When Mary Elizabeth Stivers began her search for a house in central Kentucky, she knew she wanted an “old” house.

“I was looking for an older home with character in Georgetown, Versailles, the northern part of Lexington or Frankfort,” she explained.

When she first saw the house on the corner of Shelby and Third streets in Frankfort she immediately knew it had the “wow” factor she was looking for. “I walked in and saw the high ceilings and chandeliers and I just fell in love!”

Return to Kentucky

Mary Elizabeth, who started as vice president of Administrative Affairs at Midway University in February 2016, says she is happy to have settled in Frankfort. She and her black lab, Gottlieb, take walks in the shadow of the Capitol and her church, South Frankfort Presbyterian, is just down the street from her home.

Born and raised in the small town of London, Kentucky, she says that she left Kentucky 40 years ago to pursue her career in education. “I’ve made a big circle and now I’m glad to be back in Kentucky near family,” she remarked. Mary Elizabeth has worked and lived in larger cities in Georgia, Tennessee, California and Iowa. “It’s nice to live in a small city like Frankfort that has the benefit of being near bigger cities like Lexington, Louisville and Cincinnati,” she said.

Documenting history

Mary Elizabeth is working diligently to document the history of her home. “I believe the style of this house is folk Victorian and was most likely built between 1860 and 1865, or right before the Civil War,” she explained.

In a corner of the dining room, an 1871 map of Frankfort hangs above a table with a photo album detailing the restoration of her home. Mary Elizabeth can pinpoint her home on that map. “So I know for sure it was built by 1871,” she said.

“Tom Richardson, who did a lot of work helping to restore the house, gave me this map. I call this corner of the dining room the Jim, Judith and Tom corner because I keep all of the things they gave me from the house right here,” she said. “At the closing, Judith handed me all of these pictures of the house restoration and I knew I had to put these pictures and stories together to show a history of the house. The longer I lived in the house, the more I have appreciated the thought, attention to detail, precision and time that went into restoring the house. Everything they did to the house was meticulous.”

“When the Thorntons (Jim and Judith) purchased the property in 1999, the house was dilapidated to the point that the city wanted to demolish the house. They purchased the property to restore much of the original architecture…,” Mary Elizabeth remarked. 

While the Thorntons hired contractors to complete electrical, plumbing and other updates and projects, they did much of the work themselves, along with their friend Tom Richardson according to Mary Elizabeth. “Jim will tell you,” Mary Elizabeth said, “that Judith and Tom were the creative brains behind the renovations inside and outside the home and that he was just manual labor.”

Jim and Judith didn’t live in the house for four years because it was in such poor condition. “They researched the details of the house and restored it so beautifully,” Mary Elizabeth said. 

Mary Elizabeth has spent time in the deed room determining the owners of the residence throughout its life. “The Mason family of Mason Headley owned the house for a long time as their summer house. Judith actually met with Mrs. Mason, who was, at the time, in her 90s. She was able to tell her some history of the house — what was original and what additions and changes they made while they owned it,” she said. A small cabinet that hangs in a bathroom and a storage piece in the kitchen are original to the house according to Mary Elizabeth. 

Charm and elegance

The home on the corner of Shelby and Third streets has a special Old World charm about it. Fireplaces that used to be the only source of heat in the home, now give a warmth to the rooms with gas heat. Upon entering the wide front foyer, there is an incredible arched entry that used to have French doors attached. Those have since been removed.

From above, a chandelier purchased in New Orleans is made of ormolu, a decorative gilded bronze, and it used to hang in a French manor house. 

To the left of the entry is a quaint library outfitted with bookcases on every wall, soft-cushioned furnishings and a ladder for hard to reach selections. “Jim and Judith added the built in bookcases and the window seat,” Mary Elizabeth said. “And they replaced some small windows with these large windows. It’s really amazing. They are from the Shackelford house that Ted Moore owned across the street. It was torn down in 2006. The Thorntons were able to incorporate several large windows into this house. They also moved the Shackelford carriage house from across the street and it is the garage for this house! Ted told them that they could have it if they moved it. It was quite a production to get it in place — my understanding is that it even got stuck for a couple of days under a tree.”

One of the focal points in the living room is a fabulous crystal chandelier. Several antique pieces from Mary Elizabeth’s grandmother and interesting art grace the room. Floor to ceiling windows run along the front wall of the room. “These are called coffin windows,” Mary Elizabeth commented. “Houses used to be taxed by the number of doors. People didn’t want to be taxed, of course, so they created floor to ceiling windows that you could easily walk through. Also, they made them wide enough so that a coffin could go through because the custom was for families to display and mourn their deceased loved ones in the living room of their houses.”

Modern conveniences

In the back of the house, a modern kitchen makes it a comfortable and inviting place to entertain family and friends. Photos of Mary Elizabeth’s family dot the walls of the sitting area in the kitchen. “This used to be a screened-in porch, but when Jim and Judith redid the kitchen, they enclosed it,” she said. “I love to cook and I love this kitchen. When my family comes over, there’s room for everyone.”

The house is a perfect mix of period charm and modern conveniences. The Thorntons paid attention to appropriate architectural appointments that fit with the era of the home while making the home comfortable with updated electric, plumbing, kitchen and baths.

“It’s the first time I’ve bought a house and really didn’t have to do anything to it,” Mary Elizabeth remarked. “I finally get to live in my dream home thanks to Jim and Judith!”