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September 25, 2013

Living with a (re)purpose

By Sherri Kolade
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
A mid-19th century photo shows the Provencal-Weir House.
The Provencal-Weir House still stands today in Grosse Pointe Farms.
 

METRO DETROIT — If alive today, Euphemia St. Aubin Provencal would be beaming.

The wife of Detroit farmer and merchant Pierre Provencal would smile upon seeing hundreds — if not thousands — of children tour her former farmhouse-turned Provencal-Weir House museum in Grosse Pointe Farms. The children  walk away more knowledgeable about the home’s historic past, said Izzy Donnelly, Grosse Pointe Historical Society Education director.

“I can’t help but think Euphemia is smiling, thinking this house needs children in it,” Donnelly said inside the house, 381 Kercheval Ave. in Grosse Pointe Farms. “It is cornball stuff, but I believe that.”

The Provencals married in 1831, and, over the course of 15 years, they adopted more than 20 children whose parents died during the cholera outbreak in the mid-1800s.

Raising the children, plus one biological daughter, Catherine, during that time was a monumental task for St. Aubin Provencal.

The mother, who has a street in Detroit named after her, always had a soft spot for children, education and religion in her house, built approximately in 1823. 

Oftentimes, repurposing historical homes and educating the community go hand in hand, Lisa Mower Gandelot, former historical society president, said at the house recently.

“I think it is important for kids to be able to live history,” Gandelot said. “They come here, and it is as if they have stepped back in time.”

Whether repurposing homes to retain historical dignity, or creating museums, local historical organizations — among other groups throughout metro Detroit and beyond — are making reliving history possible.

Grosse Pointe Farms
One of countless examples of repurposing homes is the Provencal-Weir House museum, which the historical society purchased from a resident in 1988.

After the woman passed away, the historical society cleaned up the house over a period of time and restored it in the mid-1990s to circa 1840s and 1860s.

“Even though the house was (circa) 1823, we thought it would be more comfortable,” Gandelot said. “We didn’t want it to be just a museum. We wanted it to be interactive and be cherished by people. I think it tells a lot about the people who lived here and the life they lived.”

She said the landmark Greek Revival farmhouse does not have historic designation because of a couple of additions to the house, which is used for classes and programs.

St. Clair Shores
In the 1970s, as a result of a St. Clair Shores resident’s passion, the Selinsky-Green Farmhouse Museum, 22500 E. 11 Mile Road, was saved from a bulldozer when it was originally at Grant and 11 Mile, near I-696 and I-94.

After noticing that the house was made of logs, she told others who were interested, and they formed the St. Clair Shores Historical Commission.

A pear tree stands in what used to be the front of the house.

The Selinsky-Green Farmhouse Museum, located behind the St. Clair Shores Public Library, represents the home of a typical family who were late-19th century settlers in the area.

John and Mary Selinsky, Polish immigrants, came to Erin Township, now St. Clair Shores, in 1868, purchased property and built their saltbox structure of log timber framework.

“They lived like a lot of other people in St. Clair Shores lived,” museum curator Mary Stachowiak said inside the house recently. “They weren’t significant.”

The Farmhouse was restored over the past years by volunteers.

Stachowiak said the house’s porch was recreated because, over the years, it lost a lot of its historical detail.

During the move, the floors also had to be replaced, along with some of the molding and part of the ceiling, the pantry and several doors. Period wallpaper was also used in the parlor, a replica of a print from that time period.

“Over the years, it was painted over,” Stachowiak said. “(It) was decorated up to the 1970s, and they had to take it back to the late 1800s, early 1900s.”

The couple sold the house to their daughter Ernestine when she married German immigrant John Green in 1874.

The Green descendents lived in the house until 1974, when the state Highway Commission bought the house and land to develop the I-696/I-94 interchange. The Museum is owned by the city under the direction of its Historical Commission.

It is listed in the Michigan state register of historic sites, St. Clair Shores Public Library Director Rosemary Orlando told C & G recently.

“I think it gives the residents of the community a hands-on look at the life, the customs, the dress and the resources of this area,” she said. “It gives them a historical perspective.”

Farmington
The historic Victorian Governor Warner Mansion is in mourning.

The sprawling mansion at 33805 Grand River Ave. has several black cloths covering its mirrors, busts of its former owner — former Gov. Fred Warner — and painted pictures of his relatives.

Mansion volunteers are preparing to entertain guests for Halloween and the upcoming Governor Warner Mansion Ghost Walk Oct. 19.

The mansion is donning black for a common Victorian mourning tradition — one of the many ways mansion volunteers recreate customs of people during the Victorian era as a community outreach tool.

“Everybody copied (Queen Victoria’s) mourning customs,” mansion volunteer Sharon Bernath said while inside the house. “Covering the mirrors was based on a superstition, I think, because the spirit of the dead would pull you into the other world. Everything that had a human shape was covered.”

Bernath said the repurposing of the mansion took place in the 1980s, after it was donated to the city.

“It is a very important house, not just for Farmington, because Fred was governor of Michigan for three terms,” she said. ”It gives people pride of place in their community.”

For more information on the Provencal-Weir House, call (313) 884-7010 or visit www.gphistorical.org.

For more information on the Selinsky-Green Farmhouse Museum, visit  www.scslibrary.org/sgfm.html, or call (586) 771-9020.

For more information on the Warner Mansion, visit www.ci.farmington.mi.us, or call (248) 474-5500.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Sherri Kolade at skolade@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1046.