Abilene’s humblest beginnings in a dugout and the height of its Victorian elegance both live at one address.
The Lebold Mansion, 108 N. Vine, was declared the “finest dwelling house west of Topeka” by an 1883 history of Kansas.
The dugout of the first settler in the area, Timothy Hersey, is still in the basement of the mansion.
The mansion has had more than its share of ups and downs.
It will soon be on the market again. Dickinson County Bank purchased 106 N. Vine and 310 NE Second Street at a sheriff’s sale early in May.
Since then, Ted Pugh, the bank’s executive vice president, has been working to return the property to showcase condition.
The property has been neglected recently, but is not in bad shape.
Outside, the lawns have been mowed and vines pulled off the stone walls.
Pugh is retrieving the fixtures that should have stayed in the house. The previous owner had removed the ceiling lights and ceiling medallions, some mirrors and woodwork, among other things.
One of the mirrors is marked with a date in the 1780s from Philadelphia. Its woodwork fits into the crown molding over one of the fireplaces and took four people to move it. It will be a job lifting it back up into place, since the ceilings are almost 14 feet high.
A walnut staircase leads to the second floor where the ceilings are as high. The elaborate woodwork is stunning, as are the parquet floors in almost every one of the 23 rooms.
“It’s not going to be sold easily until I get the stuff back up and installed so they can walk through it and see it,” Pugh said. “When you see the medallions actually up and against the wallpaper, it’s stunning.”
The wallpaper is as ornate as the woodwork. One couple who owned the Lebold Mansion had a company specializing in re-creating Victorian style wallpaper. Their wallpapers cover the ceilings as well as the walls.
Pugh isn’t sure if the design matches the original, but he is sure it’s correct for the 1880s.
“Our first step is to preserve the history,” Pugh said. “Our second step is to sell the property to someone who wants to continue to do the same.”
“We’re going to put it back the best we can and try to sell it to someone who wants to preserve it. It’s the right thing to do.”
It might be stretching a point to say Pugh has fallen in love with the house, but he has an obvious affection for it.
He said he was nervous before the sheriff’s auction that the owner would take things out of the house, as she did. So while the house was being shown for sale, he went through and took photos of every room. With the photos, he knew which fixtures went in which room.
All things considered, the house is in remarkably good shape.
For all its glory, the Lebold Mansion has not had an easy life.
The house once was a boarding house, a Girls Club for the female employees of C.L. Brown’s United Telephone Co. Then it served as an orphanage.
The 23 rooms once were split up into 17 apartments with nine kitchens.
“It’s a big house,” Pugh said.
Hersey built the stone dugout in July 1857, then a log cabin over it, then added on and built outbuildings. He purchased the property from a U.S. government land grant in 1861.
In 1870, he sold his land to the Abilene city fathers.
Conrad Lebold bought it from them in 1873 and in 1880 built a six-level, Italianate Tuscan villa-style home of stone quarried in Hays and Ellis County at a cost of $18,000. Hersey’s dugout was incorporated as the foundation for the 45-foot stone entrance tower in the front of the house.
But in 1889, Lebold’s bank failed and he declared bankruptcy.
George Sterl bought the home in a sheriff’s sale in 1894 for $550. His family owned it for more than 30 years.
In 1920, Sterl’s daughter sold it to Sadie Manker for $4,400, who sold it to Millard Davidson for $16,000. He sold it the next year to Fred Heigele.
The sheriff transferred the deed to A.F. Buenning for $8,000 in 1926, and Buenning sold it to the C.L. Brown Memorial Foundation for the Girls Club that year for $7,900.
Nina Green bought it from the Brown Memorial Foundation in 1945 for $3,750, who sold it to Claude Krisher. The next year, Krisher sold it Jess Hoover for $7,000.
In 1972, Hoover sold the mansion to Kurt and Kathleen Kessinger on a conditioned sale that defaulted.
Merle and Fred Vahsholtz bought the property from Hoover in 1974. They gave it lots of love and restored the mansion to its original glory.
It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, and is also on the state register. It’s listed as one of the 8 Architectural Wonders of Kansas by the Kansas Sampler Foundation.
It’s been through several owners since then.
Dickinson County Bank has put $10,000 to $15,000 into the house, so far, and Pugh expects to put about that much more into the house and grounds before he sells it. He’s considering putting a fountain back in the garden.
It’s going to take the right buyer, he said.
“I don’t want to sell it to just anybody,” Pugh said. “I want to sell it to someone who wants to preserve it.”
He has an intriguing lead on someone who would do just that, although the property is not yet even on the market.
A woman from the East Coast is interested because of her family history; she’s a descendant of Timothy Hersey.
Contact Jean Bowers at email@example.com.