Southern Indiana

From the densely-populated residential neighborhoods near New Albany’s core to the sprawling commercial complexes at its northern end, Charlestown Road is one of the city’s most heavily-developed corridors.

The most recent growth has centered around Interstate 265, where much of the roadside is lined with strip malls, restaurants and their parking lots. But the road didn’t always look like that.

Until recent decades, the area was largely occupied by farmland. Now, developers might tear down one of the last remnants of its agricultural past.

“It takes that special little flair out of that area and makes us look like every other city, where everybody’s being developed, everybody has the same strip mall, [and] everybody has the same movie theater,” said Amanda Frey, whose family once owned the nearly 200-year-old Smith Farmhouse. 

“And that house sitting up there, it’s just beautiful to look at, and it makes us different.”

The Smith Farmhouse, also known as the Zetta May Ranch, is a two-story brick home surrounded by several developments. Its original structure was built in the 1830s, with an addition tacked on in the 1850s.

Frey’s grandparents purchased the property in the 1970s and lived there until about 20 years ago, when they sold it to Northside Christian Church. The megachurch, which sits behind the farmhouse, has used it for office space. Now, it’s in talks to sell the land.

Hogan Real Estate is eyeing the property for the Northside Crossing development. The project includes a coffee shop and a bank where the farmhouse sits, a plan Frey said her grandparents would not have approved of when selling it. An additional three acres of vacant land north of the farmhouse would also be developed.

On Tuesday, the New Albany Plan Commission voted against the proposal for the farmhouse site. The commission’s unfavorable recommendation will now go to the New Albany City Council for a final vote, which could happen early next month.

In August, Frey started a petition to oppose demolishing the farmhouse that’s since garnered nearly 2,000 signatures.

“I’ve been contacted by many members of the community about how important this house is to them personally, even though they have no true connection to it or family members living there,” she said. “They remember driving past it as young children. Some lady had posted on the petition that she had her wedding reception there in the ‘50s.” 

Greg Sekula, the Southern Regional Director for Indiana Landmarks, has helped Frey through the process. He said the significance of the Smith Farmhouse goes beyond its history.

Sekula says it provides much-needed greenspace that breaks up a large chain of strip malls and parking lots, which can raise temperatures and worsen air quality in urban settings. Sekula said adding more impermeable surface to the area could also lead to drainage issues.

“As we try to address the effects and impacts of climate change, increasingly, I think we need to rethink how we develop,” he said. “This continued sprawl out and gobbling up of land is not a sustainable pattern.”

Sekula said it’s unlikely that any effort to give the house historical designation would succeed, since development plans are already in the works. If the project moves forward, he’d like to see developers incorporate the farmhouse instead of tearing it down. The only other alternative to prevent demolition would be relocating it.

Hogan Real Estate’s project leader for Northside Crossing could not be reached for comment.

John is the Health/Southern Indiana Reporter for WFPL. He is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.