Historic house faces demolition

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 22, 2000

The city engineer’s office recently condemned the home of Mark Murnahan, which is located on Fourth Street between Madison and Monroe streets.

Wednesday, March 22, 2000

The city engineer’s office recently condemned the home of Mark Murnahan, which is located on Fourth Street between Madison and Monroe streets.

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The house – which once was the home of Ironmaster Frederick Drake Norton – needs more than $40,000 in repairs before it will be deemed livable, and Murnahan doesn’t have the money, or the time needed to get it, he said.

"They want me to do $40,000 worth of stuff," Murnahan said. "They pretty much would like to tear it down. I’d like to leave the house standing. If this is torn down, it will be an empty lot. It would be a tremendous loss."

The previous house’s owner, Norton, owned Bellefonte Furnace, Bellefonte Nail Mill and the Norton Furnace in Ashland, Ky.

And in the right hands, the home could shine again like it did more than 100 years ago when it was the residence of one of Ironton’s wealthy industrialists.

"I would like someone to buy it," Murnahan said. "It would be the nicest thing in town if it was fixed up."

If the right buyer comes forward, arrangements could be made to extend the 60 day deadline for demolition, said Karl Wentz, city building officer.

"You would have to inform the prospective buyer and they would have to accept the orders against the house," Wentz said. "They would have to give me a letter saying they are aware of the problems and are assuming responsibility. The amount of time they are given to do the work is negotiable. It depends on their ability to carry out the work. They have to satisfy me that they have the means and ability to make repairs."

Ample opportunity was given to Murnahan to repair the home, as well, Wentz added.

"He was first made aware of a problem with the property in September 1996," Wentz said. "There have been no improvements since that day."

Once a home is found to be not in compliance with either city or state codes, the property owners are notified and the city offices make every effort to work with the owners, Wentz told Ironton City Council last week.

But, in this case, the property’s structural and other insufficiencies have not seen satisfactory progress toward the proper and agreed-upon repairs, Wentz explained.

"During this process, we have not seen progress toward the repairs we have been told would be made," he said. "We did work with the property owner for several years in this case, but the repeated permit requirements have not been met and the building presents a danger to the community if it is not demolished at this point."

Although Murnahan told city council members last week that he purchased the property several years ago before he was financially able to make the improvements, Wentz indicated the more recent repair promises have also repeatedly not been met.

"It is my understanding that this is an ongoing problem," Ironton Mayor Bob Cleary said. "This situation has been investigated by the city engineering department and I have been told that every effort has been made to work with the property owner in regard to this house."

While Cleary said he is aware of the home’s historical significance, safety must be a priority.

"With the extent of the problems the house has structurally and the number of years it has gone without the necessary improvements, it does present a potential hazard to neighboring residences," Cleary said.

Being the home of a former Ironmaster is not enough to save the structure without numerous repairs being made, Wentz said. Even if paperwork were filed to put the home on the historic homes registry, it could still be torn down after the 60 days expires, he said.

"Historic filing will not prevent demolition," Wentz said. "Health and safety come first, preservation of historic property comes second."

The only thing left to do is sit back and watch as another piece of Ironton’s past is lost forever, Murnahan added.

And that should never happen. Everyone should be concerned about keeping the past intact, he said.

"If you don’t keep in touch with the past, how do you know who you are or what the future will be?" Murnahan said. "The house is part of the town, part of what makes Ironton a nice place to live."

The Norton house was identified through the city’s engineer’s office for demolition because of the obvious condition of the property, Wentz said.

"We’ve implemented a program where we’re addressing the worst properties in an effort to try to clean up the neighborhoods," he said. "Houses are identified by referrals from government officials, neighbors and we also do it on a by sight basis."

Murnahan received notice that the house was condemned March 16, and has 60 days to fix the site, sell it to a party willing to make repairs or tear it down before further action will be taken.