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Tom Eblen: Hello, city life!

You won't see as many of my columns in the paper as you usually do for a few weeks. I'm taking some time off to move. Not out of town; into town.

Like many empty-nesters, Becky and I want a smaller house and yard. We want to live closer to our older daughter and her husband. And I want to be within a walk or bike ride of all the interesting things happening in downtown Lexington.

I have been watching downtown For Sale signs for years, but it was still tempting to leave well enough alone. After all, we had a great house in a beautiful suburb.

But here's the thing: I have always wanted an old house in the city — a place with style, charm and a sense of history. Call me crazy; you wouldn't be alone.

"What's the matter: get tired of plumbing that works?" a colleague quipped. A college professor I know, who writes about Kentucky history but lives in a 1960s suburban home, said I am either braver than him or more foolhardy.

Still, I have many friends who are happy old-home dwellers. The ones I admire most are either braver or more foolhardy than I: they have invested a lot of hard work and money in restoring buildings that might otherwise have been lost to history.

They have added immeasurably to Lexington's unique character.

I can't logically explain my attraction to old houses. Maybe it is because, before family moved to a new home in rural Fayette County when I was 7, we lived in a turn-of-the-century house on what is now Wildcat Lodge's back parking lot. I remember the high ceilings, handsome woodwork and the big front porch with a swing. My parents remember the creaky floors and drafty windows.

For many perfectly sensible reasons, the five homes Becky and I have had until now were in the suburbs of Nashville, Knoxville, Atlanta and Lexington. All were built between 1954 and 1985.

When we moved here from Atlanta in 1998, I looked at several downtown houses, most built in the early 1800s. High ceilings. Handsome woodwork. Big windows. Lots of fireplaces.

Becky understood my attraction to Antebellum homes; she had always been a fan of Gone With The Wind. Trouble was, all of the places in our price range looked more like Tara after the Yankees came through than before.

I liked a circa 1837 house on Short Street. I thought it was in good shape. Except that it needed a new kitchen. And a new bathroom — or two. One floor sloped suspiciously. Gutters and plaster needed work. Perhaps, we decided, that was not the best time in our lives to take on a house built 10 years before Atlanta existed.

Goodbye Short Street, hello Hartland. The four-bedroom home we bought in that lovely suburb turned out to be a great place to live and raise our daughters. Now, though, it seems too big and a little lonely.

We are leaving Hartland for a 101-year-old Queen Anne-style cottage near downtown. It has those high ceilings, handsome woodwork, five fireplaces and a big front porch with a swing.

The only thing I know I will miss about my Hartland home is the garage. My new house doesn't have one. Few people in that neighborhood owned cars in 1910. Who needed one? The trolley track ran right past the end of the street.

This house was restored in the 1970s by a couple who have taken good care of it. The plumbing, wiring and windows were brought up to modern standards. The roof, kitchen and most mechanical systems are almost new.

Based on a report from the toughest home inspector I could find, I don't think we are in danger of starring in a remake of the Tom Hanks/Shelley Long movie, The Money Pit. Still, I know projects lurk in every room; that just comes with a century-old home.

I have lined up contractors to refinish floors, refresh paint and wallpaper and replace some old wiring. Then, once we move and sell our Hartland house, we can enjoy city living in an old home with style, charm and a sense of history.

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