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Owensboro Historical Fifth street Walking tour
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The James J. Sweeney House, colloquially known as the Sweeney-Birkhead House, was built by the Drach & Thomas architectural firm for prominent lawyer James J. Sweeney in 1893. It is in Queen Anne style, with a polygonal tower and projecting bays. Other notable aspects of the house include the beveled and stained glass windows. A necklace theme can be seen throughout the all of the windows. After Sweeney’s death in 1921, the house was bought by the Jagoe family. During the 1940s, the Birkhead family purchased the house. Eventually, the house passed out of the family and became the Old House Restaurant. The restaurant had closed by 1980, and today is a private residence. It still retains much of the original woodwork.

  • The Old House Restaurant, 1978
  • Sweeney-Birkhead House, circa 2012

On December 27, 1893, James J. Sweeney and his family moved into the their new residence at the corner of Fifth and Daviess Streets.. Sweeney was the son of Judge William N. Sweeney, the patriarch of a prominent Owensboro family and of the law firm, W.N Sweeney & Son. J.J. Sweeney served as President of the Owensboro School Board and the Owensboro Water Works Company. He also owned the Temple Theatre downtown, which was later converted into the S.W. Anderson Department Store. Sweeney died of a sudden heart attack at the county clerk's office in the courthouse in August 1921. His funeral services were held at his residence. The appraisal of his estate lists the house's worth as $8,000, about $115,000 today.

In February 1922, W.R. Jagoe bought the house for $15,000, or $215,500 today. Jagoe was the President of the Daviess County Planning Mill Company and a former city council member. His son Carlos Jagoe would go on to found the family-owned Jagoe Homes Company, which is still prominent in Owensboro. One of his other sons, Julius, lived in the house after W.R.'s sudden death in 1937 before the Jagoe heirs sold it to Judge T.F. Birkhead in July 1940. In turn, Birkhead granted the house to one of his daughters, Eva Belle Birkhead. She shared the home with her sister, Flora Lee Birkhead. Miss Flora, as she was known by her many students, gave music lessons in the house for years. Because of the association of Miss Flora to the residence, it became known as the Sweeney-Birkhead House.

Eventually, the house passed out of the Birkhead family and became the Old House Restaurant in the 1970s. The restaurant closed in 1978, and has since been a private residence.The house joined the National Register of Historic Places in September 1980.

The house is a prime example of the Queen Anne style because of the polygonal tower at the Southeast corner and the projecting window bays. A necklace design can be seen throughout the stained glass windows, of which all but one are original. This theme has accounted to a love by Mrs. Sweeney for jewelry, though the origin of the story remains unknown. The house also boasts 10 fireplaces and parquetry floors. It still retains much of the original woodwork, and is one of the few houses of architectural significance left in the downtown area.

A Jagoe Family Tradition of Quality and Value, Jagoe Homes. Accessed December 16th 2019.

Bruner, Deborah. "House Place on Historic Register." Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer (Owensboro) September 19th 1980. Morning ed, A sec, 1-12.

Hadden, Clint. Living in an Icon. From House to Home. July 1st 2001. 10 - 13.

"J.J. Sweeney Drops Dead in Courthouse." The Owensboro Daily Inquirer (Owensboro) August 8th 1921. Evening ed, 1-1.

"Local Laconics." The Owensboro Messenger (Owensboro) December 28th 1893. Morning ed, 8-8.

"Mortuary : James J. Sweeney." The Owensboro Messenger (Owensboro) August 12th 1921. Morning ed, 2-2.

National Register of Historic Places, James J. Sweeney House, Owensboro, Daviess County, Kentucky, National Register #80001505

"Sweeney Estate Valued at $83,129." The Owensboro Messenger (Owensboro) October 5th 1921. Morning ed, 2-2.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Charles Manion Collection, Kentucky Room, Daviess County Public Library