GREENFIELD — There was something about the house that caught Shawn Clements’ eye.
It might have been the tiger oak staircase with the original beveled glass mirrors. Or the pocket doors and 10-foot ceilings. Whatever it was, the historical preservationist bought the old rundown rural Kempton farm in 2003 and got right to work on what is now known as the Dunham House in Tipton County.
One afternoon, as Clements tells it, he was working on the renovation when an elderly woman stopped by for a visit. She happened to mention that Grover Cleveland, the 22nd president of the United States, had once stayed overnight in the house.
Clements researched the tidbit on the Internet, and while he couldn’t confirm her story, he learned the Dunham House was home to some of Tipton County’s historically prominent citizens. Then, the biggest discovery — unearthed from an article in the Chicago Sun-Times, linking another famous name to the house: President Barack Obama.
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The house and the land are now the stars of a documentary called “Roots of Destiny,” which will have its premiere at 7 p.m. April 30 at the H.J. Ricks Centre for the Arts, 122 W Main St.
Since stumbling upon that first article, Clements has learned much about the historic home and its connections to the president. William Riley Dunham, who built the house in the 1880s, was Obama’s fourth great-grandfather on his mother’s side. And although Clements never found any proof that Grover Cleveland had ever been there, word quickly spread about the home’s historical significance, all the way to Washington, D.C.
In 2008, Obama came to town. It was just days before the Indiana primary, and while crisscrossing Indiana during campaign rallies, the young senator from Illinois made a stop at his ancestral home.
Clements watched the entourage of black vehicles roll up and then panicked, realizing he wasn’t sure of the protocols for meeting a candidate for the presidency. He wasn’t sure where he was supposed to be standing or how to address Obama. But Obama broke the ice immediately with a casual salutation. For the next hour, Obama and Clements talked about the history of the home and what it means to the residents of Tipton County.
Those are stories Clements will share as part of the new documentary.
The film’s producer, Greenfield native John Kleiman, is proud of his small town roots and very excited for his community to host the premiere.
“We could have had it anywhere,” Kleiman said, “but I told Shawn about the beautiful theater we have here, and he agreed.”
Kleiman is also known for another Greenfield-based film, “Pushed Too Far,” which was filmed in Greenfield and other central Indiana locations. Kleiman was the screenwriter and producer for the 1988 film that starred Claude Akins.
Kleiman’s new documentary, which took three years to make, is the length of an hour-long TV show. He hopes one of the cable channels will pick it up for broadcast.
“This is going to have a much farther reach than just Greenfield,” Kleiman said.
He and Clements are both eager for audiences to see the film, which Clements said is purely historical — not political.
“It’s the story of an American family who came to Indiana as pioneers and has spread its descendants all over the country,” he said.
The history of the land starts with the Miami Indians, Clements explains, who retained hunting rights on it until 1844. In 1849, a land grant of 120 acres was purchased by Jacob and Catherine Dunham, who came to Indiana from Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Eventually, another 2,000 acres was added to the original land grant, and for the next 120 years, Dunhams were an important part of the Kempton and Tipton County community, becoming farmers, doctors and even a member of the Indiana General Assembly.
In the trailer for the film, Indiana historian Nelson Price says, “All it takes is for one generation not to care, and so much information can be lost.”
Clements, whose business is historical renovation, knows the importance of that statement. Proceeds from the ticket sales for the premiere will benefit not only the Dunham House in Kempton but also the Hancock County Historical Society.
Clements bought the house in 2003, back when nobody knew who Barack Obama was. He has since restored it, and now lives in the in-laws quarters on the grounds of the home.
“It’s the great American farm house,” Clements said. “It’s full of memories, joys and tragedies and a perfect example of why we should preserve history. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. And I think that people who see the movie will see that the history of the people who lived in this house is very similar to their own.”
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: “Roots of Destiny: An American Story” world premiere screening
WHEN: 7 p.m. April 30
WHERE; H.J. Ricks Centre for the Arts, 122 W. Main St.
TICKETS: available at the Ricks Centre, the Hancock County Historical Society and online at booksbychapter.com for $10.