Architectural project leaves Lenzburg yard in ruins

News-DemocratJune 23, 2013 

Ruins are usually the remains of manmade architecture that has fallen into disrepair.

Not Devin Kaemmerer's.

His enchanting brick arched ruins are new and have a wooded backdrop.

"I dreamt it up four or five years ago," said Devin, 56, leading the way down a slope alongside his rural Lenzburg home. "What really got it going was when I heard a friend was going to tear down an old house."

The 1830s farmhouse was built of handmade brick.

"I asked, 'Can I have some brick?' He said, 'What are you going to do with it?' I'm going to build a ruins. 'Well, OK.' He envisioned a pile of bricks with 2-by-4s sticking out."

Devin had 30 days to retrieve the 2,800 bricks that then sat on a pallet for a couple years.

"I knew how many bricks I had," he said. "I didn't have a plan yet."

He drew a picture of what he wanted, then built a 3-D model from construction paper.

"Everybody got it."

Last spring, Devin hired bricklayer and friend Ron "Moose" Holtgrave, of Breese, and his crew for the project.

"Moose said, 'I never built a house that was falling down before.' They got a kick out of it," said Devin. "They were messing with me pretty bad. 'We can make it look like it's falling down.' That's what I want."

Three days later, his ruins were, well, up.

"It went off the wings of the fireplace," he said of the working stone fireplace that anchors one end. "I didn't want to make it too big."

For a get-together of 30, the ruins were just right.

"We bring a picnic table down and put food on it," said Devin. "We have a cast- iron pot for chili and have the bonfire going (a few feet away)."

The setting also works well for one.

"Sometimes, I will run into town for breakfast," he said. "I've already been sitting here and had does walk by."

Wolmanized 2-by-8s stretch from one side to the other.

"One of the neighbors came over and recommended, 'Why don't you take a torch to those? They won't look so green."

So he did.

Metal porch chairs and a bench furnish the open 15-by-30-foot space, along with an old stove and the top of a sink Devin has filled with flowers. Antique pots and pans hang on either side of the fireplace. For now, there's a dirt floor, but concrete and brick are being considered.

A water feature is planned.

"Eventually, we are going to put a clawfoot tub here," he said.

He'll run an underground line to the ruins to power a small pump for the tub's running water.

Wildlife is welcome. A hummingbird feeder hangs from an arch. An unoccupied ceramic wren house is on an interior wall.

"We had a renter in spring," said Devin, eyeing a bird's nest, near the top of the ruins.

"It was kind of hard to come down here when eggs were in the nest," said Hope. "She was very protective."

Hope, a part-time nurse at St. Elizabeth's Hospital, likes the coolness of the ruins, figuratively and literally.

"I never really thought that he would do it,"' she said. "I didn't know what to think of it at first. He always has a project in his head."

Are they usually successful?

"Most of the time, yes."

The Kaemmerers, originally from Belleville, have five grown children, a 1 1/2-year-old granddaughter Hailey Kaemmerer ("who loves being out here") and an attention-loving Bassett hound named Bailey.

The family moved to Lenzburg 10 years ago for the peace and quiet of country living. Devin, who works for Cargill, is a former Belleville city councilman.

"My first major project when we lived on Virginia, was a deck and patio, a sandstone wall and fish pond," he said.

A big project at his current home was the sandstone walkway.

"The front sidewalk was intense," he said. "It was a family project. The sandstone slabs weren't light. The biggest one was 4 by 6 feet."

Getting things growing amid the ruins is much easier.

"The vine is Virginia creeper," Devin said of a leafy plant on the prowl in the brick. "I pulled him out of the woods. He's all the way up to here now, Hope."

The vine was also making its way up the side of the fireplace until his son mistook it for poison ivy.

Devin has planted hostas and native plants, such as may apples and green dragon, a wildflower from the woods. Inside-the-ruins trees include a green leaf red bud, a dogwood and a red bud. Azaleas line the area in front.

"I told him when he was planting the azaleas, he was planting deer food," said his wife.

"There have been times we have walked out on the porch and seen deer down here," said Devin. "The azaleas, they got munched ... But it's wildlife. I like seeing them."

Since Devin has built his ruins, he's noticed ruins in magazines and has seen one in person.

"Down in Memphis, there's a church ruins at the Chick- Fil-A on the east side of Memphis. The restaurant uses it as a sitting area."

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