Owner hopes to see Reynolds House renovated with casino going up next door

Friday, December 10, 2010
The Reynolds House is shown in this 2009 file photo.

One of Cape Girardeau's oldest existing structures, built in part by slave labor in the days leading up to the Civil War, is about to come face to face with the city's flashy future.

And as a brand-new $125 million Isle of Capri casino goes up just yards away from the 153-year-old Reynolds House, the historic home's owner hopes the building of one will lead to the renovation -- and renewal -- of the other.

"The casino will be right there at its front door," said Earl Norman, a Cape Girardeau businessman who bought the Reynolds House more than a year ago in an effort to save it. "I think the casino happening will accelerate the timetable to restoring that house and getting some sort of use out of it."

The Reynolds House at 623 N. Main St. is one of the few houses near the casino that will survive once construction starts next summer. The two houses to its north will come down, meaning there will be a clear view of the casino entrance from the Reynolds House steps. Isle is already planning a park or green space of some sort on the site of the two houses that are coming down.

Norman said he doesn't believe that Isle of Capri would want what has become a fairly rundown building to be what their customers see before they enter the casino doors. Besides, the Reynolds House is a local landmark and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Isle expresses interest

Isle does have some level of interest in the home. Spokeswoman Jill Haynes said company executives are keenly aware of the house's historical significance. They designed the casino accordingly, she said, though she wouldn't elaborate.

Norman has asked Southeast Missouri State University's Department of Historic Preservation to study the home to determine what work needs to be done to it and to make suggestions about what its purpose could be.

Steven Hoffman, coordinator of the historic preservation program at Southeast, said a university class will be spending a semester taking a look at the house with close monitoring by university professors. The class will then make a recommendation for rehabbing the house.

Armed with the university's recommendation, Norman plans to approach the city's historic preservation commission to see what could be done.

While he owns the house -- and was the anonymous donor before that to get the roof replaced and work done to the floor -- he's not opposed to turning it over to some other organization as long as he can be assured it will be maintained.

Norman envisions it as a place for receptions or a historical home open to tours.

Norman bought the Reynolds House in August 2009 from the Historical Association of Greater Cape Girardeau. It had been withering away for decades. The house had already been rescued from demolition in 1981 and mothballed in 1999.

Today, the windows are boarded up and large padlocks hang around the doorknob.

But it is an important piece of local history, said Frank Nickell, director of the university's Center for Regional History.

"We can clearly say this is an authentic historic resource," Nickell said. "It's in a great location and has a lot of potential."



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