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Schenck Mansion Renovation

Fishers take on second
Schenck mansion restoration project

By Sherry Simms,
Contributing Writer

(May 2002) VEVAY, Ind. – What would you want for Christmas if you could have your heart’s desire? That was the question posed to Lisa Fisher by her husband, Jerry.
“I didn’t need anything,” said Lisa Fisher. “I don’t consider myself materialistic, and I don’t like to shop.”

Jerry, Lisa Fisher

Jerry and Lisa Fisher
pose inside the
former U.P. Schenck
mansion in Vevay.

After carefully considering the offer, there was one tiny thing she wanted – the old Schenck mansion. This was the old brick mansion that sat perched on a hill overlooking the town of Vevay. This glorious home was built in the 1870s by Benjamin Franklin Schenck, son of U.P. Schenck, one of Vevay’s most prominent citizens.
Lisa thought about the house she had admired since childhood – a house she felt a deep connection with and wanted to save. One day she was reading the paper and saw the ad that would change her life. The Schenck Mansion was for sale. It was an omen.
After several months of negotiation, a feasibility study, consultation with architects and financial advisors, the house belonged to the Fishers. The couple had already planned to turn the mansion into a bed and breakfast. They did that and more. Their efforts won them first prize in the Preserving Indiana contest sponsored by Preservation Magazine.
The lovingly restored Schenck Mansion is filled with original fixtures. Original gas lights adorn the dining room and the original copper tubs are standard in most of the bathrooms.
It was in the pursuit of more original Schenck furnishings that Lisa discovered another Schenck mansion was going to be put up for auction. This was the original Schenck Mansion on Market Street. This was the home of U.P. and Justine Schenck and, unlike the larger Schenck Mansion on the hill, this one had stayed true to family ties. Many of the original furnishings still remained.
Although Lisa was interested in the furnishings, she wasn’t sure about bidding for the house at the auction.
“I was concerned,” she said. “Restoring the other house was so much work. But my husband thought it was a good idea. I could be closer to the bed and breakfast, and my son would be just two blocks away, instead of out in the country while I was at work,” Fisher said.
The Fishers decided to eventually sell their 480-acre farm and move to town. This would be a big adjustment for them. “We both love the country,” Fisher said.
But the house on Market Street is a good substitute. U.P. Schenck built the house in the 1840s for wife, Justine, and their 11 children.
According to Carolyn Danner Beach in her book, Turn to the River, “the home was to provide his wife with the best of the day. It was a large, stately, colonial red-brick house with white pillars and green shutters... It had a dining room and kitchen in the basement with a wide hall through the center North and South, and partitions from East to West that divided each floor into four big corner rooms, with windows in two directions.
“It’s glory lay in two features: the three story white pillared porches facing the river; and the stairway, extending in one long spiral from the first floor to the attic where it looked into a skylight.”
The stairway, designed by noted architect Francis Costigan, is in nearly pristine condition. The large corner rooms still exist with their original mantelpieces and window shutters. The porches still exist and are being restored at this time. Ornamental iron works surround the porches and white pillars.
This house also proved to be a treasure trove of Schenck belongings. Beautiful furniture and mementos were stored in the attic and other rooms of the house. An elaborate hall tree probably was a fixture on one of the Schenck’s steamboats.
Although the project may sound romantic, it takes the help of an entire crew from Muncie, Ind., to help in the renovation and plenty of researching, planning, and just plain elbow grease from the Fishers themselves.
Matt Gossage, a carpenter from Muncie, said, “I could work on new houses. The reason I work on old stuff is because it's like taking a page out of history and freezing it.”
He and the rest of the crew must enjoy the job. They also worked on the first Schenck Mansion project, which took two years to complete. The Fishers estimate this restoration will also take two years.
Because of Lisa Fisher’s childhood dream, two irreplaceable pieces of Switzerland County history have been saved.

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