Tony and Cindy Sensenberger invest in community, downtown life
PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOSHUA BERRY
Tony and Cindy Sensenberger’s work to restore their property at 17 Front Street resulted in much more than a showplace house. Restoration of the Anderson-Sensenberger Home was a major catalyst in revitalizing the personality and business climate of downtown Madison.
The house was built in 1897 by Matthew Harvey Anderson, a Madison banker and merchant. Subsequent owners were Dr. James Allen Kyser in 1926, followed by Billy J. and Nancy Jane Jones of Huntsville in the 1950s.
In dismal condition
By the 1990s, the dwelling was in drastic disrepair. The front porch had separated from the house and literally was falling apart. The large lawn had declined into a wasteland of weeds and invasive brush.
In 1997 on Thanksgiving weekend, the Sensenbergers visited Madison and stumbled upon an auction on Front Street. Planning to look at furniture, they stopped, but Tony soon negotiated with an auctioneer to buy the house with all of the land. They began the laborious process to reclaim, repair and restore the house to its former caliber and create a comfortable home for their family.
“It was uninhabitable,” Cindy said. They filled four commercial dumpsters with garbage and trash and hauled away 30 truckloads of overgrown honeysuckle and privet. Tony gutted the house down to the frame and demolished the lean-to kitchen. Huntsville architect Harvey Jones served as consultant.
Redefined living spaces
Situated on three acres, the house now has 5,000-plus square feet with five rooms downstairs, eight upstairs. The Sensenbergers replaced the house’s rear with a two-story addition, including kitchen and upstairs family area, playroom and bedrooms, for a total of four bedrooms and five bathrooms. Upstairs, Cindy has an office, and the family enjoys a television/recreation room.
One of the most prominent features in the house’s Victorian architecture is the high-pitched roof with multiple gables that reach a central peak. The house features Tuscan columns, like many of Madison’s turn-of-the-century homes.
At the driveway, Tony installed an authentic cannon and a station bell that once alerted passengers to board the Norfolk-Southern Railroad. At the home’s entrance, a gracious, spacious semi-circular veranda curves to the east. The Sensenbergers retained original leaded-glass windows, two corner fireplaces and an iron fence from Stewart Iron Works of Cincinnati.
Peach and mint green define the color scheme. The living room’s French provincial chairs, marble-top table and a formal settee of tufted gold velvet follow Victorian decor. Four-poster and sleigh beds and a chaise fainting couch carry the theme upstairs.
Most recently, the Sensenbergers enclosed the back porch to create a sunroom to display Cindy’s extensive collection of houseplants and flowers. Sunlight cascades through walls of windows and warms the bamboo flooring, creating a home for angel-winged begonias, Christmas cactus, rosemary, bird’s nest and asparagus ferns, schefflera, African violets and crown-of-thorns cactus.
In their backyard garden, they grow tomatoes, yellow squash, green peppers, cilantro, mint and basil that Cindy uses in dishes at their restaurant, Main Street Cafe. A vanilla/strawberry hydrangea tree is one out-of-the-ordinary shrub. Rarely grown in the South, an olive tree bears brownish fruit when ripe.
Tony planted rows of white and pink crape myrtles parallel to Sullivan and Front streets. The lawn has four magnolias, two pecans and two oaks, along with cherry, hackberry, holly, pine and maple trees and Rose of Sharon althea and blueberry and blackberry bushes.
Downtown’s rising phoenix
In other downtown projects, the Sensenbergers revamped the old City Hall building, which officials had condemned, into Main Street Cafe, one of north Alabama’s most popular restaurants.
They have shaped today’s downtown profile on Main Street with Shoppes on Main office suites; 16 Main Street, which is occupied by a hair and nail salon; and construction of Murphy Homes Showroom.