Madison relic given new life, new purpose by new owners
After years sitting vacant, a unique Madison structure will be occupied by people celebrating events with their families and friends, the new owners hope.
Brandon and Annie Yeager bought the former Eighth Wonder restaurant at 304 Madison Heights Road in October and have given it a new life as The Barn at Madison.
“It was such a unique property,” Annie Yeager said.
The Unity couple, who are real estate investors, had to first restore the building, which had been damaged after about 5 years without occupants.
One section of the scalloped plaster upstairs had collapsed, the roof needed to be replaced and pipes had burst in the downstairs bathroom in more than a dozen places, Brandon Yeager said.
“We knew it needed a lot of work,” he said.
At the grand opening Feb. 24, everything from the shining marble mosaic floors and refurbished bar-top attested to that work.
About 300 people visited the 7,500-square-foot building, entering under a balcony adorned with large wagon wheels into the basement dance-floor area and up the stairs to the main banquet hall facing a large stone fireplace, then venturing to the top floor through the spiral staircase to the newly dubbed “bridal suite” where three bedrooms and two bathrooms are still decorated with salvaged wood, including an old law office door.
“It's not cookie-cutter like a fire hall,” said Rob Rockwell, friend of the Yeagers, who was touring the venue with his wife Allison. “There's not many places in the area like it.”
The building was first the vision of Jozsef and Lorraine Nemetz, who bought the 2.2 acres of land in 1973 when it was a wooden dairy barn circa 1799 on the verge of collapse, according to archives of the Tribune-Review.
The contractor and his wife, a retired Yough teacher, were able to renovate the forlorn structure — so dedicated Jozsef sometimes slept in the milk house — and add a countless number of antiques collected over the years.
Included in that collection were more than 300 stained-glass windows, some of which remain, as the couple opened the Eighth Wonder, a Hungarian restaurant with an upstairs apartment about 10 years ago with reservation-only, multiple-course meals including homemade wine and a price tag around $100.
Jozsef Nemetz died in November 2004 at 73, after that what happened to the restaurant isn't clear.
The Yeagers said it was foreclosed on by the bank. They have not been in touch with anyone in the Nemetz family, but a few touches still recall the previous owners.
The Yeagers have updated others, including renovations to the upstairs kitchen and bathrooms, as well as a large brick landing outside.
“A lot of the neighbors came by and said they were really happy something has been done to a building that would have probably fallen through in a year,” Brandon Yeager said.
Representing Madison-based Foodarama Catering at the grand opening, Patti Stepinsky said she hopes the Yeagers' vision will flourish and benefit the borough of about 500 people.
“For it to sit empty would be such a shame,” she said. “It's got such old-world charm that you don't see nowadays and any business is a good thing.”
The Barn at Madison, which Brandon Yeager said might get a name change to better reflect its European atmosphere, can now hold events for up to 250 people.
The Yeagers are taking reservations for day-long receptions, outdoor gatherings, three-day stays or three-hour events.
Visitors to the grand opening, including prospective couples the Yeagers met at area wedding shows, browsed 14 vendors with food and pastry samples as well as photographer and rental services.
Round tables were set in the main hall near white-wrought iron railings while lights swirled on the would-be dance floor below.
“You're not going to find a place like this anywhere,” Annie Yeager said.
Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-836-6660.