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City will request proposals to restore house

BY LAUREL BLACK lblack@paducahsun.com

The Smedley-Yeiser home could hardly be called an imposing structure.

At first glance, the one-story building - better known as the former home of the Alben Barkley Museum - likely resembles just another rundown house in need of a paint job.

But city officials say the nearly 2,700-square-foot house, located at 533 Madison St., holds a significant place in Paducah's history. Built sometime between 1850 and 1857, the Smedley-Yeiser represents one of only a handful of antebellum homes in the Lower Town Arts District, director of planning Steve Ervin said.

That's why the city has started searching for someone to restore it.

"It's ... a significant structure, very important to our Lower Town Historic Arts District, and we (at the city) thought it was time that we move on and try to put it in somebody's hands who has the resources to bring it back to the grandeur that it once was," he said.

Ervin said he's in the process of drafting a request for proposals, which will include the city's expectations for the building's use and the minimum requirements for its renovation. Upon completion, the request will be advertised, and potential investors will have at least a month to create their proposals. The Paducah City Commission will then decide to whom the structure will be transferred, Ervin said.

He said the decision will be based in part on the intended use of the renovated structure. Possibilities include commercial, mixed-use and residential use.

"Ultimately, it would be great (if) the reuse that goes in is complementary to the existing historic district, and the existing art studios that are down there (in Lower Town)," he said.

The home's unassuming facade belies its sturdy construction and spacious interior. The house, built in the Greek Revival style, boasts 13-foot-tall ceilings and 12-inch thick walls, Ervin said. Four square brick columns grace the 50-foot-long front porch that extends the full length of the building.

"It's just so different from any other structure because of the mass of the building. There's just not many around like that," he said.

The building originally served as the residence of William Smedley, owner of a wharfboat and a boat-supply dealership, according to a nomination the Young Historians Association wrote to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

Early Paducah mayor David Yeiser lived in the building during the 1890s.

The Young Historians Association purchased the building in 1970, converting it into a museum focusing on Paducah native Alben Barkley, vice president during Harry Truman's second term.

Ervin said the city of Paducah bought the building from the association around 2008 for about $40,000. It has been vacant since then, he said.

"Preserving any of these structures, especially one of this stature, is important to the district as a whole," he said. "You start losing structures like that, and you start creating voids within the density of that area."

Contact Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641, or follow @LaurelFBlack on Twitter.

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