The once grand house is grand once again
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Chester Koprovic, the son of a coal miner, was born and raised in the shadow of the house on the hill and to his young eyes, “it was grand,” he said.
The house was called Park Hill and grand it was. It was built by Charles Wahl, who owned coal mines and a railroad in Paris. Wahl, a Catholic, wanted to marry a Protestant girl and her family threatened to disown her if she did. Wahl promised the woman that if she married him, he would build her a house like no other. He did.
Construction began in 1925 and when it ended in 1930, Park Hill had 14 rooms and several imported items, like stained glass windows that came from Germany and acoustic ceiling tiles imported from Italy — things that were exceptional for a small, coal-mining town in rural Arkansas.
Wahl sold the house to Dr. Roy Kennon, a local dentist, after Wahl’s coal mines were flooded and his railroad was washed away.
While growing up in the shadow of Park Hill, Koprovic was inside that “grand house” several times.
“Dr. Kennon’s daughter Susan was in my class,” Koprovic remembers. “She used to have parties in the house. I saw my first television in the house.”
While growing up, Koprovic lived in three houses in the shadow of Park Hill. After serving in the Army, Koprovic began a successful business career in Fort Smith. He recently went into semi-retirement and, as a man of some means, admits he could have chosen to live anywhere and bought any other house. Instead, Koprovic chose to come home to Paris and live in that grand old house on the hill that had fallen into disrepair.
After the mortgage market meltdown of 2008, a bank took control of Park Hill and the home sat empty. By the time Koprovic purchased it in May, 2012, the house was, in his words, “unlivable.”
The house had 1930s wiring that had to be replaced. There was only steam heating available. There was no air conditioning. Windows had been broken out. Copper wiring had been stolen by thieves. There were no working bathrooms. Some of the fixtures were missing.
“It’s fair to say the house had fallen into disrepair,” Koprovic said last week. “That’s one of the reasons I bought it. When I came to look at it, I said that in 10 years, it would be beyond repair. It’s a landmark in Paris and it’d be criminal to let that happen. This house deserved to be preserved. I was raised in the shadow of this house and it means more to me.”
So, Koprovic set about making that once grand house, grand once again. After work started, it took 14 months before Koprovic could even consider moving in. And after that, there was still work to be done.
But that was okay, because Koprovic new exactly what he wanted.
“I never thought it couldn’t get done,” Koprovic said last week. “I had a picture in my mind of what it was going to look like. I knew exactly what I wanted to do.”
Last week, Koprovic hosted some Wahl and Kennon descendants at the resurrected Park Hill. For some, it was the first time they’ve seen the interior of the house, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places last year, since they were young.
Barbara and Ralph Paul, of East Lansing, Mich, and Yvonne and Thomas Ryan of Sacramento, Calif, descendants of the Charles Wahl family, saw the house early in the week. Last Friday, A.L. Hollingsworth and Lorene Kennon Hollingsworth of Springdale, stayed at Park Hill. Lorene is a descendant of Dr. Roy Kennon.
“This is the only time we’ve seen the interior of the house,” Barbara Paul said. Charles Wahl was her uncle. “This house is grand. I’d live here in a heart beat.”
“The last time I saw the interior, I was 12,” said Thomas Ryan. “Uncle Charlie was living here. My grandmother, May Wahl would come here on Sunday and play the piano. I don’t think we listened much because we were outside playing.”
Last week, Koprovic said that what’s happened to the Wahl house, can happen to Paris.
“If it can be done to this house, it can be done for Paris,” Koprovic, a member of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission said. “If this house can come back, Paris can come back. It can happen if all of Paris gets behind it.”
Koprovic is planning to host a meeting of the AEDC in Paris soon.
Last week, while hosting visitors at Park Hill, the level of satisfaction at what had been done was plainly visible on Koprovic’s face.
“I’m so thankful the Lord has blessed me enough that I can do something like this," he said. "This is my roots. This is where I want to be.”