Felton and Joan O’Brien Williams have traveled and quite literally lived far and wide during their nearly 27 years together, but in 2014 they happily settled at their current Old Louisville home on Garvin Place. Originally from Ireland, Joan wanted to fully immerse herself in another country’s customs, language and culture. This prompted a move to Germany just before the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, even though she didn’t know a soul there. What was intended as a one-year stay turned into two. Felton (who goes by Will as an homage to the military’s practice of using a person’s last name or variation), is originally from Georgia. He joined the army at age 18. Once finished with basic training in New Jersey and advanced individual training in Virginia, he was stationed in Texas. Three years later, in 1989, he was relocated to Frankfurt, Germany, where a British friend of Joan’s introduced them.
Shortly after the couple began dating, Will was deployed to the Middle East and then returned to Germany. Will returned to the states in 1992, Joan moved to the states to El Paso, Texas in 1993, and they were married. Their son Joshua was born three years later, soon after which they returned to Germany. In 1999, the family returned stateside to El Paso, which remained their home base for the next fourteen years (except for a stay at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky from 2010-2013). During this time, Will was deployed to Iraq, Korea and Afghanistan. He eventually assumed a position as a U.S. Army Sergeants Major academy instructor. In these years Joan graduated from the University of Texas at El Paso with a bachelor’s degree in education. After thirty years of military service, and upon Joshua’s high school graduation, Will retired from the army in 2014 and the family moved to Louisville.
While stationed at Ft. Campbell, they would travel to Louisville for Joshua’s intermural soccer games or to visit the grandparents of a friend. The city reminded Joan of the rolling hills of Ireland. They were attracted to Old Louisville more than Crescent Hill or the Highlands because of its urban appeal and true sense of neighborhood and were more than ready to leave behind suburbia and its cookie cutter homes. Now fully entrenched in life “in the Ville,” Will works at the Census Bureau, Joan is employed by a local Irish company, and Joshua attends Bellarmine.
Their 2,400 square foot Italianate home was built in 1873 by Dr. C.K. Metcalf, the longest resident. He lived there and operated his medical practice at the home from 1917-1938. Since then, the house has been through several changes with each subsequent owner, proof of which the couple has from original logs, deeds, receipts and other documentation they were given. At some point, the lot to the north housed a horse stable! In later years a shotgun house was relocated to this lot.
The couple believes that what is now the kitchen and guest bathroom at the rear of the first floor was originally a porch that was closed in early on to make an open kitchen, perhaps before 1890. There is also evidence of an outside entrance into the kitchen and stairs to the second floor, both of which no longer exist. In 1960 the owners turned it into a boarding house, a fate endured by so many Old Louisville homes. In the 1970s, the same person owned both this house and the one directly south of it, using the Williams home as a rental property and the one next door as his private residence. To make managing the rental property easier, he joined their facades so as to have a three-story atrium connecting the two homes!
While there’s no longer access between the homes via the atrium, it is still intact and clearly visible from the back garden. In the 1980s the home was converted back to single-family and the rear of the first floor was reconfigured to the current layout. Some years after this an antiques light dealer cleaned the home’s colorful reputation when he owned the house. It is believed that he installed most of the lighting throughout the home during his stay, although all of the fixtures look as if they could have been original. In 2014, Will and Joan purchased the home from Jerri Britton, who lived there for sixteen years before moving to Treyton Oaks.
Original to the house are three cast iron fireplaces, cracked tile in the living room fireplace (which the couple uncovered and restored), as well as exterior doors, stained glass and most of the windows. One interesting feature is that the main staircase runs perpendicular rather than parallel to the house façade, an element not in keeping with the Italianate style. Since moving in (with a large portion of the work being done within the first year), they have refinished the yellow pine floors, added new slate tile floor in the dining room, removed wallpaper, painted the entire house one unified color, installed crown molding and added all drapes and accessories and completed a major remodel of the second floor bathroom.
Additionally, they have replaced all of the missing interior doors, frames and transoms with period-appropriate ones from an 1890 Italianate house in Muncie, Indiana. On top of refinishing the few that did remain with the house, it’s earned the nickname “house of doors.” In 2016, Will and Joan modernized both the kitchen and first floor bathroom to make them more user-friendly. Later this year they will begin their newest home renovation project: adding a bathroom to the second floor master bedroom. This renovation will include the use of a Louisville-made 1897 claw foot tub as well as the top of a pedestal sink they found buried in the back yard!
Joan and Will both left their respective homes at an early age without taking much with them. However, tour goers will enjoy the treasures the couple now has, including their large collection of silver filigree tree ornaments from Newbridge, Ireland, and a shadow box in the hall which contains a photo of Joan’s family home in Ireland, now 220 years old. Throughout the house are large wooden frames that originally contained artwork and served as Stations of the Cross for a Mexican church, now repurposed as mirrors. A don’t-miss is Dr. Metcalf’s former first floor medical examining room (note the separate side door entrance for the privacy of the patient), now the couple’s office, which is full of military memorabilia (called an “I Love Me” room in the military). As you exit, you’ll walk across over 800 bricks that Will installed – all from the Colgate factory across the river. 1213 Garvin Place is alive with history inside and out!