NEW ALBANY, Ind. (WHAS11) -- With its red turret rising above State Street, the historic Hartman House is a familiar sight in New Albany.
"Everyone knows the building and I think it's an impressive structure," Indiana Landmarks Southern Regional Director Greg Sekula said.
The Queen Anne-style house has seen better days since it was built in 1899.
"When his house was erected, the newspaper reported this was one of the finest residences in the city," Sekula said.
"It's kind of a treasure that's been neglected over the years," Kirk Richmond of Kaleidoscope Stained Glass said.
The house was constructed for Louis Hartman, an influential New Albany businessman and advocate for African-Americans in the years following the Civil War and Reconstruction.
"He was partially responsible for bringing the K&I Bridge across the Ohio River to connect Louisville with New Albany," Sekula said.
Sekula said it is also believed that the area behind the house may have been part of the Underground Railroad in New Albany.
"There's a low-lying area with a creek bed, and we believe that was a natural area where freed slaves escaping from Kentucky could travel north through the city," he said.
In later years, the Hartman House became an African-American funeral home known as the Baity Funeral Home, which was in business for about 30 years. After the funeral home closed, the building was left vacant. It caught fire in January of this year, leading to talks of demolition. That's when Sekula and Indiana Landmarks stepped in.
"I said, 'I have a feeling we're going to have a role to play in saving this building,'" he said.
According to Sekula, Indiana Landmarks has bought the property and the board of directors has approved a rehabilitation project to restore the building to its former glory.
"Like any other artwork, there are all these small glimpses into our past," Richmond, who has been removing the stained glass pieces from the building to preserve and restore, said.
Once the rehabilitation is complete, Sekula said Indiana Landmark's Southern Regional Office will become the newest tenant in the former residence and funeral home.
"If the spirits are there, I hope they're pleased we're saving the building and we can cohabitate together," he said.
According to Sekula, the project is expected to take between eight and 12 months. He said Indiana Landmarks is working on the development plans with an architect and getting bids for the interior cleanup, which he said he hopes to begin in the next 30 days. He said he hopes to be able to move in by May or June.
Indiana Landmarks and the City of New Albany both hope the project will help revitalize the State Street corridor - that by preserving the past, they can help promote and grow the future.
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