Charles Wahl Jr. met his soon to be wife at church. Gussie had noticed Charles at a party
and had not been able to forget him so she and a friend climbed the steps to the Catholic Church one
Sunday and sat in the pew directly in front of Charles and his family. Her plan worked and he was smitten. That afternoon, when his mother mentioned he seemed to have something on his mind, Charles told her
“I’ve just met the girl I’m going to marry.” Marry her he did.
Augusta, better known as Gussie, was from a Protestant background and needless to say neither family was thrilled with the idea of these two being wed. Gussie’s parents threatened to disown her if she married Charles, but her mind was made up and she was to wed the man she loved. Charles told Gussie that if she married him he would build her a house like no other, and so their story began along with plans for a beautiful house that today still sits high on a hill watching over Paris, Arkansas as it has for over 85 years.
Charles Wahl Jr. was born to parents who migrated from Germany and was one of 9 children. He became a successful businessman and owned several coal mines and a local railroad company. Working hard was second nature to him and he reaped the rewards. Being a man of some means, he knew he could give his wife the home of her dreams just like he had promised. Drawing on architecture he had seen in his extensive business travels all around the country, he decided on a Mediterranean Revival style home, complete with all the modern amenities available in the late 1920s. He hired Bassham and Wheeler Architectural firm out of Fort Smith to design their home, with his oversight of course. Prior to beginning construction, Charles built up the 1.5 acre property using a team of horses and a wagon to haul refuse shale from his coal mines forming an 80 foot hill, and started construction of a stone retaining wall surrounding the property. The retaining wall itself took five years to complete.
Construction on the two-story home known as Park Hill began in 1925. The original floor plan of the home included 14 rooms. The first floor held a full library just off the living room, a large dining area and a music room which extends the full height of the second story. The second story consisted of five bedrooms, two bathrooms, a servant’s room and a sewing room. Hardwood floors were used throughout the house along with beamed ceilings and birch wood trim along the walls and floors.
The house also contained a basement complete with a laundry room, storage rooms, a furnace room and stairways that led to the upper floors. The entire house was heated using a steam heating system. The outside of the house was to be as grand as the inside. Staying true to the Mediterranean style chosen, an arched entryway greets you as you climb the stairs to the front door, which perfectly complimented the light colored brick with black mortar and the clay tile roof. A Porte Cochere (carriage porch) with concrete drive was built on the west side of the house at the end of a long private driveway. Beautiful fixtures adorned the walls inside of the home. Acoustic ceiling tiles were ordered from Italy and three stained glass windows were imported from Germany to allow as much natural light as possible. The home was completed in 1930, and it was as beautiful as promised. Though by all accounts Charles Wahl was proud of what he had built for his wife, and it was no doubt quite expensive, he never shared with anyone the total cost of the gift. He simply said it was built to care for the comfort and needs of his family.
It is unknown exactly how long the Wahl family lived in the home, but believed to be approximately 10 years. Charles sold Park Hill to a couple of physicians looking to turn it into a dentist office when his finances took a downward turn. Due to the flooding of his coal mines and the larger railroad moving into the area it is believed Charles was no longer able to afford Park Hill and was forced to sell. The Wahl family moved into a more modest home about 10 minutes from their beloved Park Hill.
Dr. Roy Kennon and a colleague, Dr. Jewell, purchased the house with the intent of turning it into a dentist office. Their plans were not to come to fruition as Dr. Kennon was called into service during WWII. Upon returning and realizing the layout of the house would not lend itself to the alterations needed for their medical office, Dr. Kennon moved his family into Park Hill, and they remained there for many years. Eventually the house became known as The Doc Kennon House. Dr. Kennon and his family made no major renovations to the house although it is rumored Dr. Kennon once had a shooting range in the basement. Dr. Jewell retained ownership of his half of the house until the eve of his death. He made a deal with Dr. Kennon to sell him his half.
Over the years, the house changed owners a couple of times, ending up in the hands of the bank in 2008. The house had not been lived in for several years, and had fallen into disrepair.
Chester Koprovic attended school with Dr. Kennon’s daughter, Susan, as a child and lived just down the hill. He attended several parties at the house and even saw his first television there. Mr. Koprovic left the area and served in the Army for a time before settling down as a successful businessman in Fort Smith but he never forgot that grand home. Mr. Koprovic purchased the house in May of 2012. It sat uncared for and empty for so long it was unlivable, but he immediately set to changing that. Not only did the house need updating from the 1930s wiring and steam heating system, but thieves had stripped out the copper wiring and broken numerous windows. The bathrooms could not be used. Most of the once grand home’s fixtures were missing and what was left was beyond repair. The once manicured grounds were neglected and in desperate need of maintenance, but none of this would deter Chester. He spent the next 14 months cleaning and bringing the old house up to code with new wiring, plumbing and central heating and air. He replaced windows, installed new lighting, and had all of the wood floors refinished, always keeping as much of the original house intact as possible. He found one lighting fixture original to the home and with help from his friend, Donna Hunter, the fixture was painstakingly disassembled, cleaned, repaired and hangs in the house today. Mr. Koprovic hired only local craftsman to help him restore the old house to its former glory. He recently acquired more acreage around the home and added a barn to the grounds now enclosed with a fence. This summer he has plans to work on landscaping the grounds.
Mr. Koprovic and Ms. Hunter graciously open their home to visitors. They have hosted many of the Wahl and Kennon family members at Park Hill, and look forward to many other descendants of the families visiting in the future. Lorene Kennon, daughter of the late Doc Kennon, recently had her 50th High School class reunion in the house she grew up in.
In January 2013, Park Hill was added to the National Register of Historic Places after being nominated for its importance in Paris, Arkansas local history and because of its beautiful, distinctive architecture.
What makes a house a home? I believe it’s the memories made and the stories the house would tell if it could. Park Hill was a dream home, built as a gift to a beautiful young brunette, from the young man that wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. Charles Wahl Jr. built a house that became a home to many families over the years all because of a promise he made to his bride. I wonder what Charles would think if he could see his house today?
Charles Wahl and Augusta (Gussie) Kennedy Wahl eventually moved to Denver, Colorado, where Charles (according to files listed on Ancestry.com) passed away in September of 1968. No date is listed for Gussie’s passing.