BATESVILLE – In October 2020, news broke that a house in Batesville, one listed on Indiana Landmarks’ “10 Most Endangered” list, had found a buyer. After more than a decade the For Sale sign in front of the quirky and charming house at 507 N. Walnut could be retired. And better yet, after decades of commercial use, the new owner vowed to convert the property back into a single family dwelling; the grand old house would be a home again!
Rose and Anthony Romweber had no doubt built the imposing home with their five young sons and busy social schedule in mind. Situated at the north entry of Batesville on Ind. 229, it is one of the town’s most beloved landmarks. Next door, in the old world tradition of keeping close to family, Rose’s brother George Hillenbrand and wife Sophia built their dream home.
Completed sometime in 1912, over the next seven decades the Romweber house was in use as a single family residence. However, like most homes of this vintage, it fell out of fashion during the 1970s when soaring energy costs triggered many to seek newer, better insulated dwellings. It was sold in the 1980s to the Hillenbrand companies for use as a corporate event and retreat space.
More changes were in store when the house once again changed hands in the 1990s. This time it was repurposed as office space for the Scheurman law firm. When Schuerman relocated to the county seat at Versailles, the grand old house settled in for what turned out to be a lengthy stretch of vacancy and decline.
After 12 years on the market without any takers, the outlook for the Romweber house was bleak enough that Indiana Landmarks agreed to step in and assist area preservationists in attracting a buyer.
Jarrad Holbrook, Director of the Southeast Field Office for Indiana Landmarks explained, “We look for properties that have a compelling story and specific needs that would benefit from the additional coverage that our 10 Most Endangered list provides.”
In selecting the house for inclusion on their nationally recognized list, Holbrook said, “The Romweber name itself is heavily embedded in Batesville’s history and identity, so the compelling story was easy.” He went on to reference the homes of Rosemont and the Hillenbrand Mansion next door saying, “Especially when you consider that the whole historic neighborhood was kicked off by these sister houses.”
Over the years, the home attracted plenty of interest and showings, but no one made a serious offer. Bob Koester, owner of Tudor Square Realty, was the Realtor who finally brokered the sale of the property. “The Romweber” as it is often called, had been on the market for nearly half of his 25 year career. He noted, “I showed the house at least once a week for years. Lots of people love it, but the work scared them off.”
He’s glad the new owner purchased the place to live in and not with intent to divide it into multi-family units or another commercial use. Koester said, “The house is an asset to our community. We’re glad it’s going to be restored.”
The excitement was palpable last October when the television program Inside Indiana Business paid a visit to Batesville after the “save” was made. Host Gerry Dick proclaimed the Romweber as the “first rescue of 2020” in their Endangered Indiana segment series. Mary-Rachel Redman, the show’s Around Indiana reporter, described the Romweber as “a treasured piece of Batesville’s past that unfortunately has fallen into disrepair.” Adding with a broad smile that the home had “caught the eye of an Indianapolis buyer.”
The Romwebers commissioned renowned Cincinnati-based architects CC and EA Weber to construct their new home in 1910. The Weber brothers’ firm was responsible for many prestigious homes, churches, commercial and public projects across the region. Two of their best known works include the elegant Kentucky Governor’s Mansion at Frankfort and the elaborate courthouse at Wilmington, Ohio (on the National Register of Historic Places since 1982).
Although it’s not immediately clear who was responsible for the mixed-up style of this particular home, it was likely a collaboration between the architects and the vision the Romwebers themselves had for their new home. Holbrook remarked, “Personally, I’ve always loved the eclectic charm of the home, with elements from Dutch Colonial, Arts & Crafts, and more. You certainly don’t see a home like this everyday.”
Adding to the unique appeal of the home’s exterior is the well appointed interior. The many business interests of Anthony Romweber shine through inside. A variety of fine wood species were specified for flooring, wall panels, exposed beams and built-in cabinetry throughout the four full levels of the home. At some point, all of the wood flooring (as well as most of the Rookwood tile) was covered with carpet. Perhaps because of this, the quartersawn oak, white pine, ash, and even chestnut floors were in good condition when the carpet was pulled up.
Remarkably, none of the stained wood trims, wainscotting, or built-ins have been painted over. This is especially surprising as a coat of paint was the standard “remedy” used by decorators during the last decades of the 20th century.
Although some modern replacement windows have been added, most of the original leaded and stained glass fenestrations are still intact. This includes what may be a nod to the Romweber Furniture Company’s most enduring line, the Viking Oak collection. A small stained glass window depicting a masted ship crossing a turbulent sea remains as a look-through on a service door between the oval shaped dining room and what was the servant’s staging area off the kitchen.
All in all, at more than 110 years old, the house, though neglected for several years, is in reasonably good shape and the original blueprints are guiding the renovations. The new owners hope for a fall move in date.