PERRYVILLE — Alan Hoeweler was 16 the first time the sound of his boots was heard on the floorboards of the H.P. Bottom House in the middle of the Perryville Battlefield. His daddy thought he’d stolen the car that day to get there, he said, but he maintains the car was only borrowed. He had made the drive from Cincinnati to see that particular piece of hallowed ground after reading about a long ago battle there.
Hoeweler is 62 now, but his boots still sound across the floorboards of the Bottom House when he makes the drive from Cincinnati.
He bought the house in 1988 and has no plans to let go of it just yet.
Hoeweler called to talk about his own phone ringing after a subheadline on a recent article incorrectly said his house was part of the purchase of 140 acres by the Civil War Preservation Trust for $725,000.
People who know him were shocked at the suggestion because he has made it clear over the years that the house is not for sale.
But, since the house is essentially ground zero for the war that came to town nearly 150 years ago, it begs the question: Why not sell the H.P. Bottom House?
“Because as long as I am the owner of the house, it will be in safe hands,” he said.
Hoeweler said he simply does not have confidence that any state or federal agency has deep enough pockets, the ability to earmark the kind of funds it would take to maintain and preserve the property and the same commitment to the integrity and protection of the property as what he is providing today.
Boyle County gave the historic Bragg building to the city based on promises that have not been kept, he said. In the meantime, that structure is slowly fading away.
Hoeweler’s biggest fear, he said, is that opening the Bottom property to the public without protections in place would certainly destroy what has been called, “The most important Civil War structure in the U.S.” by Ed Bearss, retired chief historian for the National Parks Service and author known for his work on the American Civil War and World War II eras.
For six months, the blood of both Union and Confederate soldiers spilled on the floorboards there and soaked in deep.
“The house was used as a hospital so there is blood on the floors — and bullet holes in the walls,” Hoeweler said.
Hoeweler is not a re-enactor, but he understands what drives those who are. He and his family and friends sit on the porch and talk about the history of the region and the war he has been learning and sharing about since he was a teenager.
“My heart’s there, in Kentucky, in Perryville,” he said during a phone interview. “For someone who is not from Kentucky and who has never lived in Kentucky, that’s saying a lot.”
There was a time when he was said to own the entire town. He said he bought many of the historical buildings downtown to keep them from being destroyed and, once assured they would be spared, “I sold them back to the state. A lot of people think I made a lot of money, but, well, that was not the case. Just saved them from being destroyed.”
Many of those same downtown properties will change hands again as seven properties will be leased and four others deeded outright to the Main Street Program when the Perryville Battlefield Preservation Association disbands in the coming months.
“I think the local people need to be the driving force (for revitalizing and preservation), but there are just not enough people,” he said.
Unless there is some reason for young people with high energy and deep pockets to come to or remain in Perryville, it is going to be hard to keep all that is so valuable about the town from fading away, he said.
He can’t save the whole town, but he will continue to fight to keep the Bottom House safe.
“I am going to make sure it eventually gets into the hands of the state,” he said.