Home Tour: Wyoming's historic Palmer House, 'a house that needed love,' is getting plenty of it now

You can tour it on the spring house tour May 13

This week's Home Tour features one of five homes and two churches on the Cincinnati Preservation Association and Wyoming Historical Society's spring house tour to be held 1-5 p.m. on May 13. (Tickets for non-CPA members are $35 at 513-721-4506 or cincinnatipreservation.org.)

WYOMING, Ohio -- Margee Moore feels as if her family is a perfect fit for the late 1860s Wyoming home of flour manufacturer Gideon Palmer. He and his wife, Mary, had six children, one of whom, Lizzie Stearns, went on to rear two children in the house and undoubtedly hosted many a social event for locals connected to her husband's family's cotton wadding and mattress business.

The five-bedroom, 5,394-square-foot house is brick and three stories high. Its ample front porch sits a stately distance back from the street. It might look intimidating to some, but first and foremost, Margee said, the big old house is a people place where the Irish-Catholic Moores host annual St. Patrick's Day and Wyoming High School homecoming float-building parties.

"I know from the front it looks like a mansion, but it's just a fun family house," Margee said, even more so now than it was for Palmer, who had lost three children before building the house and lost two of his three wives while living in it.

Today, the house is home to two children: eighth-grader Peggy and 11th-grader Wendell. Margee and Eric Moore, who is a salesman for Procter & Gamble, moved a few houses over and into the house in 2014 after their three-year-old bid to buy the vacant Palmer House went through with the help of Cheviot Savings & Loan.

"We closed on March 31 and moved in (20 days later) on Easter," said Eric, who is a Pennsylvania native and Army veteran.

"It was kind of full of junk, because the previous owners had moved out quickly," said Margee, who grew up in Virginia. "We had to clean it up," she said.

Then the real work started. They had to replace the copper-grounded wiring and copper plumbing, some of which had been vandalized or stolen.

The plumbing, the Moores said, was the biggest project they faced.

"We know a lot of plumbers now," Margee said with a laugh.

"Yeah. We had a plumber living with us for the whole month of November," Eric countered.

The Moores painted many of the rooms themselves -- Peggy's in her desired pink. They purchased several period-looking chandeliers, one of which came out of Music Hall and another that supposedly traces back to infamous Cincinnati bootlegger George Remus.

"We don't know that that's true," said Margee, though the marketing consultant said it would be cool if it were. Given that Remus had to sell his mansion and its belongings in order to start over after serving a short prison stint for killing his unfaithful wife, the tale of the chandelier might not be that tall.

Margee resorts to a thick file of copied documents and photographs to tell her house's history. It includes an antique advertisement for The House & Palmer Co. Millers, whose product lines were called Magnolia, White Loaf, Big I. and Fancy. A Civil War contract to supply the Union Army with flour helped make Palmer wealthy.

The Moores know who lived in the house and when and that it underwent major renovations in 1917 and the first decade of the 21st century. They credit lawyer and stained-glass window collector John Hoffman, who owned the house from 1997 to 2008, with bringing it back close to its original state.

Crucial work by Hoffman included renovating several fireplaces and mantels, stripping first-floor window and door frames back to their original wood, and restoring interior shutters. He also added wainscoting in the entry hall, using a modern version of an embossed, linseed and wood flour material invented in the 1870s called Lincrusta that imitates leather.

"I know houses aren't living things, but everything you put into this house you get back tenfold," Eric said.

The Moores have numerous projects on their to-do list. They want to paint the exterior trim, replace some windows, remodel a couple of the 3½ bathrooms and upgrade the landscaping.

"These old homes are 20-year projects, and when you get finished you just start over," Eric said. "Nothing is perfect. You just put a 20-year timer on it."

Take the tour

A long driveway and footpath connect the street to the front of the High Italianate home, a symmetrical design with a spindle-railed porch, a dramatic third-story dormer and two decorative chimneys.

The first floor consists of an ample entry hall whose ceiling rises to 12 feet and supports a crystal chandelier. Eight-foot-high, heavy wood-trimmed openings lead to parlors to the left and right, which the Moores use as a music room and a dining room. Straight ahead is the grand staircase.

The decor is traditional. It includes a baby grand piano, a gas-style chandelier purchased at The Wooden Nickel in Over-the-Rhine, a Victorian sideboard from Every Now and Again Furniture Mall in Reading, three built-in bookshelves and a dining table for eight that the Moores brought from their previous Wyoming residence.

The living room, kitchen and combination mud room-pantry are in the back of the house, as are doors to the yard and its gated swimming pool and a screened porch. Dominating the couple's artwork are still-life and landscape paintings by New England artist Constance Stella as well as images of local landmarks.

The large, attached kitchen is unusual for a house built when cooking usually took place in a separate building to protect the main house from fires. The Moores said they're not sure what the original use of their kitchen was but are pleased that a previous owner stocked it with a 1937, stainless-steel and porcelain range made by Reliable of St. Louis. The couple modified it with a cook top for modern convenience.

Also in the kitchen is a windowed nook, where the Moores eat most of their dinners because, Eric said, it's a quiet spot with a calming view of the backyard.

Before heading upstairs, where the ceiling height drops to 10 feet, the Moores had a few things in the basement to show off, neither of which were operational: a gas-heated clothes dryer from the early 1900s that features five sliding, sheet-metal panels, and four vintage toilets -- one labeled "Gloria" by the John Douglas Co. -- two toilet tanks and a full bathroom with original tub, sink and wooden-tank water closet.

Perhaps the star of the five upstairs bedrooms is Peggy's room. The bright pink-and-green room features a south-facing bay window whose seat is covered in pillows she crafted from Lilly Pulitzer dresses, built-in shelves where she displays her books, sports medals and Lego houses, a suite of furniture with mother of pearl and mahogany inlay and two wing-back chairs the Moores bought on Everything But the House's auction website that were reupholstered with pink-patterned cloth from the Fabric Shack in Waynesville.

The Moores' master suite is across the hall from Peggy's room and features space that was added sometime in the 20th century, possibly as part of the 1917 renovation. The couple uses it as a dressing room. Both the master and Wendell's room have fireplaces. His features a new Rookwood tile surround.

The ceilings drop and slant on the third floor, where only one room has been finished for guests. A second room serves as a game room, and others are for storage.

'Stewards for next generation'

Margee Moore's reasons for buying the old Palmer House match those of many preservationists:

"We saw this was a house that needed love," she wrote in an email sent after our tour. "When it sat on the market for so long and was then vacant, we started noticing it and that it needed someone to love it and take care of it.

"We are old-house fans and it just felt like the right thing to do, to take care of this beauty and to be stewards of it for the next generation. The house seems to really respond to love and attention."

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