A combination of Korean and American with Delaware heritage has come together over the past five years at the so-called Willis House.
The owner of the the 4,500-square-foot historic house at 6509 Olentangy River Road will host an open house at 10 a.m. Aug. 13. House tours, Korean martial art demonstrations, music and farm market products will be included.
The event, which takes place two days before South Korea’s Independence Day, is organized to bring awareness to save the house.
Owner Hae Sook Lee Chung said she has two more years to raise $1.2 million to restore the building to its former glory.
Built in 1884, the house was owned by a relative to Frank B. Willis, a member of the Ohio House of Representatives, a governor of Ohio, a U.S. senator, and a presidential hopeful. His run for the presidency was cut short by a fatal heart attack on March 30, 1928. The house has been both a home and work space for reverends and politicians alike.
“It is quite an interesting place on the Olentangy,” said Brent Carson, a historian for the Delaware County Historical Society.
The house is in need of severe repairs. The house’s slate roof has outlived its lifespan of 100 years. Some of its dozen rooms have the walls and flooring stripped down. Time and water damage has taken its tolls on the house and vandalism has left its mark with eerie phrases such as “They left us” or “Worthless.” In the basement, a bucket is in place to maintain some water leakage, while the house still has a cistern, used to hold water.
The disrepair contrasts with intricate engravings that surround the doorways and a curving staircase that uses different maples.
“This woodwork can’t be duplicated,” said Jack Crawford, a friend of Hae Sook who spoke on her behalf. Crawford is helping her learn English.
While donations are accepted at the open event, Hae Sook’s current strategy is to develop 21 acres, adjacent to the home, into houses. The owner is now accepting developers from other areas to dispose their excessive dirt on that property because it’s in a flood zone. Hae Sook is charging developers $8 to $25 per truckload of dirt with the goal to make the land attractable to potential developers. Crawford said the acres could have 14 to 20 houses depending on their size and price.
Proposals brought forward so far do not consider the Willis House in its future.
“Most plans that come along involve tearing down the house,” Crawford said. “They will bulldoze it.”
If restored, Hae Sook and her family not only intend to live at the house, but open it to the public for cultural and historical events.
“The history here is going to be lost,” if nothing is accomplished, Crawford said.
Brandon Klein can be reached at 740-413-0904 or on Twitter at @brandoneklein.