A vision of the past

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John and Barbra Test took a house built in 1837 and made famous by the Doolan family and have made it their home for three decades.

By Todd Martin

Sitting well back off of KY 55 just a little south of Finchville is a hidden gem of a home for history buffs. The Greek Revival-style home’s original front was built in 1837, and it became known as Sylvan Shades by its second owner.


“It was actually built by a man named Newland, and he sold the home to Thomas Doolan,” current owner John Test said. “After that it remained in the Doolan family until we purchased it in 1985.”

Along with his teaching, many people in the area may recognize Doolan’s name from his association with the Saddlebred horse.

“I just found out fairly recently that Doolan was one of the founding directors of the Saddlebred Society,” Test said.

Four generations of the Doolan family occupied the home, ending with Rowena Runyon, who was named after Doolan’s wife.

“When we got the place, it was a little rundown,” said Test. “The overhang above the porch was dropping, and it had a wooden porch around the front. We were able to extend the deck above the front porch, and we added the concrete front porch, which actually goes all the way around the house.”

The four columns that adorn the front of the house and lend it to the Greek Revival style are original.

“They have kind of a snake skin look because of the lead paint underneath,” Test said. “We tried to scrape it all off, but it’s tough to get through.”

The house faces due west, proven by the fact that on the summer solstice the sun appears to disappear into the tip of the front driveway, which connects to KY 55.

“It’s really pretty interesting,” Test said. “You can watch the sun march across the sky, and then it seems to just dip into the driveway.”

On the south side of the house are two large peony gardens.

“I have no idea how old they are,” Test said. “They were here when we moved in, and they’re just beautiful. In fact, at one time Fred Wiche came out here and did his show while they were in full bloom.”

Being an old home, it was full of small rooms, Test noted.

“We redid the kitchen because when we moved in it didn’t have any cabinets, just two built-in pie cabinets or sideboards,” he said.

Just off the side of the kitchen was a small room that looks out onto the sun porch.

“We didn’t really know what to do with this tiny room, so we added a wet bar,” Test said. “And it’s actually where eat about ninety percent of our meals now.”

Above the wet bar, Test had an old stain-glassed window salvaged from a church made into the cover for an overhead light.

The wet bar leads out to the grand entrance, which includes a sweeping staircase to two bedrooms. Lining the steps are two portraits of members of the Doolan family who used to live in the home.

“They were nice enough to let us have those when we purchased the house,” Barbra Test said.

The Tests also keep a scrapbook and history of the Doolan family in the entryway.

Throughout the home, Test has several items that lend to his commitments with the Sons of the American Revolution and in Napoleonic-era art.

Test described one portrait in the wet bar area as “Josephine’s only son that Napoleon adopted,” he said. “He liked him because he was considered a great warrior.”

Test also has two painting of the Royal Scots Greys invasion at Waterloo.

Having lived in the home for nearly 30 years now, the Tests have grown accustomed to dealing with the eccentricities of a house more than 150 years old.

“Every few years we have to have the roof looked at and some other things,” Barbra Test said. “But it’s things we love now.”

But Barbra Test said she didn’t always love the idea of living there.

“She didn’t like it when we first saw it,” John Test said. “It was cold, and it had been fifty years since it was remodeled.”

Said Barbra Test: “John had a vision that I didn’t have. But it’s definitely grown on us.”

Inside stuff

Address:127 Finchville Road, Finchville

Owners:John and Barbra Test

Statistics:2 stories, 8 rooms, 3 baths, 4,100 square feet.

Architecture:Greek Revival


Accoutrements:The house had fallen into disrepair when it was purchased by the Tests. Previously, four generations of the Doolan family had lived in the home, starting with Thomas Jefferson Doolan, who had opened a school in Finchville, which used to sit on the front of the property.