Home & Garden

218-year-old Bourbon County house open for visitors

This is an upstairs bedroom. The house was built in 1792; an addition, built in 1815, has walls 22 inches thick. A "travelers' room" provided lodging to strangers; the Thomases use it for storage.
This is an upstairs bedroom. The house was built in 1792; an addition, built in 1815, has walls 22 inches thick. A "travelers' room" provided lodging to strangers; the Thomases use it for storage.

Ed and Kay Thomas were born and raised in Bourbon County but spent 42 years in Pennsylvania, where he worked for GE/Lockheed Martin. As he was nearing retirement, they got to live in England for a couple of years.

But as Christmas Eve 2004 came to Yorkshire, and the Bourbon County Citizen-Advertiser arrived in the mail, they knew they would be coming home soon. Ewalt's Crossroads was for sale.

Kay's great-great-great-grandfather, Henry Ewalt, came to Kentucky from Pennsylvania in 1788. He bought 200 acres northeast of Paris and built a home at what is now the corner of U.S. 27 and Clay Kiser Road in 1792, the year Kentucky became a state.

The beautifully restored home, which includes a trove of antiques that the Thomases have collected over the years, will be open as a fund-raiser for Historic Paris-Bourbon County.

The home has been called Ewalt's Crossroads since at least the 1840s, and it has never left the family. The Thomases bought the home from Kay's cousin, Joe Ewalt, who acquired it in the 1990s.

At that time, the house was in bad shape, and Ewalt and his wife, Joanne, did significant restoration. They fixed the foundation and front façade and replaced all of the home's major systems, among other things. They also built an addition with a family room and a first-floor master bedroom.

"Joe baked the cake; what we are doing is the icing," Kay said. The couple work on the home constantly, and it shows. "We don't play golf and we don't play tennis," she said. "This is our hobby."

The Thomases, both 71, had restoration experience, having renovated a circa-1840 house in Chesapeake City, Md., that they used as a weekend getaway. Kay made most of the window treatments for Ewalt's Crossroads, and Ed has been kept busy with carpentry projects.

The 1792 frame portion of Ewalt's Crossroads retains much original detail: a fortified rear door, made to protect against the Indian attacks that were a serious threat in the area 218 years ago; horizontal cherry board paneling and walnut woodwork, which has always been painted to keep the house from being dark; and fancy crown molding in the front parlor.

A circa 1815 stone addition to the home has walls 22 inches thick and includes an entry hall/formal dining room and a kitchen, dining and family room, where the Thomases spend much of their time.

In the formal dining room, there is a small stairway leading up to a "travelers' room," where weary strangers could be offered lodging. The room locked from the outside, though, to keep any of those strangers from leaving in the middle of the night with the silverware.

Don't expect to see the travelers' room on the tour; the Thomases use it for storage. "I don't think we'll live long enough to ever get it cleaned up," Kay said.

There's nothing stuffy about this historic house, because of both its human scale and the Thomases' classy and humorous decorating. It is an attractive blend of old and new that makes you feel at home. For example, the kitchen table is a 13-foot-long antique from a Paris upholstery shop, and it's surrounded by modern, shiny aluminum chairs.

Is that an ancestor's portrait over the parlor fireplace? No, just a regal 18th-century gentleman whose painting the Thomases bought in England.

"We don't have a picture of Henry (Ewalt), but I like to think he would have looked like this in his later years," Kay said. "We do have a picture of his son, Sam. He wasn't the most handsome guy, let's just say, so he's hung in a dark corner of the hallway."

The Thomases brought many treasures to Ewalt's Crossroads, but the house is constantly revealing its own.

While having fireplaces restored, the Thomases discovered Civil War newspapers stuffed in chimney spaces. When replacing paneling, Ed found a heap of junk stuffed in an interior wall: old shoes, tools, hickory nuts, peach pits and a wicker torch, all well over a century old. The items are now on display.

The surrounding five acres has yielded many pieces of china and pottery dating to the early 1800s. They are displayed in an antique platter made into a table in front of the parlor fireplace.

"We dig things up in the garden all the time," Kay said. "When I find that stuff out in the yard, I can't blame it on anybody else. It was my family!"