By: Matthew E. Becher
Originally published: October 30, 2008 in the Boone County Recorder
“I looked up and saw a woman - her hair and dress looked like something worn in the 1940s – walk by in the hallway, open the front door and step out onto the front porch. My co-worker had her back to the hall and did not see the woman, but we were the only ones in the building at the time,” reported a long-time receptionist in the Renaker House. No one is quite sure who makes these occasional appearances in the building. Some speculate that it is the ghost of Henrietta (Renaker) Riddell or her mother Louisa.
Although today the white brick building behind the Old Boone County Courthouse in Burlington is called the Renaker House, is was built by a man named Benjamin Piatt Fowler about 1830. The property changed hands many times over the next 40 years, during which time various proprietors operated it as a tavern and inn called “The Boone House.”
In 1870, Fountain Riddell acquired the Boone House for $1,000 as a home for he and his bride Louisa Hawes, who he wed in March of that year. Two of the couple's children survived to adulthood: Nathaniel and Henrietta. The house passed to Louisa, who died in 1922, and then to Henrietta and Nathaniel. Nathaniel was Boone County's Judge-Executive from 1919 until his death in 1942, following a prolonged illness. Judge Riddell's wake was held in the home's parlor and over 70 flower arrangements were delivered to honor the much-loved Judge. Fountain, Louisa, Nathaniel and Henrietta are all buried in the Old Burlington Cemetery.
Henrietta married local banker Alvin Boyers Renaker. Henrietta passed away in 1964 and A.B. (as he was known) followed her just a year later. The Renaker House has been occupied by county offices since it was acquired from Renaker's grandson in 1967. The “haunted home” was even the subject of a Kentucky Post newspaper article at the time… and those ghost stories have persisted ever since.
In addition to the occasional appearance of Henrietta or Louisa, unusual odors have been reported, including the strong smell of cigar smoke (years after smoking was banned in the building) and an overwhelming floral aroma in the front parlor – the same room where so many flower arrangements greeted Judge Riddell in death. Strange sounds have also been heard, including periodic Westminster clock chimes and even the faint whisper of a woman's voice. Some have experienced unusual cold air or drafts, as if someone were walking by when there was, in fact, no one else in the building. Others have reported a strong feeling of not being welcome before or after regular business hours. This has been felt by both night janitorial staff and office workers coming in before 8:00am. It seems to be fine between 8 and 5, as if someone is trying to say “this building is yours by day, but at night it belongs to me.”
The Renaker House remains one of Boone County's most treasured historic properties and now houses the Boone County Attorney's Office and Staff. While the house is not open to the public, its story will be told as part of the 2009 Burlington Ghosts & Mysteries Walking Tour.