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HGTV’s Cheap Old Houses Helps Give New Life to a Wilmington Home

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Photos by Dennis Dischler

Thanks to a post on Cheap Old Houses’ Instagram, an old Wilmington mansion gained more than enough attention to find a worthy buyer.

Call it the HGTV effect, but when a former convent in Wilmington’s downtown area popped up on the Instagram feed of Cheap Old Houses—under the unsubtle banner “Save this House”—Lauren Madaline (the home’s listing agent, along with Jeff Shahan), became very busy.

Calls for the house at 1401 W. 10th St. came from as far away as Louisiana and Montana; once the 12,000-square-foot Tudor Revival hit the market, Madaline hosted 40 showings in the first two weeks. And it wasn’t just nosy neighbors— Madaline has carefully vetted the inquiries for serious prospects, and found them. That’s the power of an Instagram handle with 1.8 million followers.

“It’s definitely the most popular listing I’ve ever represented,” says the Long & Foster Realtor, who can barely contain her enthusiasm. Who can blame her? The house is more than a listing; it’s a great story—a peculiarly beautiful curiosity that spans the length of a city block.

A worn down but beautiful room in the Wilmington mansion featured on HGTV's Cheap Old Houses

Some rooms are in better shape than others. While a few spaces have peeling paint and broken pipes, the beauty and potential of the prospective residence is evident in its numerous fireplaces, intact ornate moldings, built-ins and pocket doors. The house was constructed for Frank G. Tallman (1860–1938), an executive of E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., and completed in 1917. It is on the market for $799,000.

With attributes like peeling paint, old fixtures and broken pipes, the house is also what you would classify as a fixer-upper, to state the obvious. (Some spaces are in better condition, and the home boasts fireplaces, moldings and pocket doors galore.)

“St. Anthony’s of Padua bought the property in the early 1970s, and it was the convent for the Padua nuns until 15 years ago,” Madaline says. “As the population of nuns dwindled, there was no longer a use for the property. It was expensive to run the home. Slowly, the utilities were turned off, and fast-forward to today—it’s been vacant for years with no utilities. It’s structurally sound but needs quite a bit of work to restore the home.”

A dusty room in an old Wilmington mansion with a fireplace and beautiful fixtures

When the Tudor Revival building at 1401 W. 10th St. in Wilmington appeared on HGTV’s social media feed, it drew both the serious and the merely curious. The 12,000-square-foot former convent is “definitely the most popular listing I’ve ever represented,” says Long & Foster Realtor Lauren Madaline. It’s a true fixer-upper waiting to be rescued; the utilities have been turned off for years.

Built for Frank G. Tallman (1860–1938), an executive at E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., and completed in 1917, the house was designed by the architectural firm of Wilson Eyre and McIlvaine. The main block contains five bedrooms; in addition, the original design featured ample servants’ quarters.

“It was kind of a Downton Abbey situation,” Madaline explains. The bedrooms were reconfigured when the nuns were in residence. Potentially, there are close to 12 bedrooms in total. In theory, there are five bathrooms, but the water was turned off years ago.”

Who would take on such a project? Someone with the capital to rehab the house, which is priced at $799,000.

“It would be such a disservice if somebody didn’t commit the necessary funds,” Madaline says, who estimates the restoration at about $1.5 million. “I would love to see this go to a family. I would love to see this stay residential. We have had families come through and want to live in it as a home.”

A worn dining room with plenty of natural light from French doors on all sides & a large wooden table

A worn down but beautiful sunroom in the Wilmington mansion featured on HGTV's Cheap Old Houses

The house offers space but also city living in the thick of things. The location—within walking distance of Trolley Square’s bars, dining, festivals and live music venues—is fantastic. But if a buyer sought to use the structure commercially, for example as a restaurant or wedding venue, it would have to go through a rezoning process.

Whatever the next life of the property, the building must live on. Because the home is protected as an architecturally significant structure, it’s not a teardown situation. What the address needs is someone to fall in love with it and make a commitment for the long haul.

The back door and gate leading to the Wilmington mansion featured on HGTV's Cheap Old Houses

The structure features elaborate millwork, exposed beams, brickwork and iron gates befitting a religious site. While walking through its doors is like stepping back in time, the house affords a modern urban lifestyle: It’s within walking distance of Trolley Square’s bars, restaurants, festivals and live music venues.

With the house currently under contract, it’s safe to say that Cheap Old Houses helped give this stunning mansion a chance at new life.

Related: These New Castle County Homes Are Perfect for Water Lovers

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