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Madison Heights

July 30, 2014

Buyer sought to preserve 177-year-old Madison Heights home

By Andy Kozlowski
C & G Staff Writer

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This 177-year-old house in the area of 13 Mile and Dequindre is up for sale, and the property owners hope they can sell it to someone who will preserve it for the future.

MADISON HEIGHTS — Sometimes, history is right under your nose.

There are countless commuters who frequent the area of 13 Mile and Dequindre. What they don’t realize is that in their travels, they pass a home that dates back 177 years — before Michigan was even a state, in what was once the Northwest Territory. 

It’s a beautiful red-brick building at 1560 E. 13 Mile, on the south side of 13 Mile, west of Dequindre on the corner of Elmhurst. The children who once lived there and manage the property need to sell it. They would like to see the home cherished and preserved for future generations.

With slight modifications for handicap-accessibility, perhaps it could even become a museum for Madison Heights and Michigan history, they said.

“It’s a piece of history, staring out at the urban growth around it. The city grew up, but the house stood still as everything else changed,” said Joan Jones, one of the siblings who once lived there and now manages the property from out of town.

“I would hate to see the house torn down,” she said. “Not because I grew up in it, but because it’s something we’ll never get back.”

Originally, city records indicated the house was built in 1850. Madison Heights City Councilwoman Margene Scott was working with local library director Roslyn Yerman on the book “Images of America — Madison Heights,” released by Arcadia Publishing, when they discovered the house was even older than anticipated.

Scott asked Robert Corbett, a fellow city councilmember, to run a title search on the property through Seaver Title Co. What they found is the house was originally built in 1834 — three years before Michigan joined the Union.

The first picture in “Images of America — Madison Heights” is of the house, since it is the oldest in the city and one of the oldest in the state. Through it, Scott and Yerman were able to start piecing together more of the city’s story, including the identities of the first children who attended the Lamphere Schools.

Back when the house was first built, the federal government would give away land to settlers who’d agree to clear it and build houses there. People weren’t exactly rushing out to Michigan; word at the time suggested this area was unpleasant swampland.   

But those who tamed the wilderness paved the way for the buzzing hive of activity where people live, work and play today.

“This house appears to be the catalyst for attracting other people to the area and developing it,” Scott said. “Maybe because this house was built on such strong brick and has such a good foundation is why it stayed all this time.”

Scott theorizes that the original property might’ve been farmland stretching east to Dequindre and south to about 12 1/2 Mile.

“History is a puzzle — you find enormous chunks of pieces, but nothing around them, and then you find more pieces to fill in the gaps,” Scott said. “It’s neat to study history. You pick up an old history book from your school days, and remember back then you thought, ‘Big deal,’ but then all of the sudden you find you’re living in a place that reflects the history you learned about as a child, in this case the Northwest Territory. Suddenly, it seems more real.”

Jones’ family, the Colletts, lived in the house for 50 years. The country-style home sits on roughly an acre of land that includes several of the original apple trees. Behind the house, one can find the remnants of a stone well once powered by a windmill. It supplied water until subdivisions sprang up in Madison Heights and dried out the water, at which point the house switched to the city’s supply. And in the basement, one can see the main support of the house — a beam of timber likely cut from an ancient tree in the area. 

The entire house is structurally sound and has stood the test of time with remarkable grace. The heating system could be updated, but Scott says there shouldn’t be much work needed.

The two-story, five-bedroom house has 1 1/2 baths and also includes a combined kitchen and dining room area, a living room with a den off to the side, and a spacious two-car garage with brick walls. Two of the five bedrooms are in an addition that predates the 50 years that Jones and her siblings lived there. A crawlspace is under the addition, while the basement is under the main part of the house. The basement has a finished floor and thick walls. There is also an unfinished attic.

“The house has a sort of country flair, even though you’re in the middle of the city,” Jones said. “It was an old country home back in the day. It had a lot of laughter and love in it over the years, because of all the kids who lived there.”

She thinks back to her childhood and remembers picking apples off the trees and playing with her siblings in what were once wide-open fields on either side of the house. Thirteen Mile was a two-way road back then, surrounded by acres and acres of farmland, and dotted by the occasional home. There was another house across the street, but the nearest next-door neighbor was an acre down the road.

Now Jones and her family hope that someone will purchase the property and maintain it for years to come, so that children in the future can appreciate their past. It is, after all, part of the heritage of both Madison Heights and Michigan.

“It’s a step back in time,” Jones said. “We want someone who will cherish it. Ideally, they’d restore it for the public to share. That’s what we would like to see. We would like this house to be shared with the community for generations to come.”

The house is currently occupied, but anyone who is interested in this historic property should contact Robert Corbett, Century 21 Campbell Realty, at (248) 823-6813 or at rcorb1220@aol.com.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Andy Kozlowski at akozlowski@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1104.