KEARNEY — As Kearney approaches its 150th anniversary in 2023, one of the city’s oldest landmarks is up for sale and could be lost.
“We’re not going to shoot for a wild selling price,” said Allen Kelley.
“We just want someone to love it,” said his wife, Sandra Kelley.
Allen and Sandra, ages 79 and 77, own what early Kearneyites called the Baker Mansion. The big white house stands at 2000 E. 34th St., a couple of blocks east of the Buffalo County Fairgrounds.
The for sale sign went up just a few days ago.
The Kelleys are asking $464,000.
For that price the buyer will get the 25-room mansion, a guest house that sits behind the mansion, and the one-acre tract where the two houses set. The land constitutes about 12 lots. In Kearney, building lots are selling for $60,000 apiece and more.
As a bonus, the buyer will receive the antique furniture the Kelleys selected from their antique business at Litchfield. The couple painted walls and refinished hardwood floors and their daughters staged the mansion with the antique furniture, rare fixtures and decorative pieces.
Ken Bramer, the real estate agent helping the Kelleys to sell their unique property, said the mansion could become a splendid bed and breakfast or Airbnb.
“It’s a very rare opportunity knocking,” Bramer said. “ It could be historical if someone wanted to grab the bull by the horns.”
Depending upon the buyer’s preference, the Kelleys’ property also could be demolished and transformed into a new neighborhood of modern houses.
A neighbor said she really doesn’t want the big house across the street to be bulldozed.
Mary Girard lives in the 2000 block of 34th Street. From her home on the south side of the street she’s watched the mansion’s occupants come and go. Like many Kearney residents, she’s saddened whenever Kearney loses one of its historic structures, and she believes that’s a distinct possibility with the Baker Mansion.
“It’s my fear that somebody might bulldoze it and build new houses on the land,” Girard said. “If it’s bulldozed we’d lose that history. It would be gone forever. That house played a significant role in the community.”
The man who built the mansion, Nelson Baker, had served as mayor of Kearney and vice president of the Midway Land Co., according to “Kearney’s Historic Homes,” a book by Brian Whetstone, Jessie Harris and the Buffalo County Historical Society.
Baker built the mansion and a stable house in 1889. He and his wife, Ximena M. Brooks, raised three children there. They were Earle R., M. Claire and Nell Marie, according to “Kearney’s Historic Homes.”
As the mansion is described, it had the same kind of “wow” factor as the ritzy G.W. Frank House that stands majestically today on the west end of the University of Nebraska at Kearney. Baker hoped his massive house would anchor development on Kearney’s east side. The neighborhood he platted there was called Eastlawn.
That name survives today as one of Kearney’s largest mobile home developments. However, after a strong start during which the Kearney electric trolley extended its service to Eastlawn, Baker’s neighborhood sputtered and died. Eastlawn was the victim of hard economic times, and so was the mansion, according to Kearney’s historic homes book.
The mansion suffered from neglect until a physician, John Bancroft Sr., moved in during the late 1940s and renovated the place. Owners and tenants changed as decades passed, and included the Kelleys’ son, Kent.
The Kelleys bought the mansion from Kent several years ago and their giant fixer-upper has kept them busy painting, refinishing floors and fixing things.
They said Friday they’re exhausted from all the work, so they’re eager to pass along the mansion and its grounds to a new owner.
They said they’re hoping the place can become a bed and breakfast or finds a buyer who loves it as much as they do.
“We don’t want to see it demolished,” Allen said.
“But we’re getting old and we need to get it liquidated,” Sandra said.