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Saving a piece of history

An 1865 house that was nearing demolition has been saved and updated by a Jacksonville couple.

Builder Todd Zitzner and his wife, Beth, a real estate agent, purchased the Owen Keegan House in October 2017. The Zitzners live in the neighborhood and had previously restored another 1860s house in town.

Deteriorating conditions of the house at 455 Hueners Lane had been on the radar of city officials and neighbors for five years, but repossession of the house and transfers among financial institutions made it difficult for the city to track down responsible parties.

“It was very close to having to be demolished,” said city Planning Director Ian Foster. “It was down the road on condemnation.”

Foster and a city building inspector were able to inspect the property in 2015 after contact with one owner. They determined the barn was beyond repair and that the unoccupied house needed substantial work. The barn, whose roof was collapsing, was taken down last year.

City codes covering historical structures allow the city to require action or perform it and bill a property owner under a “demolition by neglect” provision. But those codes require notification to an owner.

“Given the situation with it being in foreclosure, it made it particularly challenging to move forward with enforcement. You couldn’t talk to anyone,” said Foster. “At this point we are glad to see someone purchase it and restore it. It was an important piece of our landmark district.”

Foster learned at one point a sheriff’s auction was held and Fannie Mae acquired it. The federal agency, through a Realtor, then sold it to the Zitzners.

“It was in pretty rough shape,” said Todd Zitzner. “We took it down to the frame (inside). It’s not often you get to have two of these and restore them. We’re just trying to save a little part of Jacksonville.”

Historic district codes require that the exterior appearance of a house remain the same, so siding was retained except for a few rotted boards. The codes also require that the wavy glass of older days be used in a remodel. Zitzner was able to salvage some glass, but other pieces are recreations made by an Ohio company.

The inside of the house has been updated to contemporary standards with new plumbing, electrical, heating and cooling system, finishes and more. It is up for sale, currently listed at $625,000.

Unlike the previous restoration, Zitzner said, he and his crew didn’t find any historical relics. He attributes that to several remodels the house underwent over the decades. He did learn about the house from the grandchildren of former owner Wayne Maxton, who performed some of the remodeling work.

Zitzner, who took down the barn, kept the original siding and will use some of it in building a new garage where the barn stood. Some of the siding went into the home’s interior.

The town’s Historic and Architectural Review Commission had to approve the work.

“Everybody there was really happy we had taken on this project,” said Beth Zitzner. “We had been through HARC before many times. This time they were wonderful.”

Old-style mortise-and-tenon beams — which are slotted and pinned — from the barn were incorporated into the house, said Beth Zitzner. Some exposed beams already in the house were left in natural condition.

Keegan was not the original owner but lived in the house from 1893 until his death in 1912. He was the Jackson County jailer for more than 20 years at a time when the town was the county seat. The house was built in 1865 for Thomas Devens. He sold it to Thomas Bence in 1874.

Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune The interior of the Keegan House has been fully updated, but original beams were left exposed.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneThe Keegan House in Jacksonville, built in 1865, was headed for demolition before Todd and Beth Zitzner bought it and restored it.