Past owners, history and lore of today’s historic homes
Posted on 03/02/2023
Bill Bayley used to live at 132 Randolph and came back to visit the house. Just as families have ancestors, historic homes are the roof over the heads and the walls that enclosed the living space of previous generations, as well as the grounds they walked on and tended to. For the nine homeowners/couples interviewed for this series, several had stories about those who lived in the house before they did and hearsay or actual evidence about how certain parts of the house were used or altered.

The farmhouse style home at 239 High St., where Marianne and Thom Barry now reside, was built by William and Sarah Dunlap in 1840. Seven years later, they transferred the deed to the house and the three-quarter acre property to Charles Hoyt. Two more owners held the deed until it was sold to Marietta Baker in 1854.

Up until 1985, six generations of the Baker family lived there. The History of Northville book dubbed it the Latham House. The family farmed the land in addition to holding other jobs – and have a plaque that designates the property as a centennial farm.

By the early 1900s, the front porch had been expanded from a small farmhouse-style platform to a large, raised porch with columns that simulate a Greek Revival style and wide stairs that lead to the front door. Those elements continue to provide a welcoming entrance to the house today. The back kitchen was actually a keeper kitchen, where food was kept, but no cooking was done. A separate kitchen had been built on the north side as a one-half story, in a separate addition from the house. It was configured that way so that if a fire erupted in the kitchen, it wouldn’t spread through the entire house. In the early 1900s, that separate kitchen was removed from the house and placed on the back of the lot for use as a garage. (That garage still stands today.) The keeper kitchen was updated to serve as a cooking kitchen.

At that time, a two-story addition was added to the north side of the home in place of the former kitchen. The addition included a small kitchen and living area with a back staircase that led to a second-story bedroom and full (but small) bathroom.

Heirs of Marietta Baker were Ed Baker, Henry Baker, Sophia Lapham and Belle Porter. In 1931, the house was passed down to Sophia’s son Edward Lapham and his wife, Ethelwyn. Edward planted swaths of bearded irises In the garden that are still blooming in their octogenarian years. In 1943, the addition was offered as living quarters to the Lapham’s daughter, Elizabeth and her husband, Erwin (E.A.) Chapman. She is the granddaughter of James Dubuar and Camilla Swift Dubuar. Her uncle is the late Dr. Swift, a notable physician in Northville.

In 1951, after Edward’s death, the Chapmans lived in the entire house, not just the north addition. They purchased it in 1972. The Barrys bought the home from the Chapmans in 1985.

According to the Historic District Survey, the house and out-building are contributing structures to the Historic District, noting “it retains the integrity of location, setting, feeling and association,” and also “conveys its historic associations with a specific time period.”

The Barrys take a philosophical view of their historic home in terms of how it is maintained, changed, and evolves as new generations live in it. Thom said, “We’re all just moving through.” Marianne added, “We are caretakers of this wonderful place we call home but only for a moment in time. We know that at some point another family will move in and make it their own.”

The home of Gail and Gerald LeVan at 132 Randolph was initially owned by Jenny White, the daughter of William Dunlap, a Northville pioneer whose family farm occupied much of the west side of the city. By 1931, three families lived in the house: Frederick and Celia McKeldey, Mrs. Jennie White, and Everett L. and Leona McRoe. By 1943, the house resumed being a single-family residence with new owners William C. and Elsie Bailey. The house is significant for its role in Northville’s community development and its architecture. It is a contributing resource to the Northville Historic District. (Much of this section is derived from the Historic District Survey.)

Gail’s late father, Bud Hartner, was head of DPW and the fire chief. He was good friends with the Casterlines. While he never lived in the house, it’s relevant to Gail’s family history.

Gail recalled that an elderly gentleman came to her home a couple years ago and said he was born in that house in one of the upstairs bedrooms.

“He said he had always wanted to work up the nerve to knock on our door and took his chance to introduce himself when he saw me in the front yard. His name is Bill Bayley and he owned the dance studio – Bayley's Dance Studio – that operated on Cady Street for decades.”

She invited him in and showed him around the house. “My granddaughter was there and he told her how he would go downstairs in the winter to grab a chicken for dinner and right where he was standing was where the chicken sacrificed itself for dinner. Then he demonstrated on the old plank floors in the living room how he taught the waltz to hundreds of people. We walked down to the creek in the back and he pointed out a huge stone that is still there that he and his siblings played on. He threw a few pebbles into the water. He was so happy that his old house was still standing. It made me happy too.”

The Carters also had a visit from a former resident who came to the Carters’ former historic home at 537 W. Main, which is across the street from their current house. Liz said a 70-year-old woman knocked on her door and told her that her grandmother used to live there. She invited her in and they walked through the house. It turned out that the visitor also lived there for a few years and she reminisced about her time there.

The Carter’s house at 536 W. Main was built by the Knapp family, who owned a store in Downtown Northville. They lived in the house for about 40 years. (A photo of the Knapp store is in the hallway of City Hall.)

Liz Carter keeps a folder on the house. As a hobby, she’ll review the Northville Record online at the Northville District Library. “You can find wonderful things about these houses,” she said.

John Carter and neighbor Ray Bailey, of 116 S. Rogers, said living in an older home reflects their values of having an appreciation of the past.

The home of Ray Bailey and AnnaMaryLee Vollick was previously owned by another Bailey in the 1930s, who was not related to Ray. One family owned the home for approximately 60 years. Ray learned some history of his house by viewing a map of historic Northville on display (and for sale) at Dancing Eye Gallery in Downtown Northville.

AnnaMaryLee said, “There’s so much history here. Our home feels lived in. We’re preserving a point in time (in regards to the Historic District).”

The home of Mike and Sarah Weyburne at 226 West used to be located on Main St, where Long’s Plumbing is today. There was a fire in the house at the location, but the Weyburnes don’t know its origin or the extent of the damage. When the house was moved to West Street, it was mounted on a foundation with a walkout from the basement. The house has no garage. There was heresay that the house, built around 1887, had a carriage entry door that led to the basement. A neighbor across the street knew a lot of the history of Mike’s house and she would chat with him about it but it was never written down and she died in 2020.

The Weyburne’s home originally did not have a first-floor bathroom; that was tacked on to an area over the walkout by the previous owner, probably in the 1990s. The Weyburnes changed the floorplan in the back of the house in 2007. They built a new first-floor half-bath next to the kitchen and removed the previous one. They revived a low-ceiling attic space over the kitchen that was accessed from the second-floor stairway by using that space to blend into a third-floor master bedroom, along with a full bathroom and walk-in closet. They also turned a wayward hallway that previously ended at a window into a nice passageway to the new addition. Through careful planning, architectural assistance, and skilled contractors, this major project added just 300 ft2 to the house.

Stephen Calkins and Joan Wadsworth, of 317 W. Dunlap, bought their home from Don and Alma Coir in 1985. They were an elderly couple who proudly noted they did some of the interior woodworking. Years earlier, a portion of the backyard that parallels West St. was sold to Grace Pollack, who built a ranch house there in the 1960s.

In some historic neighborhoods, the streetscape has changed dramatically. Pat Stein, 419 Dubuar, said, “(When she moved here in 1986) Most of this area didn’t look like it does now. Most were small homes. One house on the block now has three floors. It’s 5,000 ft2 with a huge basement. They demolished the original and carted it away in less than one day.”

Linden Court is the only area in the Historic District that no longer has historic homes except for one remaining mid-century ranch. The original ranch homes, built in the ’50, were demolished in the past 17 years and five large homes were built as replacements. According to Andrew Krenz, who lives on the court, the ranch homes had cinderblock foundations that sheared due to settling over time on land that served as a dump more than a century ago. That made restoration extremely expensive or not possible. Heresay was that when digging foundations for new homes, they found many glass bottles, ceramics, and old black smith/horseshoe artifacts.

Even with historic homes, there’s always something new that enables the homeowners to adapt the house, the land, and the outbuildings to changing times. After all, when most of these homes were built the garage stored carriages that were used with real horse power not the turbo-charged four-cylinder engines of today’s vehicles.