While theft of copper and other metals continues to be stolen from area homes, there are even more valuable materials that were stolen from one local household.
The Vineyard House in St. Joseph is one grand old home. It was built circa 1889 and is of Romanesque architecture.
There is even the thought that the grandmother of the original owner of the home was engaged to Abraham Lincoln for three years.
"It's an incredible history to have linked to a house," said realtor Lisa Rock, who specializes in old and historic properties.
The out-of-state owner was in the process of getting some renovation work done on the house. Rock and some other local preservationists were keeping an eye on the house in his absence.
After a recent snowstorm, the group noticed some fresh footsteps in the snow outside the home. They were afraid to find out what had been going on inside.
"Just an incredible looting and pillaging," said Isobel McGowan, owner of Shakespeare Chateau bed and breakfast in St. Joseph. She is passionate about the area's older homes.
After an inventory of items taken, not yet complete, it was estimated that $10,000 worth of material was stolen. It included locks, doorknobs, hinges and other hardware, cut imported crystal and lighting among other items.
There was another $10,000 worth of estimated damage.
"Crowbars and pry tools to seven fireplaces destroying tile work and woodwork," McGowan said.
"When I realized what had happened, I was so angry," said Rock.
One day soon after, Rock called police after spotting a St. Joseph man walking down the street with some of the antique glass she recognized coming from the home.
Officers arrested 40-year-old Clint Mechling of St. Joseph on felony burglary charges. He appeared Tuesday in Buchanan County Court and has a $20,000 bond.
While Rock says they found the thief, the damage was already done.
"The are artifacts and irreplaceable relics and pieces of our history," said Brenda Reiley, a neighbor who also recently restored an older home.
"For every one that we lose, we have lost a significant piece," McGowan said. "Our community is diminished and impoverished."
Preservationists like Rock, McGowan and Reiley are concerned about area vacant homes being stripped bare. Thieves have been targeting these older homes because of some of the antique treasures inside.
"It's a lot different than an iron hardware or a brass hardware or copper," Rock said. "It's bronze, which is a lot more expensive. They're cast beautifully, they're very, very decorative. They're very sturdy."
McGowan says this kind of thievery has to stop and she's ready to take a stand.
"We want to protect it and defend it and try to prevent things like this from happening again," she said.
Rock says her group wants to work with police to find better ways of preventing this kind of theft and also punishing thieves who are guilty.
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