One Barn’s Journey from History to Home

By+Carly Squadroni

Photography by David Hubler

If you didn’t know it was there, you could drive past the house on Juniper Road just north of the I-80 overpass every day without really noticing it. An inconspicuous dirt driveway winds through the tree line, over a wooden bridge and across a meandering section of Juday Creek, and finally arrives upon the welcoming front porch of a red cedar-sided house.

“It was the creek that I first fell in love with,” says homeowner Alexandra Guisinger of the property that she and her husband, David Nickerson, purchased in 2010. “You walk across that bridge and it’s like entering a different world.” Indeed, the historic home nestled onto seven wooded acres isn’t the type of property you would expect to find within city limits, let alone a mere mile away from the University of Notre Dame.

Guisinger and Nickerson, both professors of political science, first took interest in the property when it was up for sale in 2007, but the timing wasn’t right. “We were both about to go on sabbatical,” Guisinger says, and it didn’t make sense to purchase a home just as they were about to leave for a year. When it went on the market again in 2010, Guisinger and Nickerson couldn’t pass it up. 

The home itself was in terrible shape when they purchased it. It had been rented to students over the years, including some high profile but unnamed Notre Dame football players. In spite of that, the house’s potential was undeniable; the honey-colored pegged oak hardwood floors, leaded glass and stained glass windows, and two-story brick fireplace were all in beautiful condition. As Guisinger puts it, “the house has good bones.”

The now fully renovated, 3,864-square-foot historic home has humble beginnings—it was originally a barn, dating back to at least 1863—though its history is anything but simple. Its connections to the university stretch back over 150 years to when Father Edward Sorin and many of the other early priests of the Holy Cross congregation financed the expansion of the university with land investments. In those days, the barn was located near the corner of Juniper Road and Douglas Road in the neighborhood now known as Indian Village. Historic maps indicate that Father Sorin owned that land in 1863—making it likely that he would have also owned the barn.

The barn was later moved to its current location on the northeast corner of Juniper Road and Kintz Road, a property that also passed through the hands of several noteworthy Notre Dame figures. According to The Spirit of Notre Dame by local historian Dorothy V. Corson, Alfred Talley, co-founder of Ave Maria Press, owned the land in the mid-1800s. In fact, just up the road is the original Talley family home, a two-story brick house that is now a designated historic landmark. 

When the county decided in 1888 that Juday Creek needed to be dredged and widened at the property owners’ expense, the Talley family forfeited the portion of their land that the creek passed through rather than pay the accompanying taxes. Father Thomas Walsh, then president of Notre Dame, purchased the land at a sheriff’s sale and later sold it to Peter Kintz II. Corson’s history suggests that the Kintz family may have paid down the mortgage by hauling stone to the Grotto, which was being built at that time. Eventually, the Kintz family sold the land to Alden Davis, a professor of finance and business administration at Notre Dame, who relocated the Sorin barn and converted it into a house in the 1930s.

Davis never married or had any children, but he loved to throw extravagant parties—hence the unusual layout that included large entertaining spaces but only two small bedrooms. This presented a problem for the new homeowners, a married couple with two small children. “There was actually no master bedroom when we bought the house,” Guisinger says. The house also lacked guest rooms for their parents or other visitors from out of town. With those two priorities at the forefront, they enlisted the help of local architect Greg Kil and began a $500,000 renovation that would bring modern convenience to the home—new insulation, wiring, HVAC, reverse osmosis filtration, a new roof, and a new two-story addition—while retaining its historic character.

The result is a perfect marriage of rustic and contemporary. A new main entrance now opens into a sunny family room with custom built-in bookcases and a cozy window seat. Two new bedrooms and a new powder room round out the first floor of the new wing. To the left is the kitchen—part of the original house, but fully updated with new stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, and pristine white cabinets. 

Walking from the kitchen into the adjacent formal dining room is like taking a step back in time. The plasterwork on the walls and ceiling is striking; according to a local architect, it is likely the work of a traveling craftsman who plastered several other homes in the area during the 1930s, including one of the Studebaker son’s homes, in the same distinctive style. The fact that the plasterwork would be impossible to replicate carried some weight during the renovations: the electricians went in through pinholes in the wooden beams to replace old wiring rather than disrupt the plaster. 

Around the corner and past the heavy wooden door of the original entryway is a massive great room with vaulted ceilings and a spectacular stained glass window—Guisinger’s favorite feature. “I’d have moved with that stained glass window if I could have!” she says. The size and location of the window suggest that it was installed during the barn conversion to cover the opening that would have been left when the hayloft’s crossbeam was removed. 

Overlooking the great room is a second-story loft that leads to not only the two original bedrooms, but also to a new master suite that includes a spacious bedroom, contemporary bathroom (a rarity in historic homes), and a balcony overlooking the serene wooded property behind the house.

Guisinger and Nickerson have since moved on from the South Bend area; both accepted teaching positions at Temple University in Philadelphia this fall. They have fond memories of their home in South Bend, where they could enjoy the quiet, peaceful seclusion of their property yet still walk to work every day. “It was like living on your own nature reserve,” Guisinger says, recalling their children playing in the creek and having picnics out on the front yard. They contributed a new chapter to the long and storied history of this property. Now it simply awaits the next owners to come along and make their mark. 

Are you interested in turning this historic house into your forever home? Call Bill McCarthy at 574-310-2005.