A Different Treasure on Millionaire's Row
“When you gut an old house you always hope you’re going to find diamonds and gold,” said Bobbi Miles, director of economic development in Smith Center Kansas. Yet, although they have never found such gemstones or precious metals while renovating their old Victorian style home in Smith Center, Bobbi and her husband Bruce have arguably found value of another kind.
Bobbi Miles is originally from Springfield, Ohio, and met her now husband Bruce, from Illinois, while they both pursued advanced degrees at the University of Colorado. Interestingly, the couple came to reside in North Central Kansas through their love for flying and a good old fashioned Kansas thunderstorm. Bruce and Bobbi were flying back to Colorado from St. Louis during the summer of 1999, when they encountered a storm front over northwest Kansas and were forced to find a place to land and wait out the storm. That place was Smith Center, Kansas. The couple spent the night in a local bed and breakfast, but soon found themselves taken by the community in which they had found temporary shelter from the storm and decided to purchase a home there for their retirement.
That home sits directly north of the newly renovated Wagner Park and the Old Dutch Mill. In fact, the park can be seen from the master bedroom porch on the second floor. Bobbi and Bruce’s home is one of several homes on a street in Smith Center that is known locally as “Relihan Row” or “Millionaire’s Row” because of the history of the original builders.
At about the turn of the century, brothers Dan and Dave Relihan moved to Smith Center and each built large and often two storied homes on the same street. Dan Relihan was a doctor and his brother Dave was a lawyer, career traditions that extended into successive generation of Relihans who became doctors or lawyers according to their father’s occupation. This second generation in turn built new houses on the same street, as did one member of a third generation of Relihans.
“There’s a lot of history there,” Bobbi says. “And as you know with any family there are skeletons in the closet and all kinds of neat stories that go along with it.”
Dave Relihan, lawyer and original builder of Bruce and Bobbi’s home, died before he was able to move into the house, however not before leaving a mystery behind. On the third floor of the house built into a large finished closet there was a big tub that you’d more likely expect to find in a field holding water for thirsty stock. There were discrepancies as to what purpose such an unusual amenity would serve in such a home, and theories circulated about the tub’s use for the collection of rain water for the home as well as for Mr. Relihan to soak in. One day in the fall of 2005 the mystery was solved. As Bobbi tells it: “We were working putting up some plumbing and a letter fell out from below the third floor flooring onto the second floor and as I picked it up I realized it was a letter to Dave Relihan dated 1904 from a man who sold mineral water.” The letter detailed the transactions and delivery of the water suggesting that the tub itself was indeed installed for the wealthy gentleman to soak in on the third floor.
Along with the unusual bathing facilities, another oddity Bruce and Bobbi found within the structure itself was that all the lights and all the electric power in the house had parallel gas lines as a back-up. “Apparently back then they didn’t trust electricity yet,” Bobbi said. “They thought that it might have been just a fad and that it might not work in the long run so they went ahead and plumbed it all for gas in case the electric ever failed.” Some of the duplicated pipes and wires remain in the house, for nostalgia’s sake.
Aside from these various builder eccentricities, the Miles’s also found an inch of dust in the rafters and on the third floor which had been deposited during the “dirty thirties” dust bowl era, a sampling of which they have kept in a jar.
Renovating a turn of the century home is neither easy nor cheap, as the Miles’s know first hand. They are not only in the process of updating the Relihan house, they have already remodeled the bed and breakfast, where they had sought shelter seven years earlier, called Ingleboro Mansion which was constructed in 1899 by a local banker. (More information about the Ingleboro Mansion can be found at their website.)
Fortunately, many areas have incentives in place that can provide assistance for property improvement. For example, what made some of the work possible for Bruce and Bobbi was a county wide tax break in which essentially anyone who can show improvement of more than $5,000 towards their property’s value is then eligible for a first year exemption and gradual increase of taxation 10% per year on the improvement for each successive year. The improvement can include work done on existing structures or the construction of new structures on property whether it be a farm, home, or business. “That’s what’s so wonderful about this program,” Bobbi stated, “it’s open to anybody who
wants to improve the value of their property.” Such neighborhood revitalization programs are not limited to Smith County, but are also available in other Kansas counties to varying degrees.
As for tangible treasure, although some people might say Bobbi and Bruce have only found an old letter and a lot of dust, they might argue they have found diamonds and gold of a different sort in Smith Center, Kansas, making them a new kind of millionaire on Relihan Row.
For more information on rehabilitation tax incentitives, visit the State of Kansas Web Site.