Matters of Diplomacy

Sometimes when I go to see a house, I have to beg for information. I remember saying as I stood in the entry hall of one historically important house, "Somebody better start talking or I'm leaving," because every time I asked a question, the realtor and the owner just looked at each other (then at me) with their mouths hanging slack. They never said much and I never figured out what the problem was but the realtor did smell rather more of booze than one would hope (at 10 in the morning) and the owner did look as though he might not be above selling drugs or fake Gucci watches.

Fortunately, John Stempel, owner of 431 Fayette Park, greeted me at the door bursting with interesting facts about his house and an apology. "I am so sorry my wife, Susan, is not here to talk to you as well, she is better at this sort of thing." (She was in Alexandria helping one of their daughters move.) As he led me through the house he pointed out elements of the architecture (cherry woodwork which has all been cleaned by hand) and his family (a German cherry corner cabinet his great-uncle broke when Indiana beat Purdue in 1920), all the while giving bits and pieces of the history of the house and its occupants.

According to John, his is only the third family to own the house. Realtor Jim McKeighen's research confirms this.

On December 26, 1889, Lot N of Fayette Park was deeded to businessman James E. Bassett. The Bassetts completed the house in 1891, after a year of planning and construction. Members of the Bassett family continued to live in the house until selling the property in 1974 to Anthony and Una Eardley.

Eardley, former dean of the University of Kentucky School of Architecture, and his wife moved to Fayette Park in 1972, renting the house at 423 Fayette Park until their purchase of 431 Fayette Park.

The Eardleys corrected major rot and sagging floors, took apart and rebuilt 5 doors and 46 windows, added the screen porch, and renovated the kitchen and baths. Perhaps the most important improvement to the property came when they built a garage on a small piece of land adjacent to the back yard (just out of sight), which they purchased from the owner of the house next door. In 1988, Eardley became the dean of the Architecture College at the University of Toronto and sold the house to the Stempels.

The Stempels updated the mechanics by adding central air and improving the wiring and plumbing. They also added storage in almost every room. They built a large cabinet at the back of the entry hall which exactly matches the wood, finish and details of the doorframes and staircase. Built-in cabinets in the library also echo the original woodwork.

The kitchen which the Eardleys built in the early 70s remains surprisingly contemporary. White and azure clay tiles define the workspace while a large dining area retains more of the feel of the rest of the house. The Stempels added more cabinets above the workspace, again to add storage. Upstairs they added walk-in closets to two bedrooms and a wall closet in the master bedroom suite.

With every five steps, John gave me more information about the house and his life. While each story was more interesting than the last, there is not space here for them all.

Here are my favorite images from the best house tour of my career: John pointed out the two basketball goals at each end of the gymnasium-sized attic and told me that he spoke to one of the Bassett boys who remembered playing there. Imagine sweaty 14-year-old boys wearing long shorts and Chuck Taylors shooting for hours. Imagine what it must have sounded like on the second floor. Only in Kentucky.

Early in the tour, John led me to the screened back porch which runs across the back of the house and overlooks the colorful backyard. "Susan planted the flowers in a circle that opens here." Two concrete tracks provide the only clue to the location of the garage which sits hidden behind large shrubs. At one end of the porch a hickory swing, handcrafted in Martinsville, Indiana, sits under a Shakti, a symbol of female power. The other end of the porch provides plenty of room for dining while watching the grass grow.

John said, "My swami declared this a sacred space." I had to ask him to repeat himself three times. Evidently when he was United States Consul in India he studied with Swami Suddahanand in Madras (now Chennai). The swami came to visit, found John away, spent the morning on the porch and enjoyed it so much that he proclaimed it was sacred. That barely ever happens in Kentucky.


431 Fayette Park


4200 Square Feet

5 Bedrooms; 2 and one half bath

Contact Jim McKeighen RealtorJim@qx.net, (859) 233-9995

If you have a unique or interesting house for sale contact Lissa Sims at lsims@aceweekly.com.