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January 28, 2010

OLD & NEW: New Albany Mayor Englands’ historic Rabbit Ridge home an eclectic mix of history and modern day

“Make new friends, but keep the old — one is silver and the other gold,” goes the song. Shelle England and her husband Doug (also known as

Mayor of New Albany) seem to embody this sentiment in their homemaking at historic Rabbit Ridge, on Ind. 111 in New Albany.

Rabbit Ridge is a historic estate, built by riverboat entrepreneurs and embodying the independent spirit of a burgeoning community on the mighty Ohio

in 1840. The Englands have filled the home with finds from New Albany as well as from across the river, and further afield. From other homes, storefronts, barns, and churches — as long as it fits their style, the Englands have appropriated it. Not unlike New Albany, itself, with its downtown mix of historic shop fronts, modern community centers, and timeless vintage homes, the Englands’ Rabbit Ridge has seen different purposes, looks, and inhabitants in its 170-year history. “We’ve had the place for 42 years,” explains Shelle, from a seat in her welcoming TV room. “It had no electricity or heat when we bought it, and it had been squatted in. Every coal-burning fireplace had been used to burn wood, and there were holes in the floor.”

The 1840s Country Home, originally built by Charles Dowerman during the steamboat-building boom, had been neglected for years, but the Englands saw its potential. From an old summer dining room, a modern TV room was reborn. Enormous antique multi-paned windows salvaged from an old shop front in the West End of Louisville let light into the downstairs TV room, as well as the upstairs sitting room. Stained glass and vibrant paintings pop in contrast to the neutral color scheme, beneath an exotically styled ceiling fan.

While the windows offer an irresistible view of nature and the opportunity for backyard bird-watching, the Englands did not stop there in their quest to remodel the house with classic touches from other buildings. One of the bedrooms features ornate wood paneling recycled from an old church confessional. Above the gorgeously appointed wall, stained glass windows from St. Mark’s church in New Albany and the Dane house in Louisville co-exist as if they were designed to be installed side-by-side, instead of coming from two different structures, originally. Across the room, an attic was converted into a balcony area, adding square footage to the room and giving it a sort of clubhouse feeling.

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