Appreciating history: Richardsons make connection with home’s original owners

By Blake Spurney

NEWTON—Craig and Donna Richardson have always lived in historic homes.

When they were looking to move from Abilene to Newton seven years ago, Donna knew the Reese House at 305 E. 1st St. was a perfect fit. She first saw the Italianate home in March and was surprised it was still on the market months later.

“We’ve not looked back,” Donna said. “It’s been fun.”

The couple actually moved into their new home on July 3, the same day on which John C. Reese, who built the house in 1879, was born. Besides appreciating the ornate beauty of the home, Craig and Donna have taken the time to learn about the family of the original owners. The house stayed in the Reese family for more than 100 years, spanning four generations. They’ve been to the grave sites of John and Nellie Reese and gotten to meet a descendant in Jim Reese, who shared with them some of his memories of the house.

The dogs of Craig and Donna Richardson stand in the foyer.

“I think it’s interesting they came up with that house,” Donna said. “How fun would that have been 140 years ago?”

John Reese was a pioneering Newtonian who operated Reese Drug Store on Main Street, according to “At the Crossroads of Kansas,” a pamphlet detailing the history of Newton’s most historic homes. John Reese owned most of the block at one time, and he had homes built for his children, Craig said.

Rebecca Likiardopoulos, historical preservation officer for Newton, said there were several factors when determining a building’s historical significance and whether it belonged on the Newton/North Newton Register of Historic Places.

“Obviously, what we’re looking for in the register is significance,” she said. “What we’re looking for is architectural standards or someone who was significant in the community.”

Kris Schmucker, curator of the Harvey County Historical Museum & Archives, said another factor in determining historical significance was how much a building had been altered over the years.

“Some haven’t been changed much on the inside or outside,” she said of buildings on the local list. “It still depends on how much it still resembles its original self.”

Craig said his residence had the original moulding on the first floor and its original hardwood floors. The house has a small spiral staircase that used to lead to a rooftop observatory. He said the third floor used to be an observatory, but the wood rotted decades ago. The entire floor was removed and put in the backyard as a summer kitchen.

“At the Crossroads of Kansas” notes that “the rooftop observatory or cupola was the talk of the town, ‘providing a most beautiful landscape view of the surrounding country for a space often of 12 miles in all directions.”

Donna said she and her husband updated the kitchen and added a full bathroom. She said one would update a kitchen in a house built in the 1980s.

The Richardsons’ previous home was an 1892 farmhouse, and the couple restored a historic home in Abilene before that. Craig said they were tired of restoring things by the time they found the Reese House. Fortunately for them, Carlos and Dana Ayala, the previous owners, had done a lot of work and left the house in good shape.

“It didn’t need anything, so it was a perfect move-in for us,” he said.

The plumbing and electrical wiring all had been updated previously. Craig said at some point somebody painted over some of the crown moulding. He said Dana Ayala found out what colors the original moulding had been in the formal living room and restored it.

Donna and Craig both work out of Wichita. Donna said they picked Newton because the Wichita market was too expensive for the type of home for which they were looking. She dispelled the stereotype of old homes being a money pit. She said every year a homeowner needed to plan to spend some money and do some upkeep for any home.

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