Gene and Mary Ann Burch headed for high ground during the Frankfort flood of 1978 to search for a good vantage point to take photos. They found the perfect place at Crown Point — a newly developed neighborhood high above the city and the Kentucky River.
The Burchs had moved to Frankfort a few years earlier, choosing the capital city to bring up their family and open a dental practice. The couple returned occasionally to the spot where they had taken the flood photos.
“We would bring the kids (we had two at the time), eat our McDonalds and enjoy the view up here,” Gene recalls.
“Mary Ann and I would look at each other and say, ‘Oh my gosh, wouldn’t this be a great place to live!’”
Their dream eventually became reality after they bought an outer lot in Crown Point with a panoramic view. “Every day, I count my lucky stars,” Gene said. “We love it,” Mary Ann added.
Gene said that growing up he had not been to Frankfort even though he had two aunts and uncles who lived in the capital city. “They kept telling me that Frankfort needed dentists, so one day when I was still in dental school at the University of Kentucky, I drove here,” he explained. “I came down Louisville Hill and thought, ‘Wow, this is like a beautiful, European village. I fell in love right off the bat. That was 1975.”
Gene and Mary Ann, a dental hygienist, decided to move to Frankfort and open a dental practice on Shelby Street. Then, when Fountain Place was built, they moved to that location. Gene, now retired, practiced dentistry for 38 years in Frankfort.
“I can’t believe that it went by so fast,” he remarked. The couple will celebrate their 52nd wedding anniversary this August. “We’ve been compadres for a long time,” Mary Ann said.
A house built for the view
“We started the process of building in 1980 and moved in a year later,” Gene said. “Our architect, Harry Sparks, encouraged us to build a totally underground house but we just weren’t quite ready for that. So, we settled on an earth-sheltered, passive solar home.”
When construction began, there was only one other house in the neighborhood. “We were pretty much up here alone for awhile,” Mary Ann said.
They began digging and hit solid rock two feet down. “We ended up getting a crew from Eastern Kentucky from the coal mines,” Gene explained. “They drilled holes and put dynamite in the holes. It went kaboom and blew up into a big mound of rock. They excavated that area and that’s where the backyard is now. We basically have a walkout basement to the back.”
The 3,600-square-foot house has a low profile exterior, which blends into the surrounding landscape. A quaint winding sidewalk leads to the main entry where a colorful hand-quilted wall hanging created by Mary Ann greets visitors. Inside, the living areas have large windows that overlook the city. It feels as if the Capitol dome, church spires and the river below are an extension of the house. There are no curtains to obstruct the sweeping views.
The main floor consists of a master bedroom and bath, living area, a kitchen and dining room. Many of Gene’s photographs fill a wall in the living area surrounding a painting by local artist, Ellen Glasgow. “We rotate the photos,” Mary Ann remarked. “A lot of them are just my favorites.”
Gene, a successful dentist, is also a renowned photographer. He says he became interested in photography while in the military. “A friend and I both got drafted during the Vietnam War and while he was on R&R in Japan, he sent me a 35mm SLR camera,” Gene said. “That was the start of it all.”
Down an open stairway, hanging photos showcase their family. “We have three children, T.J., JoAnne and Kristin, and six grandchildren,” Mary Ann said. “Our youngest child was one when we moved here.”
At the bottom of the stairway is a game room and three bedrooms. One bedroom serves as Mary Ann’s sewing and quilt room, stacked with colorful bolts of fabric. “I’ve made 37 quilts,” Mary Ann commented. She also enjoys traveling to experience new places and serving on medical/dental mission trips.
Here comes the sun
Gene explained that their passive solar home was built with 10-inch exterior concrete walls and an added inch of styrofoam outside of that. The walls absorb the heat. “On a sunny day,” he said, “we’ll get five hours of good sunlight. You couldn’t live here without an auxiliary heat source. The number of sunny days in the winter time are few and far between but on those days when the sun is shining, even if the temperature is zero degrees, the heater hardly ever comes on. The solar is really efficient.”
Gene and Mary Ann have a front row seat to the changing seasons of downtown Frankfort. Autumn brings colorful leaves to the trees along the hillside to the right. Winter allows more lights to show at night from the city.
“We live in the perfect spot to catch a rainbow,” Mary Ann commented. “People will call with a ‘rainbow alert’ so I can get the photo,” Gene laughed. “And, it’s really interesting to watch the sun move across the sky at different times of the year.”
Mary Ann enjoys the gazebo down a little path from their bedroom. “The gazebo is a little vacation. You can walk out there and you are immediately away from everything. It’s really quiet and there’s usually a breeze.”
Both Mary Ann and Gene grew up in Louisville but say that Frankfort has been a welcoming town to them. “We just enjoy living here and feel really fortunate,” Gene said.