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A blast from the (modernized) past

Jedediah Irwin is very much part of the modern world. From smart phones to tablets, he’s up on the latest technology. But he’s also got one foot firmly planted about 150 years in the past.

Visit the front room of the home he’s made in an old church downtown and you’ll find a hodgepodge of modern and antique touches.

“I call it one of my workshops,” Irwin said. “It’s where I spend most of my time when I’m not doing other things – sewing, drafting, making patterns.”

His other workshop is an area set aside for more labor-intensive jobs, such as carpentry and his attempts to learn how to make stained glass. He lives in the former Congregational Church, built in 1916 across from Bywaters Park.

From home to dress, Irwin is a fan the antiquated – particularly the Victorian period. Which made him an ideal contact when the city looked at adding a Charles Dickens-style touch downtown this holiday season.

The Plaza Theater used to have people dress up for ambiance around Christmas, Irwin said. When people started thinking about bringing it back, he said Main Street Coordinator Cheri Bedford approached him with the idea. A group of Victorians made an appearance at the Christmas tree lighting on the square on Nov. 10. They’re expected back on Dec. 1 along with the parade and Dec. 10 for caroling and the wassail festival.

Although the dates are set, Irwin said he would like to have more volunteers to fill out the group. Costumes will be provided if necessary. Anyone interested may email Irwin at TheRoyalAlchemist@gmail.com.

A Paris High School graduate, Irwin has lived in many different areas in the last few years. When he came back to Paris, he took on the church as a project.

“I would look at it in high school; I thought it would be cool to see inside,” he said. “It’s a neat old building. I never thought I would own it.”

The old church had been off the market for some time when Irwin and his wife purchased it a little more than a year ago The owners responded favorably to his interest, and even though it needs a lot of attention, it’s less than renting would be. The walls are about 18 inches thick and it’s structurally sound. Some of their current renovations include updating wiring and fire protection.

“It’s still beating me, but I will take care of it,” he said. “I get one day a week to work on it. It’s a labor of love.”
Their current plans are to finish out their residential areas downstairs and turn their attention to the sanctuary upstairs and convert it to a 24-hour café.

“It will be Victorian-themed – well, technically, it will be steampunk-themed,” he said. “I would like to eventually sell local stuff so you can always get something local.”

Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction that imagines a world where steam-powered technology took hold sooner and developed in ways that reflect current technology – but with a more artistic flair heavy on gears, brass and other materials common in the Industrial Revolution. Steampunk is generally set in either Victorian England or a similar society. The genre has given rise to several sub-genres, such as dieselpunk, clock punk and “weird westerns” such as the movie Wild, Wild West and Jonah Hex.

Irwin also hopes to add a Victorian-themed tea room.

“My wife loves me enough to go along with my crazy schemes,” Irwin said. “It’s a very organic building still. We’re still moving walls and seeing where things want to go.”

Irwin likes to say he has a hard time sitting still, which may be an understatement. He’s also a designer, a fashion designer, a steampunk craftsman, an adult leader with Boy Scout Troop 2, an advisor with the Scouts’ Order of the Arrow, plans to visit Japan in April as part of a group study exchange program with Rotary International, hosts role-playing games in his home on Tuesdays and gives sewing lessons. That’s on top of his full-time job at the quilting shop on Stillhouse behind Chili’s.

He’s had classes in fashion and architecture, and even participated (and won) a few fashion shows. He incorporates his love of the Victorian into his clothing.

“Steampunk is sneaking into fashion all over the place,” he said. “I start in the past and work my way into modernizing it.”

His first sewing project was a custom pack to hold a large laptop he’d purchased for architecture school. He then made a jacket and an aviator hat with headphones to both keep his head warm and allow him to enjoy music at the same time. His interests and skills built from there.

Irwin’s not sure where his fascination with the Victorian came from. He said it started about five years ago. His interests started with the Medieval period, but soured a little when he realized knights were usually not as chivalrous as they claimed.

“It’s an idealistic view of when things were easier and better,” Irwin said. “What if the world had gone with a greener technology? What if the computer had been developed when Charles Babbage first thought of it in 1826?”

In keeping with that greener idea, steampunk art repurposes old machinery and equipment that would otherwise go into the garbage. Irwin has taken that idea and extended it in his home, refurbishing ceiling tin and other things from the church and putting them back wherever possible. And where that’s not possible, he often reuses the materials in other ways – such as an old door that became a bathroom counter.

Irwin credits God and His blessings for what he has and what he’s accomplished.

“I could not do any of this without it,” he said. “He really does bless. Every day is a new, amazing thing.”

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