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June 2012
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Smedley Yeiser! Something old, something newâ ¦

Story by Jamie Sears Rawlings Photography by Amanda Cross

When Nancy Draffen was faced with sending her son, Corrie, into his new life as a newlywed with bride Allison Stricklin, she wanted to host the family's wedding rehearsal dinner at a place that blended a bit of the history that her son loves so much with the brightness of his future.

Fortunately for her, Paducah's newest event venue, the Smedley Yeiser, was fresh on the heels of a major renovation by owners Levi Kepsel and his wife Lauren Jackson. For Nancy, the combination of the home's rich history with the architectural renovations were the selling point for the late October event.

"I wanted something very special where both families would be comfortable, able to relax, and extended family members could mix and mingle while getting to know each other better," said Nancy, who was introduced to the home by Allison's mother, Toni Stricklin.

"It was very quaint and just perfect for us with the architectural features that Levi and Lauren had worked to bring back to its original glory."

"Even the Antebellum architecture of the outside of the home truly gave the feeling of blending something old with something new," said Nancy.

Located on Madison Street in Paducah's historic Lowertown, both the venue and the neighborhood were quite a shock to the event's out of town guests, who were treated to horse-drawn carriage rides.

"Our guests truly were surprised by the home. They couldn't believe, for one, that it could have been restored so perfectly and that it had survived both the Civil War and the Great Flood," said Nancy, noting that she believes the high water mark that was salvaged and highlighted in the venue's bar was "just wonderful."

"The guests were amazed at the authenticity of the woodwork and plaster walls," Nancy said. "Everybody was really astounded at the magnitude of the work that had been done and the beauty that the Kepsels had brought forth."

The Old

When Nancy was seeking a truly historic venue for her event, perhaps no place in Paducah could have fit the bill quite as authentically as the Smedley Yeiser, which was dubbed as such by Levi and Lauren as a way to honor the first two property owners.

Built in 1852 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it is one of the few homes in Paducah that survived the Civil War, owing in part, Levi believes, to the fact that it is constructed of mostly masonry instead of wood.

"They probably couldn't burn it because it was stone," Levi presumed.

Constructed by William Smedley, a wharf boat captain and commission merchant in the then bustling river town of Paducah, it is believed that his eldest daughter Missouri Smedley Byrd and her family likely lived in the home in the 1860s.

Following the Smedley family's occupancy, the home was purchased by Paducah Mayor David Yeiser in 1892, who raised the profile of his town through construction of its first sewer system, installation of arc lights to replace the gas streetlights, and construction of new fire stations and a school. His renovations paid off. During his later terms, Paducah was classified as a "second class city" and Mayor Yeiser continued his work through the paving of many city streets.

Since Mayor Yeiser was such a prominent figure for the town, Levi and Lauren saw fit to add his moniker to the home's name and call it the Smedley Yeiser.

Doubling down on the history of the home, it also housed the Alben Barkley Museum until 2008, when it was shuttered and the collection was sold.

The Newâ ¦

No strangers to historic properties Levi and Lauren have renovated two homes on Jefferson Street. The couple knew that what they had their hands on when the city approved their proposal to buy the Smedley Yeiser in 2015.

"Lauren grew up in Paducah and she loved that house as a kid," said Levi.

What followed was a painstaking process by both Lauren and Levi to restore the home to its original glory using any means necessary.

Original flooring was present in the home, but where it ran out, the couple sourced locally harvested and milled ash flooring from Tennessee to fill in the gaps. Likewise, where the exterior brick mortar needed repointing, they hired a professional to analyze the original and replicate the correct ratio of lime, sand and water for the replacement material.

Lauren and Levi envisioned that the renovated home would serve as an eventual home to a restaurant, something "nice and local," according to Levi, but they were soon up to their necks in renovation details and ended up at the end with no lessor arranged. The result was a bit of serendipity.

"We'd just had a lot of interest in people doing events, we'd had a number of requests, so we decided to run with it as an event venue," said Levi.

Ever a responsible curator of history, Levi believes the home's purpose, however unsought it was, will actually be of great benefit to the owners.

"Having it as an event center is really nice for us because it allows us to stay on top of the maintenance of it as far as the historic building goes. We can take those days where there are not events and go in and make sure that everything is good and up to speed and it stays well maintained. It gives us more access to the building. It's an old building; you have to stay on top of those things," Levi said.

The Smedley Yeiser is among the latest in a Paducah trend that has lasted for the past two decades of renovating the city back to its original likeness, with Levi and Lauren as two of many architects of that vision. For Levi, the couple's decision to renovate the Smedley Yeiser and other historic properties is multi-faceted.

"There are obvious historical reasons, just the historical context of the building and what kind of history that brings to a community. In the case of the Smedley Yeiser," says Levi, "here we've got a house that's pre-Civil War and it has housed a lot of prominent figures in the neighborhood, and so that's neat from a historical standpoint."

"From an environmental standpoint, the energy costs to build that house were invested 160 years ago. The greenest house is one that's already built. To keep that house going requires so much less energy and carbon than building a new house, which is really nice."

"From a materials standpoint, the old growth lumber that's in there, there's nowhere to source that anymore, at least not without great cost. The materials are the highest quality. The bricks were hand-fired, probably on site. The lime mortar is made from sand from the river mixed with lime burned at a kiln in Wickliffe. Everything's very local. It's very cool for that reason, specifically for me as someone who works with houses. That's really neat to see."

"Then, there's just a richness and a patina of having older homes in a town. Lowertown has a vibe that you can't replicate in a new neighborhood," says Levi.

According to Levi, the couple isn't finished with providing a facelift for Paducah's historic properties either, though they plan to take a short breather after the Smedley Yeiser. They are setting their sights on another Jefferson Street property as their next overhaul with no end in sight after that.

"There are plenty of old houses in Paducah," he said.

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