ASHLAND — A developer is evaluating a property southeast of Ashland to build a neighborhood that aims to attract “active retirees.” The development would include up to 60 homes located on approximately 20 acres of land just outside the Iron Horse subdivision.
But in order to move forward with the development project, the issue of an Ashland landmark must be addressed. Near the center of the proposed development is the 150 year old Israel Beetison House, valued locally for its Italianate architecture and limestone facade.
When Boyer Young – the developer of Iron Horse – broke ground on the subdivision in the late 1990s, the consensus was that the developer would maintain Beetison House. But the home has deteriorated significantly over the past two decades and would cost at least $1 million to restore, according to Historic Resources Group and building contractor RO Youker, hired by the new group to conduct an assessment.
Their findings raise a question: Is the Beetison House – in its current state – worth saving?
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At a March 29 public gathering attended by more than 100 people, photos of the Beetison House showed graffiti on the interior walls, sunlight streaming through the second-story roof, deteriorating basement frames, holes in the floor, broken windows and crumbling Limestone on the outside.
“Inside there is virtually no physical integrity left,” said Melissa Gengler of the Historic Resources Group. “Years of exposure to water have destroyed almost all physical properties of the interior.
“For the most part, all of the material that’s in the building is unsalvageable.”
To restore the home, Gengler said, would require a “total cleanup.” RO Youker’s Mike Eisenbarth made a number of immediate repair recommendations to maintain the building’s current condition, including replacing the roofing, strengthening damaged timber frames, rebuilding the exterior masonry arches over the windows and fitting caps over the chimneys, the extra moisture allowed the house to penetrate.
Gengler said the total cost would be “about” $1 million, but she said that number is likely on the low end. Bruce Wischmann, Ashland City Council member and general contractor, estimated the total could be as high as $3 million.
“It depends on how historically accurate you want to be,” Wischmann said.
Gengler presented a handful of options the city and developer could take to determine the fate of Beetison House. She said the building could be demolished and the site incorporated into the proposed development, or a central “clubhouse” could be built using design features or salvaged materials from the Beetison House.
Another option would be to refurbish the building and find a new use, but it was noted that such use would ideally generate income for future maintenance.
After the presentation, Gengler and Eisenbarth answered questions from attendees, many of whom wondered why the building was not being maintained.
Wischmann said there is technically no contractual obligation for Iron Horse developer Boyer Young to maintain the property. A provision in the 1999 partition agreement states that the developer may not “demolish, move or sell” the Beetison House without permission.
“There is nothing in it that says that a window has to be replaced if a window is broken in,” said Wischmann.
Epcon Communities, which builds homes for the over-55s, has not yet completed the purchase of the approximately 20 acres at the south end of Iron Horse still owned by Boyer Young.
Peter Katt, a veteran Lincoln development attorney who is a partner with Epcon, said the location between Omaha and Lincoln and the surrounding area is “absolutely amazing.”
But he knows the history of Beetison House in Ashland and the community’s connection to the building.
“I can’t do anything until I own (the land), a lender won’t let me buy it until I have city approval for my project, and I don’t think I’ll be able to convince elected officials approving my project without a very solid plan of what to do with the house,” Katt said.
The March 29 meeting is a first step in making a decision on the future of Beetison House, he said. He said it could take up to nine months to reach a final decision.
Ashland Historical Society member Patti Schofield emphasized the importance of Beetison House and the need to preserve it.
“This city is a historic city and we have to preserve the things that are part of our history,” she said. “This building is a big part of what our community has always had to do historically.”
Moving the home to a new location was mentioned, but Ryan Reed of the Nebraska State Historic Preservation Office said doing so would remove the home from the National Register of Historic Places. Without this historic designation, the property would no longer be eligible for tax credits.