) Guthrie opened up a general store which attracted all the folk living for miles around, that being an era in which more people lived in farms than in towns. He prospered enormously, acquired 3000 acres of farmland, built a sturdy brick church for his community as well as the town’s railroad depot, and served as county commissioner, state legislator and president of the Stone City Bank in Bedford.
Supposedly, the house was built when Guthrie and the owner of the bank in Mitchell waged a competition to see who could build the prettiest house. The Mitchell house was torn down several decades ago, leaving the Tunnelton house as the only relic of the competition.
Before the Fultzes, the house was owned by Tim Cowden, who was related to the Guthrie family and did much to update the house. Sumptuous bathrooms with gleaming stone tile were added, and the attic was fully finished, which gave the house more than 5000 square feet on three levels. But the rear wing, the old servants’ quarters, was never fully finished, nor was the three-room original brick summer kitchen in back. The old barn with its hand-hewn beams pegged together received new exterior cladding but remained semi-derelict inside.
After Annette and Doug finish fixing up the servants’ wing and the summer kitchen, they have ambitious plans.
“I want to market this as a weekend getaway, with a bed-and-breakfast,” Annette said. “There’s a road on the property that goes all the way back to the river, where there’s a great lookout. People will be able to bring kayaks, or hike. There are several sites where we could build cabins for campers. There will be stalls ready for anyone who brings their horse. There’s the casino, Marengo Cave, Bluesprings Cavern, and Spring Mill Park all fairly close by.”
Annette has goats and plans to make goats’ milk soap; she also has a flock of hens and two young pigs destined for bacon next year.
“I’ll have a little antique store, sell eggs and soap, and have a luncheon menu,” she continued. “I don’t expect a lot of people, but you wouldn’t believe the number of people who stop at the front and take pictures.”
The antique shop will be located in the summer kitchen. There will also be an outdoor patio that features a decorative fountain, which will serve as a tea room. The old barn will be updated and will gain a sizeable deck, suitable for wedding receptions.
The house will undoubtedly attract many admirers who have always wanted to see it up close. The old bricks were made on-site; the exterior corner trim is hand-shaped limestone; the front porch has elaborate cast iron tracery. The cellar is floored with limestone slabs, not a single one of which has settled out of alignment after more than 130 years.
It’s a particularly amazing experience to scramble up a ladder and emerge from a hatch on the widow’s walk on top of the cupula. From all sides, all that can be heard is the soft sighing of the breeze in the trees.
“I bring a chair up here all the time, with a book,” Annette said. “It’s my favorite place to be.”
The pace of country life appeals greatly to Annette at this point.
“I never thought we’d leave Bloomington,” she said. “There’s a lot there that I miss. I jogged the B-Line, we lived near downtown. I loved my restaurant, and the shopping. But since I moved out here, I have never been happier.”