May 24, 2013

Delphi’s Bowen House added to list of endangered properties

by Mitchell Kirk

DELPHI — A historic Victorian mansion in Delphi, once the home of a successful merchant and a professional wrestler, has been added to an Indiana preservation organization’s list of endangered landmarks.

The Bowen House, 404 E. Main St. in Delphi, was included in a list of 10 Most Endangered sites by Indiana Landmarks, a nonprofit preservation organization.

“The sites that achieve 10 Most Endangered status are significant and irreplaceable and often challenging to save,” Indiana Landmarks stated in a press release. “Indiana Landmarks uses the Most Endangered list to bring attention to the imperiled sites and find solutions that will ensure their preservation.”

Anita Werling, member of the Delphi Preservation Society, said the house was built in 1896 by Nathaniel Bowen, a prominent Delphi merchant. The three-floor Victorian home also comes with a carriage house on the property.

“It’s certainly a significant property both architecturally and historically,” Werling said. “One we just do not want to see go away.”

Werling went on to describe the house’s banisters and railings hand-carved from different types of wood, the ballroom that used to be on the third floor, the leather wall coverings throughout the rooms and its red tile roof.

“It’s pretty spectacular inside as well as out,” Werling said. “There are a lot of unique features that speak to the grandeur of another era.”

William Afflis, a former National Football League player who became a wrestler going by the ring name Dick the Bruiser in the 1950s and 60s, spent part of his childhood in the house as well, Werling said.

It would appear the days of the Bowen House’s splendor have passed, at least for now, as Werling describes a structure with visible holes in its roof causing leaks throughout the interior. It also has trim and fascia boards that need replaced, peeling paint, holey bricks and a carriage house — which once housed horses that ran at the former Delphi fairgrounds — now in “rough shape.”

For Donald Hickman Jr., the house’s most recent owner, his experience with the home started out as bright as its rich history. He recalled he and his wife, Marsha, driving down Main Street in Delphi as a young couple and watching the mansions as they passed by.

“Being young and having nothing, I would always tell her, ‘One of these days I’m going to get you one of those houses,’” he said. “The day came when the Bowen House was for sale and I was able to buy it and so it was kind of a dream home-type thing.”

Then in November 2007, the Hickmans fell on hard financial times after Marsha, a former U.S. Postal Service mail carrier, was badly injured in a car crash in her mail truck.

After what Hickman describes as a hard-fought, drawn-out battle with insurance companies, he and his wife were left with the brunt of the medical costs and eventually found themselves falling behind on the Bowen House’s mortgage payments and taxes.

In a foreclosure process he calls “a nightmare,” Hickman said he and his wife vacated the property shortly before a Carroll County sheriff’s sale last fall that the property was ultimately never included in.

The house is currently on the list for another Carroll County foreclosure sale scheduled for July 26, where SRI Inc., a company that assists with foreclosure sales, states the property has a judgment amount of $240,478.66. A minimum bid has yet to be specified.

SRI also states GMAC Mortgage LLC is the plaintiff for the property. As of Feb. 1, Green Tree Servicing LLC acquired the originations assets of GMAC Mortgage, according to Green Tree’s website.

The fate of the Bowen House remains to be seen. If Indiana Landmarks’ track record of only 12 losses among 92 historic places in “severe jeopardy” on the 10 Most Endangered list since its beginning in 1991 is any indicator, perhaps a future can be restored for the old home.

Werling seems to have faith that it will.

“We have gotten lots of inquiries from people interested in knowing more about the house,” Werling said. “Some of these people are interested in potentially investing and purchasing it.”

Mitchell Kirk is a staff reporter at the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at 574-732-5130 or

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