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Newkirk relative visits mansion

Mike Sparks shows visitors to the Newkirk Mansion the open area under the main stairway as originally constructed. Behind them is a doorway to the library that had been closed over the years, but reopened during the restoration process. From the left are Jenny Sparks, Jane and Frank Walker, Sparks, and David Walters.

By DARRELL SMITH - dsmith@newsexaminer.com

A relative who remembers the Newkirk Mansion when it remained mostly intact returned to Connersville Monday to see the progress made towards the house’s restoration.

David Walters, son of Max Walters, graduated from Connersville High School but has lived in Arlington, Virginia, for many years. He visited the mansion Monday for a tour by new owners Mike and Jenny Sparks. Frank and Jane (Tatman) Walker joined the tour.

Walters is the son of Josephine Newkirk, whose father was William Edgar Newkirk. His father was Charles Newkirk, the brother of William Newkirk, who had the mansion built starting in 1880, Walters explained. 

William Newkirk owned the Indiana Furniture Factory and had some interest in the Connersville Furniture Factory, he said. 

William Newkirk died in 1911. His widow, his third wife, lived until 1933.

“My mom used to come up and visit Aunt Ida all the time when she was a girl,” he said. “The last time I was in the house when it was used a single-family residence was when Doctor (possibly Herman) Smelser lived here in the late 1950s or early 1960s.”

Mother slid down the banister several times, he added. There may have been a brass pole in the house she slid down as well.

He recalled being in the house as a junior at Connersville High School in 1959-60.

“Everything was still intact and it was a showplace,” Walters said. “All the rooms had glass chandeliers and marble mantels on the fireplaces. The woodworking from the furniture factory was just exquisite. The furniture in here the factory had made, absolutely gorgeous.”

He also remembered his friends sledding down the hill from the house on the hill towards Western Avenue.

Walters told Daniel Phelps, who has studied the history of the house, that William Newkirk had a son from one of the previous marriages.

“I did not find out until probably five years ago that he died in a nursing home in Indianapolis in 2006,” he said. “I never knew he had a son. He may have been 96 when he died. I would loved to have talked to him for hours.”

Phelps said an 1882 article in the newspaper about the construction of the house said the attic would be used as a museum.

Walters did not know about that but said a 500-gallon water tank had been installed in the attic to provide water pressure. Someone had the job each day to hand pump water to the tank, which is now gone.

The carriage house behind the main house had quarters for the servants above the stalls for the horses.  In 1959-60, no horses or carriages remained and the second floor had been converted to apartments.

A suspicious fire in April 2017 severely damaged the carriage house. The roof has collapsed.

Mike Sparks updated the visitors on the progress made towards the restoration of the once-great mansion. Doorways that had been closed have been reopened. A spring house in the rear has been removed.

A wall under the main stairway that had been added to create a half bath has been removed. In the process, several sections of original wall paper have been exposed, he said. 

Mantels and decorative tiles are missing from some fireplaces.

The house underwent changes as it become apartments and was used as a nursing home. The Sparkses owned and lived in the home in the late 1980s.