Attention to detail

The John Bilger house is one of the features on the Jacksonville Home and Garden Tour May 19-20

After remodeling 10 of their previous 12 residences, Clark and Donna Bowen were primed to turn Jacksonville's historical John Bilger house "upside down and inside out."

Their yearlong efforts to restore and renovate the 1863 structure — one of Jacksonville's oldest — captured the community's attention and appreciation.

If you go

What: Jacksonville Home and Garden Tour, featuring five homes dating from 1863 to 1898 and several gardens, including Woodlands Rhododendron Garden; tickets cost $14.50 and may be used both days; refreshments provided; please no children under 12.

When: Noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, May 19, and Sunday, May 20; tickets are available Tuesday, May 1, through Sunday, May 20.

Where: Locations around Jacksonville; tour may be started at any location noted on the tour program and ticket.

For information and to purchase tickets: Visit the Jacksonville Visitors Information Center, next to the post office at 185 N. Oregon St.; call 541-899-8118; email; or purchase the day of the tour at the John Bilger house, 540 Blackstone Alley.

Tour tickets may be used both days, but organizers request that only one visit be made to each home and garden.

"The attention to detail has taken it from a historic home to one for modern-day living while maintaining all its charm and beauty," says Dirk J. Siedlecki, co-chairman of the Jacksonville Home and Garden Tour.

The 2,800-square-foot Bilger house is the jewel of the citywide tour, hosted by the Jacksonville Boosters Club and Jacksonville Garden Club to benefit Jacksonville Elementary School's music program, Food and Friends and the Peter Britt Gardens project.

"We had had so many requests from people to tour the home," says Donna Bowen. "It's a way to give back to the community."

Residents of Jacksonville from 2000 to 2001, the couple longed to return. After Clark Bowen, 68, retired from his post as Salem branch manager for A.G. Edwards, the Bowens found their way back to Southern Oregon and the house that so piqued their interest a decade before.

"We had always admired this house," says Donna, 60.

Ancient electrical wiring and plumbing, tilted brick walls, slanted wood floors and uneven flagstones couldn't dissuade the couple from purchasing it in 2010. Nor could faint rumors of its haunting by original owner John Bilger, who coughs, makes other noises and moves things around.

"We felt welcomed by the house," says Donna.

For all its tangible charms and intangible intrigue, the house needed plenty of tender, loving care. Smothered under trappings of the late 20th century — plywood, concrete blocks and a drop ceiling — the house retained plenty of original details, including paned windows and solid wood doors, iron knobs, hinges and latches, mantelpieces, baseboards, mouldings and a curved, mahogany bannister.

Even the wide-plank fir floors and lath-and-plaster walls were in fairly good condition. But wires and pipes behind and underneath them weren't. So the Bowens tore the house down to the studs after conscientiously conserving every historical detail that could be reintroduced.

"We basically came in and gutted the house," says Donna.

Living on the second floor, the couple realigned the house's brick walls, leveled the floors, rewired, replumbed, insulated, put up modern drywall, refinished woodwork and added a master suite, modern kitchen and bath fixtures. Finally, they sumptuously furnished the house with their collection of 19th- and early-20th-century antiques and high-quality reproductions.

The home's heart is the kitchen, spacious and bright under 12-foot ceilings with recessed can lighting. Stainless-steel appliances — including a Lacanche gas range with old-fashioned hob — sparkle against white, custom cabinetry. Honed granite countertops with veins of gray and red echo the appliances' sheen and island's brick-red paint. The kitchen boasts so much workspace, says Donna, that her builder dubbed the sprawling, asymmetric island "the continent."

Now a "chef's dream," the kitchen also is the original homesite, laid out amid the Bilgers' several acres of walnut groves. The two-story, red-brick, Federal-style facade overlooking Blackstone Alley was a later addition, with the home's first kitchen installed at the rear of the house before the space became a garage.

"This place originally didn't have a bathroom," says Clark.

The Bowens ushered in the most recent addition: a 500-square-foot master suite just off the kitchen and nestled to the side of the garage. A walk-in shower of pristine, white tile complements a restored, claw-foot bathtub that — while not original — had served the house for about 50 years, says Donna. French doors open onto new flagstone stairs to the backyard, cleared of overgrown vegetation but retaining two "ancient" figs trees, she adds.

"We want to age in this house," says Donna.

Changing hands just a few times in about 150 years, the house still pays homage to the Bilgers — John, wife Amanda and youngest child, Daisy — whose photographs adorn the hallway. The house had only been standing for a few years when cholera struck the town and claimed John, says Donna. Proud to possess the original handwritten deed, the Bowens say they hope to write a history of their home, perhaps with the assistance of some unexpected visitors who come with stories of relatives who once lived there.

"Jacksonville's history is also its future," says Donna.

Coinciding with the biannual home-and-garden tour, a number of Jacksonville's historical churches and buildings will be open to visitors, with tours offered by organizations and volunteers who maintain the properties. The Beekman House and Native Plant Arboretum and First Presbyterian Church will be open Saturday, May 19. Open Saturday and Sunday, May 20, will be St. Andrew's Anglican Church, St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church, St. Joseph's Catholic Rectory and the Masonic Hall.

Tour tickets may be used both days. However, organizers request that only one visit be made to each home and garden.

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