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By Patricia Fox
Originally published: June 29, 2006 in the Boone County Recorder
People admire old buildings: preservation of the past gives them a window into what was. Historic structures are an architectural combination of brick, stone and wood that reveal a time period, but the spirit of the place depends on its owners. The Robert Chambers House, located just south of Burlington on East Bend Road, represents the preservation of a building infused by the spirit of its previous owners. As a result, it has become a source of community pride.
The Robert Chambers family built the house between 1832 and 1836. The National Register-listed structure features woodwork by master woodworker Thomas Zane Roberts, Sr., and is one of the finest Greek Revival homes in Boone County. Robert's son Charles became a member of the second State Constitutional Convention in 1849 and was a state senator from Boone County from 1859 to 1863.
Purchasing the home in 1944, the Caldwell family made a lasting impression through their son John Caldwell, who infused the house with his independent nature. Losing his eyesight in an accident at age 13, John completed high school and college. John and his sister saved up enough money to help their father buy the Chambers House and its 115-acre dairy farm.
In an article for The Farm Quarterly (1961), John described his ability to get around the farm and getting lost at times as “nothing to get excited about…. It's as though a seeing person were walking around the farm with his eyes fixed on a map. He would always know where he was without looking off the map for a moment. Of course I do get lost sometimes, and then I just wander around until I find something familiar, and then I am not lost.”
John's loss of sight enhanced his appreciation of the land and the care for his livestock. He remarked about his decision to leave a small grove of sassafras trees where they stood across the road: “At one time I intended to cut out the trees, but they are so beautiful… that's one of the things I remember from the old days, driving along and seeing the sassafras trees in the fall.” He also described his ability to know the difference in his cattle by running his hands along their backs. “Take Silver here,” he stated. “There isn't a silkier coat on any cow in the country…. You get so that the shape and texture of things is very revealing.”
John Caldwell died in April 2005, but his independent spirit still permeates the house. Joyce McNeely, a friend of the late Mr. Caldwell and the current owner, appreciates its beauty and layered history. John's tale and the history of The Robert Chambers Home remain in good hands.