Historic Governor Cox home given away for free is on the road to restoration

A community open house is planned for late fall with the Dayton Society of Interior Designers

A historic Dayton home given away last year — once the residence of Gov. James M. Cox — is being restored to its original grandeur in time for a fall community open house.

Last year the owner of the dilapidated 1905 home in the Dayton View Historic District asked the neighborhood president to help find the right person to give the house to.

Chris Lewis, 23, a Vandalia native and a law student at the University of Dayton, was selected in August from more than a dozen applicants to receive the free home.

Built in a combination of Queen Anne and Shingle styles near the intersection of Grand and Salem avenues, the house was home to James M. Cox until he moved to Columbus as governor in 1913.

Years of exterior neglect and decades of remodeling had concealed much of the character of the home.

Since taking ownership Lewis has spent evenings and weekends renovating the house. His first task, removing added interior walls, opened up the main staircase and revealed two sets of pocket doors hidden away for years.

“Everything that wasn’t original I took away,” Lewis said. “We’re back to how I think it looked when Gov. Cox lived here. Now when you come into the living room you get a feel for truly how grand this home is. Every time I walk in here I’m like wow, look at this.”

Residents of the Dayton View Historic District are enthusiastic about the work their new neighbor has undertaken.

“Neighborhood members are pretty excited the house is being restored and saved,” said Fred Holley, the neighborhood president who helped facilitate the giveaway. “We were concerned it would get to a point where we would lose it but it is turning around.”

Drivers honk their horns when Lewis is outside cutting down overgrown bushes and vines and dropped off bottles of Gatorade on hot days.

“Sometimes if I’m in the front yard I can’t get anything done because people are always coming by to check it out. I’ve probably shown the home 20 times to people,” Lewis said. “I feel like I’m the person who should say thank you because I got the home for free.”

Lewis’s good fortune continued when Sharon Bledsoe, an interior designer for 30 years with a passion for renovating historic homes, read a story about the house and volunteered to help with the project.

“I’ve restored many houses with clients, it’s a particular love of mine,” Bledsoe said. “This is a beautiful shingle style house and the bones are all there to be restored, but it was clear it needed a lot of work.”

Bledsoe, a past president of the Dayton Society of Interior Designers who serves on their advisory board, proposed the home as a volunteer project for the organization.

The idea has snowballed into a plan for a community open house in late fall to showcase the renovation and interior designs.

Recently, interior design students from Sinclair Community College descended on the home to take measurements. The DSID is reaching out to their industry colleagues to partner on the project and Wagner Internet Marketing is documenting the renovation for a video about the neighborhood and Dayton.

Lewis, who has many months of labor ahead of him, said he still can’t believe his luck in acquiring the historic home and is amazed at the community support.

“I think you can see the home as an avenue for telling the story of Dayton,” Lewis said. “Dayton View was a neighborhood of movers and shakers and Gov. Cox lived here. All this history is converging on the house.”

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