A New Era for the Fowler House
by Matt Jonkman
Since it's construction in 1852 the Fowler House has been through many changes. It's been a private home to several generations of the Fowler family, office space and artifact storage, a museum, and an occasional events venue among other things. Through all that time the house has been a large part of Lafayette, a bit of our identity. One of the many wonderful things that make Lafayette home to us all.
My wife and I, and the entire staff are excited and honored to be a part of the next big thing for the Fowler. As you probably know, we purchased the Fowler House a couple years ago in order to keep it alive. The TCHA (Tippecanoe County Historical Association) had done a very good job of keeping the house in order and a part of the community since the 1940's, but it had become too far out of their real mission, and a significant financial burden. We're all indebted to that great organization for stepping in when they did to purchase and maintain the house for so many years.
I would like to explain what we're hoping to do with the house, and why we're doing so. First the Why: We love the place. My wife and I got married at the Fowler when the TCHA owned it and was trying to keep some life in the house and generate revenue after the museum had closed. I believe we were one of the last few weddings held there under the TCHA, and we couldn't have dreamed up a better place to have been. Right downtown in a majestic and beautiful setting on a perfect late summer day. I even pulled off a horse-drawn carriage, I'm still reaping husband points for that 6 years later.
Needless to say, we have a sentimental attachment that had surely clouded our senses when the TCHA had to put the house up for sale. The initially interested parties weren't able to provide needed repairs or agree to what the house needed for the long term, and it was starting to look like the Fowler's future might be in jeopardy. My wife and I had just had a financial windfall and decided it was our turn to do something good for Lafayette.
So there's the Why. Here's the What. We created a non-profit entity called the 1852 Foundation. We donated a load of cash to the foundation, and the foundation purchased the Fowler House. We've since put more cash in (more than I care to tally up), and the community has stepped forward with over a quarter million dollars more to help in the renovations and preservation. The point of these renovations has been to create a place that can survive on it's own long after we're gone while maintaining it's historical look and significance. The best way we saw for that to happen was to give the house it's own source of revenue.
We believe one of the best things this house does is host a great event. So we have done the things needed to make it a safe and effective facility with the modern updates required to make it even better (and legal!). We've changed the first floor kitchen which was not able to be updated to modern commercial standards into two modern restrooms. We've added a full commercial kitchen in the basement and in a small addition to the rear of the house. We've repainted inside and out, reglazed and painted windows, replaced glass and doors, re-stained hundreds of square feet of worn and nicked trim and floors. The list is endless, and the maintenance and fixes will go on forever.
So here we are, nearly three years in. The major construction is done. The pressing maintenance and upgrades are done. We are ready to go! We are excited the Sovereign Catering has joined the Fowler house as the Fowler House Kitchen. That is a for-profit company owned by the 1852 Foundation. All profit from our catering and events goes right to the Foundation to keep it alive. In fact, all revenue from everything that happens here goes to maintain the house.
That is the crux of the big plan here. We've given the house a new mission. If it keeps being such a beautiful place that draws all of us in to host our weddings, parties, dinners, wine tastings, and the like then the foundation will be able to keep the house alive. For the long term. We hope for the very long term. And most importantly, it's not under any one person's control. The Foundation owns the place, and it has a legal requirement to only fulfill it's mission, which is to maintain the Fowler House for Lafayette. Should something happen to us, the Fowler will continue.
The Fowler needs life in it. That's been a major driver here for us as well. I can't really describe the difference between walking through the house when it's empty versus when there is a wedding, baby shower, birthday, or dinner going on. It sounds cliche, but I can't describe it any better than the house is alive, it's happy. It needs us to be there. I think it makes the place young again. (We're hoping it also makes the boiler feel young as well, so far no luck.)
So here's how we hope you'll help us out. Consider holding your event here. The house needs to be busy, and it needs a source of revenue. Every dollar over the cost of your event goes right into painting, repairs, the landscaping, and fixing windows. We've found an incredible group of people to take care of the house who love it as much as my wife and I do. What we hope you'll do is consider the Fowler House the next time you have an event. Weddings, dinners, showers, reunions, business meetings, you name it, the Fowler can handle it. I promise you'll feel the happiness coming from the house the entire time you're there!