Cafe 223 exterior

This 19th century home on Pearl Street is now Café 223, where visitors can grab a quick lunch to-go or dine in. 

JEFFERSONVILLE — After years of vacancy and disrepair, the gray, two-story brick house standing guard over Big Four Station Park in Jeffersonville has found a new purpose.

Its rebirth is signaled by two bright orange umbrellas shielding patio seating, a neon "OPEN" sign in the window and a striped black and white awning over the front door that reads, "Café 223."

The café at 223 Pearl St., owned by Carol and Steve Stenbro of the Market Street Inn, opened the week of Abbey Road on the River. But it wasn't until the past couple of weeks the signs were hung, announcing to downtown Jeffersonville that a new lunch spot had arrived.

"We want to be ... a place where people can just drop in and get to-go items — grab-and-go, that kind of thing," Carol Stenbro said sitting at the counter of her newest business venture. "Or they can sit down and be comfortable and have a nice dining experience."

The menu includes lunch staples like paninis, chicken salad sandwiches (Steve says it's the "best chicken salad in the world") and BLTs. Sandwiches start at $4 and go up to $7.50. There are also light sides, plenty of desserts (Carol is a pie baker) and waffles with sweet toppings. Carol said they want to start slow, test the waters and figure out what customers want.

"We definitely want to be serving the food that people love so that they'll have a memorable experience eating here," she said.

While the café is open for business, only the first floor is complete. Customers walk through the building's original door and step onto 19th-century hardwood flooring. Surrounding them are exposed brick walls that Steve says are composed of bricks made right on the property nearly two centuries ago.

The front room, complete with a fireplace and mantle for cozy winters, has table seating for small groups. Counter-style window seating lines one wall in the back, with bright yellow metal stools adding a modern, industrial look to the space.

More is yet to come: a spiral staircase leads to a second floor with more original hardwood flooring and a second fireplace. A sliding barn door reveals an event space with a custom-made, 15-foot table. From there, a door leads to what will be a deck overlooking the backyard and patio. The Stenbros hope to be finished with the upstairs and outdoor spaces sometime this summer.

A PIECE OF HISTORY

223 Pearl Street is believed to have been built in the 1830s, possibly by David C. Wallace, according to Clark County Historian Jeanne Burke. One of the first families to live there was the Cunningham clan, followed by Rev. John Sullivan, pastor of Wall Street Methodist Church and "beloved chaplain" at the former Indiana State Prison in Clarksville. According to library records, the Sullivan family moved into the home during the Civil War and lived there for 60 years.

Though much of the original woodwork was at some point gutted from the inside, Burke said the home retains its Federal and Greek Revival styles, including a "beautiful spiral staircase."

"It's a great example of the intelligence of adaptive reuse of a building," Burke said. "They don't have to be homes, they can be something else and this is a good example of that. It preserves history."

That preservation was years in the making. The Stenbros first started eyeing the property in 2014 when the walking bridge opened.

"We were very interested in what they were doing with the area," Carol said.

They made their first offer on the property in the summer of 2016, when the price fell more within their budget. Around that same time, the City of Jeffersonville was making moves to buy the property and turn it into a police substation. The previous owner ultimately sold to the Stenbros.

When they took over ownership, the historic home was in "pretty bad" shape, Carol said.

"It was basically a shell."

When all is said and done, the Stenbros will have spent $175,000 to $200,000 renovating the building. That's more than Carol and Steve expected, but giving the historic building new life and serving the community are their worthy causes. Besides, they're no strangers to the rough and tumble world of historic renovation. Before they opened the Market Street Inn in 2005, others had tried to restore the home before getting discouraged and ultimately selling.

The Stenbros "just didn't give up."

"We just kept going even though we felt like at times it was overwhelming and a lot of work," Carol said. "But we're just glad that we did it and that people feel like it's an asset, so we're hoping that they'll feel the same about this one too."

Elizabeth DePompei is the digital editor for The News and Tribune. She has degrees in journalism and film from the University of Cincinnati and CUNY's Hunter College and was previously the paper's criminal justice reporter.