The little old stone house sitting along the north bank of the original Cottonwood River channel in west Marion has a new owner. John Wheeler of Marion purchased the house and accompanying acreage on Oct. 1.
Located south of the 100 block of W. Main Street, the house was built in 1869 by W.H. Billings, one of the three original settlers and their families who founded Marion Centre in 1860. It is believed to be the first stone building erected in Marion.
“I have no intention of taking the house down,” Wheeler said. “I’ll do everything in my power to preserve it.”
He expects to spend thousands of dollars in the next three to five years to stabilize the west wall.
After living 18 years away from Marion, Wheeler brought his family to Marion in 2012.
Wheeler is the supply manager and outside salesman for Forest Products Supply in Newton. He hopes to use his experience in the lumber industry to establish a lumberyard on the property. He is looking for investors to back him in his new enterprise.
He is the sixth generation of Wheelers to live in Marion. The first to arrive in Kansas were David Wheeler III and his wife, Louisa, who came to Marion in the 1870s.
John Wheeler is the son of attorney Ed Wheeler and his wife, Cheri, of Marion. He graduated from Marion High School in 1992.
He played football at Idaho State University, where he lettered all four years. After graduating with a degree in history, he worked for a lumber company. He lived in Chicago before returning to Marion.
The limestone house has a colorful history. Billings Park, the site of many celebrations in the early years of the community, was a part of the Billings property and was across the river to the south.
The building was in need of repair when Will Meysing of Portland, Ore., purchased it and the surrounding 18 acres almost 25 years ago from the late Rusty Longhofer.
Meysing sought to preserve the building by removing a small wood addition, cleaning up the surrounding property, putting a new roof on the house, and boarding up the windows. He was interested in doing an archaeological dig to find the location of the Billings’ first home, a log cabin that sat several feet east of the house.
However, distance and a lack of time and finances prevented him from pursuing his dream. Fortunately, he found someone who is a history buff like himself and is interested in preserving a foundational piece of Marion history.
Meysing said Wheeler’s interest in history, along with coming from a family that has a long-term investment in the community, made him the perfect person to carry on the Billings legacy.
“He’s going to try to keep it (the house) from falling down,” Meysing said.
A new business in town would be the icing on the cake.