It doesn’t take much effort to image a horse and buggy waiting in front of the gray block building, or ladies dressed in their frilled skirts and fluffy blouses lounging on the front porch while sipping lemonade.
Indeed, the scene just outside of Norfolk is reminiscent of the 1900s, when barns, grain bins and sheds on farms were made of wood and painted red. The houses were often two-story, square and strong.
This particular house is made of gray, rock-faced block, an unusual material to be used to build a home back in the late 1800 or early 1900s. Today, the green, leafy vine crawls up and around the brick; pots and baskets of colorful flowers accent the porches and more enhance the perimeter.
The age of the buildings, their idyllic setting and the materials used to construct the house combine to make the property worthy of being listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The register is the nation’s official list of properties that are deemed worthy of preservation.
Lori and Ron Petsche own the property that has been in her family since the 1960s.
She’s hopeful the listing will encourage any future owner to maintain the house and buildings and not tear them down, she said.
The property initially belonged to Wilhelm “William” Dommer who left Germany in 1863 and lived in Canada and Michigan before moving his family to Nebraska.
Lori Petsche said they have not been able to confirm the date the house was built. However, during renovation work, they uncovered a strip of wallpaper they believe is original that they think dates to 1890.
According to the National Register nomination, the 1880 U.S. Census shows that Wilhelm, his wife, Rosine, six of their children and a farmhand were living on the farm at the time.
Rosine Dommer died in January 1894 at the age of 57. The nomination states that, according to the deed, the farm was sold to Wilhelm’s son, Rudolph, in 1894 for $6,000, which signifies that “something of significance was built on the farm by then.”
In fact, in an article published in the Omaha Daily Bee on April 24, 1892, Wilhelm Dommer talks about making it as a successful farmer and that he was easily worth $15,000.
A year after buying the property, Rudolph and his wife decided to move back to Michigan, and the property was sold to Frederick and Louisa Haase. The farm remained in the Haase family until being sold to Samuel and Bernice Kiester, Lori Petsche’s grandparents, in 1961.
In the 1980s, Lori’s parents — Boyd and Marilyn Childers — acquired the portion of the property with the house and buildings, and her uncle acquired the north portion. There, Marilyn Childers operated a pet boarding, grooming and training facility and a pet cemetery. Boyd Childers died in 1988, and Marilyn Childers died in 1997.
Before Lori and Ron Petsche moved in, the house stood empty for a few years. But the couple couldn’t bear to sell the family home. So they rolled up their sleeves and went to work.
“The interior was in disrepair,” Petsche said.
Some of the plaster walls were cracked and had to be repaired, a new side porch had to be poured and the steps on the front porch had to be replaced. The couple also put an addition on the back that blends with the original house.
“We spent six years living in a mess. But it has been a project of love,” Petsche said.
While the interior has been modified a little through the years, it retains its historic look and feel and includes a parlor, dining room, family room that was once a bedroom and a kitchen. Most of the wood floors are original as are the baseboards, window trim, wainscoting, doors and hardware.
“We tried to make it as original as we could but also make it livable,” she said.
In addition to the house, the National Register listing includes an original corncrib, machine shed garage and grain bin. A few of the newer structures on the property are not included in the listing. A horse barn and dairy barn once located on the property no longer exist.
Like her mother, Petsche operates a small business on the farm during the summer called Simpler Thymes Flower Farm, which is a you-pick flower and herb farm.
Although the couple plan to stay on the farm as long as possible, they hope the next owners will preserve the property.
“It was quite the place in its day,” she said.