Barlow home celebrate 100 years; gets new name
With 10 years of renovations that still involve more changes ahead, the home of Joanna and James Wildharber of Barlow just celebrated turning 100 years old. In an effort to pay homage to the original owners of the home, Wildharber's have named the home “The Laura Jean” and have erected a sign out front to honor the home.
Anyone who has travelled on US HSY 60 just outside of Barlow heading toward Wickliffe is sure to know the house just by sight. It is really hard to miss as it stands tall with its green exterior and a tree out in front that has been named “The Blue Tree” because of all the blue bottles that adorn it.
What most people do not know is the history of the home and the amount of effort the Wildharbers have put into its renovation. It has been a long, arduous journey for the Wildharbers, but to them, it has been a dream-come-true.
Both Joanna and James have ties to the area. James’ parents are from the Oscar area, who moved to Chicago in 1957 for work. After retiring, they made their way back to Oscar. James spent time in different places including California and Oregon, but he came to Ballard County to be near his family in 1990.
Joanna’s parents hailed from Mayfield but made their way to Michigan in 1957. They returned to Mayfield with daughter Joanna in 1970.
Joanna and James met and were married in the late 1990s, and they wanted to buy a home. They didn’t just want any house; they wanted a big, special home where they could spend the rest of their lives.
In 2002, the Wildharber’s dream came true when they bought the house from Laura Jean (Williamson) and her husband. Laura Jean was the granddaughter of the builder of the home, John Bryan Williamson.
Williamson built the farmhouse, which James says many people confuse with a Victorian, in 1813. According to Wildharber, John Bryan owned a large farm in Wickliffe and bought the Barlow home to be closer to Barlow where his children attended school.
Wildharber said the timber from the Wickliffe farm was used to build the Barlow farm. In fact, the two-man cross cut saws used to cut the timber were in the garage when the Wildharbers bought the house.
John Bryan’s son, also named John Bryan, and his wife Millie inherited the home from John Bryan senior and lived in the home with their children, one of them being Laura Jean.
Laura Jean and her husband, Bill Wilson did not stay in Barlow. They did, however, maintain the home, which sat empty for 25 years. They decided to the sell the home, and that is where the Wildharbers came in to the picture. At a ridiculously low price, the Wildharbers put all their money into buying the home, which came completely furnished.
The next eleven years of the Wildharber’s lives is enough to fill the pages of a book about the adventures of renovating a very old home. “The remodel process could have been a reality show with challenges as our first year to live in the house was without running water or a working bathroom,” said James. The couple actually slept on the living room floor with no heat.
The Wildharbers began the remodel/restoration process by gutting the house down to the basic structure. The goal was to retain the original look of the home and add the best of updates they could. Joanna and James did most of the work; except the roof, siding, and sheet rock.
“We couldn’t believe we owned something like this,” James said as he explained that there was no possible way they could ever afford a house like this one. “We wanted to make our own little world here,” said Joanna.
Their renovation story is with replete with intriguing little vignettes including Joanna riding on the floor stripper because she couldn’t control it, and the vast amount of family memorabilia the Wildharbers found along the way. The mystery of a rather large amount of Sinclair items (including a blow up dinosaur on one of the beds) came to light as the Wildharbers found out the Williamson’s owned the Sinclair Station in Barlow.
Joanna has incorporated most of the Williamson’s family memories throughout the house. Of particular interest is an original column that had stood on the front porch but now welcomes visitors as they pass from the foyer into the dining room. The column has been left unfinished and now prominently displays several framed portraits of family members who have lived in the home.
The Wildharbers feel honored to be the first people living in the house, who were not part of the family who built it. Joanna said it was only at the end of Laura Jean’s life that she was willing to part with the house. “We felt from the beginning we were meant to be here. We always felt the house should have a name, and what better to be named after a lady who was born in the house and always loved it?” said Joanna.
Several changes have been made to the house including, but not limited to, the elimination of eleven windows and the conversion of the back porch, used by the Williamsons as a kitchen, into a laundry room. Additional bathrooms and closet space has also been added.
The house is not complete; when finished, it will have four bedrooms, three bathrooms, one of which is the restored original bathroom with all the original fixtures including the large claw foot tub. It has certainly been a labor of love for the Wildharbers, and although they have had their ups and downs along the way, the Wildharbers are proud of their work and are pleased to say Happy 100th Birthday to the Laura Jean.