- Associated Press - Monday, December 1, 2014

CENTERVILLE, S.D. (AP) - Gary and Sandy Ellenbolt know where every salvage yard in the area is. All the better to refurbish their newly purchased 1903 home in Centerville.

They bought the big white house on Garfield and plan to renovate on the “10-year, pay-as-you-go plan.”

The house with turrets and castle-like appeal has had many lives. First, it was a single-family home, then a boarding house for teachers, next a hospital and finally a funeral home until about 2005.

The Ellenbolts bought the two-story home in May with high hopes and lots of ideas.

It’s just what they were looking for. “We wanted to be in a town and have a big house that we could work on,” Gary says. “We enjoy the dark woodwork and the convenience of a community.”

The couple, both 53, were looking to downsize from their six acres and 2005 home in rural Vermillion. Instead, “we accidentally upsized,” he says. They gained 1,500 square feet with their current house.

Still, Gary says, “it felt like home. It didn’t feel big or imposing.”

But their mortgage definitely downsized, and that helps with the renovation.

Nearly every room shows evidence of their work.

They updated the heating and air conditioning system last month and removed all of the radiators.

Plus, Gary says, “we have been laying carpet, plastering, stripping paint off woodwork, ripping up carpet, removing the carpet tacks, replacing ceiling fans and looking for period lighting.”

Sometimes they decide on a project and work on it together; other times, Sandy says, “we have decorator ADD. We focus on many things.”

The home warrants its own scrapbook. Built for $4,500 in 1903 by Ole Andersen, who owned a livery stable in town, it was later used for boarding teachers who worked at the school in town. It was also used by the police chief for a time, and in 1944, it served as a six-bed hospital for one year, complete with a one-room surgery.

Next, the Wass family bought it. “They owned a chain of funeral homes and bought the house for their son to take over after World War II,” Gary says.

They built a new funeral home in Centerville in 2005, and the house then reverted back to a private residence, says John Wegh, a funeral director at Wass Home for Funerals, who has been with the company since 2003.

Before the Ellenbolts bought it, it had been empty for a year and a half.

In an effort to stick with the time period, the couple frequent all the salvage yards in the area, looking for a replacement window, railing or other historic artifact.

The Ellenbolts plan to restore the entryway, taking off the enclosed porch and installing a vintage attic window. Pocket doors separate the front-door entry from the large kitchen, which will retain its large, open feel but will gain a new window, a rearranged island, more cupboards and a new countertop.

In addition to the two and a quarter bathrooms that the Ellenbolts plan to spiff up, the home has five bedrooms, four upstairs and one on the main floor.

One will be a home theater and one a studio, says Gary, radio host of South Dakota Public Broadcasting’s “Morning Edition.”

However, some aspects of the home will remain untouched, such as quirky elements from the home’s earlier life. For example, the lift that used to raise and lower caskets from the main floor to the display area on the second floor will be kept.

The Wass family lived on the second floor and used the front area to display caskets, Gary explains.

The turret on the main floor, now part of the living room, was the viewing room, where a curtain could be pulled between the body and the mourners. Sandy points out the track where the curtain used to be.

Also, the wooden box adjacent to the front door that once listed the name of the deceased will be left alone. It’s a tribute to the home itself. “We won’t change that,” Sandy says.

But, um, is the house haunted?

Though the house looks kind of big and spooky, “we haven’t noticed any ghosts and haven’t had any paranormal activity,” Gary says.

Still, there was that time when the sticky closet door kept opening up by itself. And the two times when the name in the wooden box was changed - but not by either of the Ellenbolts.

The couple just shake their heads.

“Most of the weirdness comes from people’s reactions,” Gary says. “We have never had any eerie feelings, and no one has ever said there were hauntings here.”

While the Ellenbolts respect the history of the home, they want to put part of the past to rest.

They admit they might be known as the “funeral home people” for a time. And while the big old home, after its funeral home days, was transformed into a haunted house for Halloween, that tradition will not be part of its new life, Sandy says.

Because “now, it’s a home.”

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