To walk through the home is to see the results of the never-ending piddling — his term — of both Stephens and his wife, Kim Laramore-Stephens. Antique touches abound. There is a parlor, complete with matching 19th-century sitting chairs; a couch from 1790; an antique bureau left by a lodger; paintings of long-deceased relatives, including Eliza Hikes, Chas’ great-great-aunt; a collection of old stoneware jugs. In general, everything in the house looks from a period not our own, except for the modern stainless-steel refrigerator. A statue of an American eagle, a wooden carving created during the time between the American Revolution and the creation of the Constitution in 1787, has been in the house since it was constructed. The dining-room table would not be out of place on Masterpiece Theater, and the 77-key Boardman & Gray piano dates from at least 1860.
The day I arrived Stephens had just finished working in the garden, chopping wood and polishing the wide-beamed original floors. It struck me that these are basically the same chores he would have done 100 years ago. “It’s a great house if you’re ADD,” he says, “because there’s always something that needs to be done.”
“She’s friendly and comfortable, but also tough,” says Claude. “It’s a structure, and structures crumble. When it needs your attention, it demands your attention. A leaking roof is (like) an ongoing argument with the spouse. You have to fix it.”
The most recent major renovations happened in the 1980s, when a heating and air-conditioning system was installed. The roof is on its third generation — from a traditional “shake” roof to a tin roof to a modern shingle roof. A coal fireplace was added in the 1880s.
The historic house includes some 4,500 square feet — 10 rooms, with a cellar and an attic in addition to the two floors. Despite all that, and its impressive resume, the Hikes-Hunsinger House assessed for only $233,100 in 2007. (It’s up for review next year.) Stephens estimates that the average annual maintenance cost, including insurance, heating and air, runs between $15,000 and $20,000.
The home’s generous size has allowed the entire clan to gather for special meals, like Thanksgiving, when upwards of 50 people might adjourn, with multiple fireplaces roaring. Looking back, Claude says he was so cozy with the home that he didn’t realize how special it was as a child. “I thought every child had some big old house; I just hadn’t seen theirs,” he says. The family’s deep roots in the Louisville area, he says, provide a unique sense of his personal history. “I know where a good number of people in my family were born and died,” Claude says. “I don’t mean in Louisville — I mean within a few square feet.”
The brothers estimate that since the home was built, perhaps 20 people have perished in the house — including their father and grandfather — but just as many were born there, too, including their mother, born in 1932. She remembers that, as a child, she would walk a mile to get the school bus and not see a car pass. Hikes Lane, so busy now, was once a dirt road that doubled as a driveway for the house. Growing up in the house, Barbara Hunsinger Stephens says, has made her feel extra connected to Louisville’s history. During the Civil War, Union soldiers camped alongside nearby Beargrass Creek, and her great-grandfather gave them potatoes and hams out of the smokehouse. “And in return,” she says, “he asked them not to bother the people in the house, or the people on the farm, who were slaves.” The soldiers did as asked, even as they kept an armed guard around the home to protect it from guerilla action from Southern sympathizers. They stayed for two to three days and then marched on to the Battle of Perryville.
Laramore-Stephens, a recent addition to the house’s long history, says there’s another element that makes the house special: being welcomed by some of the home’s non-corporal inhabitants. “I don’t say it’s haunted,” she says. “I say they have family spirits, and they played a few tricks on me at first.” Not long after she first moved in, she says, she was in the shower when she heard loud footsteps at the door. She yelled but there was no answer. Her husband assured her it hadn’t been him. “I said I had company, apparently,” Laramore-Stephens says. But the spirits have remained benign as they’ve gotten to know her. “The spirits are quiet, because they feel the love in the house,” she says.
Photo: Louisville Magazine/John Nation