The Address: 1840 Madison Rd.

An East Walnut Hills home holds plenty of local history.

Photograph by William Manning

This 1904 Colonial Revival manse, now on the market for $1,575,000, originally served as a single family home for railroad executive William C. Greene, but its history holds more than just generations of genteel Cincinnati families. Between 1935 and 1988, it was known as McNicholas Hall, part of the Institutum Divi Thomae (St. Thomas Institute)—a research facility and partnership between inventor George Sperti and the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Here—our hand to God—Sperti is said to have developed Preparation H, and possibly even Aspercreme. The Archdiocese supported the Institute by selling many of Sperti’s patents; legend has it that the formula for Preparation H fetched $1 million, says current homeowner Frank McWilliams.

The house didn’t fare as well. Sperti grew ill and in 1988 the institute disbanded. The abandoned building eventually fell into disrepair. By the time Frank and his wife Janna purchased it in 1990, the living room floor had caved into the basement. Undaunted, the McWilliamses set out to reconvert the Institute’s science labs back into bedrooms, and restore and update everything from the living room floor (it’s now solid hardwood) to the woodwork, bathrooms, fireplaces, ceilings, copper gutters, windows, roof, and even the third-floor skylight.  There’s also a fully functional dumbwaiter in the back stair hall.

Photograph by William Manning

Buyers craving a modicum of tranquility will be pleased to know that the 1.86-acre lot affords plenty of distance between the house and busy Madison Road. There’s even more local history out back: The property abuts the Scarborough Woods nature preserve, which gets its name from the property’s original owner, W.W. Scarborough, once the president of the Cincinnati Gas Company.

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