Self-Guided Walking Tour of the Dennis and State Streets Historic District

By Peter Barr

Welcome to the Dennis and State streets Historic District, a neighborhood of privately owned homes listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1975. Please explore the neighborhood from the public sidewalks and streets—without trespassing on private property. It is a good idea to download this page on your mobile device before heading out.

 

Introduction to the Dennis and State Street Historic District

Originally known as "Berry's Southern Addition," this district was platted in 1844 by Langford and Ambrose Berry on land that they purchased from the estate of 1826 pioneers Adeline and Elias Dennis. Several of the homes in the neighborhood date to the 1840s, when Adrian was linked by railroad to Toledo (1836), Tecumseh (1838), Monroe (1840), and Hudson (1843), and became the sixth largest city in Michigan. Because of the neighborhood's ideal location, within walking distance to Adrian's commercial center, churches, and social orders, as well as its factories and rail lines, over time many early homes were either redecorated or torn down and replaced with homes of newer styles.

This neighborhood is worth exploring first and foremost because it contains many beautifully maintained homes that were built in a broad range of popular nineteenth- and early twentieth-century architectural styles. The main features of these styles are touched upon in this tour and elaborated on elsewhere within this website. The district is also worth exploring because it is an extremely compact area that is easily walked and pleasantly secluded from heavy automobile traffic--the result of the city truncating Dennis Street to make more room for its "modern" city hall in 1971 (demolished in 2010). Within a half mile of the Lenawee County Historical Museum, one can find homes built in both the Octagon and Foursquare forms as well as buildings in the Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Italian Villa, Second Empire, Queen Anne, Richardsonian Romanesque, Shingle, Colonial Revival, Classical RevivalCraftsman, and Modern styles.  

Finally, the neighborhood is worth exploring since several well-known figures once called this neighborhood home.  Among them are: 

  • The inventor Thomas Edison, who worked briefly in 1864 as the telegraph operator at the city's railroad depot. He boarded at the Chittenden House at 322 State Street, where the Queen Anne-style Metcalf-Shierson House stands today.
  • Henry Ford's brother-in-law Samuel W. Raymond, who owned Raymond Ford Garage at 215 North Main Street and lived at 449 State Street.
  • J. Wallace Page, the inventor of woven wire fence and owner of Page Woven Wire Fence Company, who lived at 510 State Street.
  • W. H. Burnham, President of Lamb Fence Company, who lived at 204 East Church Street. This home was also, earlier, the residence of banker W. H. Waldby and, even earlier, of clothing merchant George L. Bidwell, who had the home built during the Civil War.
  • Ollie E. Mott, owner of Nu-Way Stretch suspender factory, who lived at 312 State Street.
  • Isabella and William Cocker, who were beneficiaries of Elihu L. Clark's estate estimated to be worth three quarters of a million dollars when Clark died in 1880. They lived at 312 Dennis Street.
  • Three generations of the Stevenson family, dealers in lumber and coal on Division Street, including Archimedes Stevenson who lived at 305 Dennis Street, his son Frank A. Stevenson who lived at 327 Dennis Street, and Frank's son William H. Stevenson who lived at 311 Dennis Street.
  • Both owners of Hart & Shaw Drugstore, which was located on the southwest corner of Main and Maumee streets, including Byron Shaw, who lived at 304 Dennis Street, and Samuel Hart who lived at 430 Dennis Street before moving to 417 State Street.
  • J. H. Champion, Editor of the Adrian Watchtower newspaper, who lived at 523 Winter Street.

1. Lenawee County Historical Museum (Adrian Public Library)

110 East Church Street, 1909
Designed by Bloomington, Illinois, architect Paul O. Moratz
Constructed by Adrian architect and builder C. Frederick Matthes
Richardsonian Romanesque (1872 to 1910)

Who paid for it? Note the sandstone plaque, "PUBLIC LIBRARY," on the Lenawee County Historical Museum, located above the Laura Haviland sculpture and facing the intersection of Church and Main streets. Between 1886 and 1919, the steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie donated more than $40 million for the construction of 1,679 public libraries across the United States, including his unusually generous gift of $27,500 for Adrian's Public Library. 

What is the building's style? In 1907, a local selection committee reviewed more than 50 submitted plans before choosing one in the "Richardsonian Romanesque" style, which is a style that had been developed by the highly influential Boston-area architect Henry Hobson Richardson (1838-1886). Bloomington, Illinois, architect Paul O. Moratz (1866-1939) submitted the winning design, which features an arrangement of two asymmetrical towers that he nestled on each side of the library's large, semi-circular reading room and next to the building's two entrances. He tied these various elements together with four red sandstone belts that wrap around the building. The entire structure sits on a rusticated and battered, red sandstone foundation that steps up dramatically beneath each tower to frame two wide-arch entrances. One entrance faces Church Street while the other one once faced the north end of Dennis Street, which the city vacated in 1971. Richardson's Romanesque style is, as in this building, characterized by the use of towers, steeply pitched roofs, asymmetry, and belt courses as well as prominent round-arch entrances and strings of arches over the upper-level windows. Moratz's unique contribution to Richardson's style was in the way he fit everything neatly into the existing, odd building lot and substituted economical tan brick where Richardson would have used expensive, rough-cut, Quincy granite.

Who built it and how long did it take to build? Local architect, builder, and contractor Christian Frederick Matthes (1854-1910) submitted the lowest construction bid, $26,056, and nearly the entire city of Adrian showed up to witness the laying of the cornerstone on November 5, 1907. Matthes, who was also responsible for building two other structures at the intersection of Church and Main streets (the YMCA and the Gunsolus Building), completed construction of the Public Library on February 5, 1909. The building was added to the National Register for Historic Places in 1977.

Click here for an essay about origins of this building by Jan Richardi.

Click here for an essay about this building by Leah Stimic.

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2. Choate House

232 Dennis Street, 1853, the north wing was added after 1972 and remodeled in 2016
Greek Revival Style (1845 to 1890)

Who are the Choates, and what was Adrian like when this house was built? The Choate House is named for Nathan and Louisa Choate, the first owners of this home, whose descendants continued to live in it for nearly seventy years. The family also owned more than 100 acres of prime agricultural land just west of Adrian along Plank Road. Their house on Dennis Street was erected in 1853 by builder William Sheldon in the Greek-Revival style. Sheldon built the house during a period of rapid grown in Adrian, the same year that the village became a city and just two years after the Michigan Southern Railroad extended its tracks to reach Chicago and relocated its headquarters and repair facilities to Adrian. 

How can I identify the Greek Revival style? The popularity of the Greek Revival style in the middle of the nineteenth century reflects Americans’ fascination with Greek culture following the Greek War of Independence (1821 and 1829) and the availability of popular Greek-Revival carpenter guides and pattern books, which were written by East Coast architects in the early 1830s. This style can be easily identified today by the broad frieze board located under the roof. Other clues to the style include the Doric columns that frame the front door as well as the home's modest size and cubic form. The size and form were dictated to some extent by the mortise-and-tenon construction inside the walls, where Sheldon, just like almost all other builders at this time, joined large posts and beams with wooden pegs instead of expensive, hand-wrought nails. Yet, the Choate House is an unusual Greek-Revival style home since it has a square plan and a hipped roof; all of the other Greek-Revival style homes in the Historic District have rectangular plans and front-facing gables so that they might resemble ancient Greek temples.

Click here to read an essay about this house by Jessica Forrest

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3. Park-Baldwin House

236 Dennis Street, 1921
Craftsman Home (1910-1940)

Summary: Between 1919 and 1921, when he was in his late 50s, prominent businessman Charles Sumner Park (1861-1942) built this fashionable Craftsman-style home for himself and his wife, Helen. This was not the first home erected at 236 Dennis Street. In 1847, Stephen A. Main built a modest, wood, Greek Revival-style house on this spot. The Parks undoubtedly selected this location in part because it was close to Charles's business concerns and because, as Treasurer of the Adrian Building and Loan Association, he knew that erecting such a house would serve as a model to other, potential home owners in the city.

How can I identify the Craftsman style? The Parks bought the property in 1919, moved part of the old, Greek-Revival style structure to the back of the lot for use as a garage (now gone), and built a new home with all of the hallmarks of the Craftsman style, including a sweeping, side-gabled roof that, along with earth-colored brick posts, frames a room-sized front porch. Above the porch are other typical features of the style, including a large, projecting dormer, decorative beams and, perhaps the most characteristic feature of style, exposed rafter tails

Why did the Craftsman style become so popular? This was a style of building promoted by Rochester, New York, furniture maker Gustav Stickley, who began publishing a magazine titled Craftsman in 1901 to advertise his own furniture designs and to express his concerns about the impact of industrialization on society. In 1909 and 1912, Stickley assembled the building plans that had appeared in his magazine and published two popular books titled Craftsman Homes, and More Craftsman Homes. Together, these publications celebrated rather than hid the buildings' connections to nature and their building techniques. He then developed a secondary business that sold blueprints and building instructions. Other companies followed suit, offering dozens of Craftsman-style house plans and even entire house-building kits that turned the style into a national phenomenon.

Who was Charles S. Park? Although Charles Park was a prominent businessman in his own right, he might be remembered best today by long-time residents of the city as the younger brother of Ambrose Park, who founded A B Park Department Store in downtown Adrian, specializing in dry goods, carpets and ready-to-wear, lasting from 1877 to 1971. Charles and Ambrose lived in Adrian their entire lives, having been raised on State Street near the corner of Michigan Street. As a teenager, Charles served as clerk in his brother's retail business before becoming the Sales Manager for Page Woven Wire Fence Company. This job allowed Charles to build a handsome Italianate home for his family at 377 East Church Street--just two blocks from downtown Adrian while also being close enough to the fence company that he could walk to work. However, in the 1921 City Directory, the year the Parks moved into their new home on Dennis Street, Charles was no longer listed as being employed by Page Fence Company.  Instead, he was identified as Secretary of A B Park, Second Vice President of Lenawee County Telephone Company, and Treasurer of Adrian Building & Loan Association. All of these businesses were located in downtown Adrian, close to each other as well as to his new home. The Building & Loan, which focused on residential mortgage lending and promoting home ownership, advertised extensively in the 1917 City Directory with the mottoes: "Adrian Home Builders," "A Thrift Club on a Large Scale," "Under State Supervision," and "Your Rent Money Will Pay For a Home." It is no wonder that Park wanted to take his own advice and build himself a stylish new home as he started the second act of his business career.

Click here for an essay about the Park-Baldwin House by Cody Sieler

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4. Cocker House

Summary: The stone foundation of the current home, along with early maps of the city, indicate that a modest house stood on the location of the Cocker House since at least the early 1850s, probably resembling to some extent the Governor Croswell House at 228 North Broad Street, which was built around 1842. Between 1880 and 1881, Superintendent of Adrian Public Schools William J. Cocker and his wife Isabella (Clark) tore down the old house and enlarged its plan somewhat by adding four projecting bays, including the second-story bay visible in this photograph and three first-story bays on the front and on the opposite side of the house that have brick instead of stone foundations. In addition, the Cockers substantially changed the home's design, transforming it into the Second Empire style, almost certainly as a tribute to Isabella's recently deceased father Elihu L. Clark, Sr.

House at 312 Dennis Street, where the Cocker House now sits, as seen in the 1866 map of Adrian.

How can I identify the Second Empire style? The key to recognizing the Second Empire style is the Mansard roof.  This roof is nearly flat on the top and has steeply sloping sides that cover the top story of the house. Other typical features of the Second Empire style include floor-to-ceiling windows, a centrally placed entrance with a boxy single-story porch, and moldings at the corners of the walls that draw the eye upward toward the roof. Lost from this home's original design are metal crests that would have risen from the peak of its slate roof. Moreover, because the Cockers kept most of the original home's footprint, this Second Empire style home has two unusual features: a slightly asymmetrical plan and less-than-prominent chimneys.

What do we know about Isabella and William Cocker's families? Both Isabella and William came from fascinating families. William's father, Benjamin Cocker was born and educated in England before he followed the Gold Rush to Australia. Once there he undertook missionary work in the Fiji islands, where, according to his obituary, he narrowly escaped being eaten by cannibals. Eventually, after surviving an earthquake at sea, he landed with his family in the Midwest, became a popular Methodist minister, and finished his career as Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Michigan. Isabella's father, Elihu L. Clark, Sr., was a highly successful businessman and philanthropist, who started his career selling consumer goods in Palmyra, New York, before moving to Adrian in 1835. Once here, he turned his business investments into a profitable banking operation. At the time of his death in 1880 he left a considerable fortune, estimated to be worth an astounding three quarters of a million dollars, to his family and to local causes.

Elihu L. Clark House (destroyed), 413 East Maumee Street, 1869. William and Isabella Cocker moved into this Second Empire style house in 1884.

Why did they choose this house style? Isabella and William seem to have used their inheritance to build themselves a new home in the same style as Clark's stately Second-Empire-style brick mansion on the corner of East Maumee and Locust streets, where the Adrian Post Office stands today. Similarly, when the International Order of the Odd Fellows received $10,000 from Clark's will, the members of the Order used his gift to erect the Second Empire-style "Clark Memorial Hall," at 124 South Winter Street.  

How long did they live here? The Cockers only lived in this home less than four years. When Isabella's mother decided to move to Detroit in 1884, she handed over control of the family's banking business to William, who then resigned his job as Superintendent of Adrian Public Schools. At that point, the Cockers relocated to her parents' former home at 413 East Maumee Street, and Isabella's older brother DeWitt Clark, his wife, and his mother-in-law took up residence at 312 Dennis Street.

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5. William Herbert Stevenson House

What is the background on the Stevenson family? The Stevenson family is best known in Adrian for establishing Stevenson's Coal and Lumber Company on the corner of Division and Michigan street in 1873--and they are responsible for building this handsome Classical Revival style home in 1913. Archimedes Stevenson (1821-1906) brought his family to Lenawee County around 1870 and served as Superintendent of the Adrian Cheese Manufacturing Company before opening his coal and lumber business with his sons. Eventually the family took over several houses near the corner of Dennis and Union Streets, including, by 1882, Archimedes Stevenson's Italianate home on the southeast corner of this intersection and, by 1894, his son Frank Archimedes Stevenson's Queen Anne home three doors down, at 327 Dennis Street.

How did William Stevenson come to own this house? In 1913 Frank Stevenson (1852-1929) built this Classical Revival style home for his son William Herbert Stevenson (1889-1965), who had recently become Sales Manager for the family business and was living across the street in the Greek Revival-style Choate House along with his wife Dean Cherry Stevenson and their newborn daughter Mary Elizabeth. One of the Stevenson family descendants recalled that Frank didn't exactly give the house to William:

William and Dean had no idea why Frank was building the house until its completion, when he walked across the street, knocked on the door and handed them the key to the house and the payment schedule. Of course payments were to be made to Frank each month. William and Dean lived in the house until 1939, when they built their home at Deer Park (555 Budlong Street). They then turned the house into two apartments and rented it until it was sold in the 1970s.

What are the key features of the the Classical Revival style? The Classical Revival style of William Herbert Stevenson home is closely related to the Colonial Revival style. Both of these styles were popular in the first few decades of the twentieth century, and they share some common features. Indeed, this house presents several classical elements that occasionally also appear on Colonial Revival buildings--including a Palladian window (in the dormer), and the classical (Ionic) columns on the front porch. These classical details began to show up on all sorts of buildings at the turn of the century--following the highly successful 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, where the central buildings were designed in the Classical Revival "Beaux Arts" style. The influence of this exposition was so profound that one can assume that almost any Midwest building with a Palladian window was erected or redecorated shortly after 1893. 

Why wouldn't this house be classified as being in the Colonial Revival style? The reason that the William Herbert Stevenson House is not considered to be in the Colonial Revival style is because it does not conform to one of the typical Colonial Revival shapes, such as the Georgian form found on the Mott-Lentz House (number 11 on this tour). Instead, the William Herbert Stevenson House has a tall and narrow "Foursquare" form, meaning that it is elevated on a square foundation so that the four walls create a massive cubic shape.

Why did Frank Stevenson decide to combine two building lots to build this home? Frank Stevenson tore down an existing, small home, and built this house on two city building lots not only so he could construct a substantial home but also so he could provide a narrow driveway--a novel and forward-looking feature in the early twentieth century. The Historic District had been laid out in 1844 with narrow lots to accommodate the flow of pedestrians to and from the city's commercial center. These lots were typically very deep--backing onto an alley so that the smells and pests of horses in the carriage houses at the back of the lots could be kept at a comfortable distance from the houses that fronted the streets. Driveways close to the house were unnecessary until horses were replaced by motor vehicles. But shortly after this house was built, automobiles would open up access to the sprawling suburbs, and nearly everything would change. 

Click here to read an essay about the William Herbert Stevenson House by Becky Pavka

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6. Bowen House

320 Dennis Street, 1897
Shingle Style (1880 to 1910)

Who was Henry Bowen? The Bowen House was built by Henry C. Bowen, whose entire career seems to have involved the elements of fire and ice. When Henry was just 18 years old, his father stepped down as Chief of the Adrian's Fire Department, so he stepped into the position and held it for nearly 40 years. He also inherited the family business from his father, Purity Ice Company. This business harvested, stored, and delivered "natural" ice from nearby lakes until 1914, when Henry purchased equipment for manufacturing ice. Then, in 1922, he added ice cream to the company's offerings and changed the company's name to "Purity Ice & Ice Cream." Beyond the roles that he inherited from his family, Bowen also became the President of Lion Motor Car Company in Adrian, which opened in 1909. The Lenawee County Historical Museum preserves a rare example of a Lion 40 automobile. Ironically, the Lion factory burned to the ground in 1912, taking with it nearly 200 cars and all hopes of transitioning the city from the Woven Wire Fence Capital of the World to a major hub of automotive manufacturing.

What is the style of this house? Bowen's home shares many design features with the Lenawee County Historical Museum (number 1 on this tour), which was built a decade after this house. Both buildings have an asymmetrical facade, rough masonry on the lower level, horizontal courses, a squat, half-round arch, and a tower capped by a conical roof. Yet, today, this home would not be classified as a Richardsonian Romanesque dwelling, but rather as a Shingle Style home--a category invented by architectural historian Vincent Scully in the 1950s to describe the massive, shingle-covered, New England seaside "cottages" built in the nineteenth-century for America's well-to-do.

Shingle Style, Dr. E. T. Morden House, 805 West Maumee Street, c. 1905

Are all houses with shingles part of the "Shingle Style"? The vogue for rough-cut shingles was widespread from the 1890s to the 1930s. However, the term "Shingle Style," as Scully defined it, can only be applied in Adrian to this one home since the style requires an asymmetrical arrangement of massive forms. More recently, other architectural historians, such as Daniel Reiff, have traced the influence of the Shingle Style to more modest and often more symmetrical, dwellings, such as the Dr. E. T. Morden House at 805 West Maumee Street. These homes tend to have gambrel roofs, rock-face concrete blocks on the first floor and shingles on the second floor.

Click here for an essay about this building by Lindsey Borsvold.  

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7. Hart-Cavallero House

Summary: This grand Italian Villa style home was the first of two houses that Samuel E. Hart (b. 1823-1893) built in this neighborhood, a neighborhood that had been platted in 1844 by his brothers-in-law Langford and Ambrose Berry.

Why did Samuel Hart build two houses in the same neighborhood? Hart was married twice and seems to have built both his houses to accommodate the needs and wants of his two families. He built this house in 1856, the year that his first child Otho S. Hart was born. Then in 1873, shortly after his second marriage, he built his second home one street away at 417 State Street.  It seems that his second wife, Harriet, preferred NOT to move into the first wife’s home. 

How can I tell the difference between the Italian Villa style and the Italianate style? This is an excellent example of the Italian Villa style, which is closely related to the Italianate style, the style of his second house. Both styles feature deeply overhanging eaves that are decorated with brackets. In addition, both styles feature floor-to-ceiling windows capped with window heads as well as arched front doorways decorated with elaborate moldings. What distinguished the Italian Villa style from the Italianate style is that the Villa has a tower and a lively asymmetrical floor plan. The tower in this case not only enlivens the facade, but also accommodates the home's main stairwell.

How did Hart end up living in Adrian? In the second half of the nineteenth century, Samuel Hart’s drugstore would become a fixture in downtown Adrian, but early on it wasn’t clear at all that he would even choose to stay here. Before settling permanently in Adrian in 1848, Hart moved from place to place to work for various family members in their various enterprises. He first came to Adrian from Albion, New York, at the age of 17 at the invitation of his brother-in-law Langford Berry, who paid him just $180 for three years labor as clerk and bookkeeper in his dry goods store. Samuel then moved to Alton, Illinois, to work in his brother’s drugstore before returning to Adrian in 1845, when he invested in Langdon and Ambrose’s enterprises. But, after just one year, he cut his ties to them and purchased an interest in Dr. D. K. Underwood’s drugstore that was first established in 1837, on the southwest corner of Main and Maumee streets. After a few years in business in the drug business with Underwood, he considered moving permanently to Chicago but instead decided to buy out Underwood's business completely and to change its name to S. E. Hart Drugstore. For the next seventy years, Hart's drugstore would remain a fixture at the heart of Adrian's business district, bearing his name even as he took on various partnerships: Hart & Day, Hart & Shaw, and Hart-Shaw-Miller.

A third Samuel E. Hart House? Immediately following his death in 1893, Hart's estate built yet a third house in the Historic District: the Old Presbyterian Parsonage, directly across the street, at 435 Dennis--the next home on the tour.

Click here for an essay about this Italian Villa house by Kelleann Kerekes

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8. Old Presbyterian Parsonage

435 Dennis Street, 1895
Designed and built by Adrian architect C. Frederick Matthes
Queen Anne Style (1880-1910)

Summary: When Samuel E. Hart died in 1893, his family decided to hire local architect Christian Frederick Matthes to build this impressive, Queen Anne-style house for the Presbyterian Church, whose ministers used it as their parsonage until 1950.

Why did the Queen Anne style become so popular at the turn of the century, and how can I identify the style? The Queen Anne style really took off in the mid-1880s, when two things happened. The first development was that the price of nails dropped dramatically after the Civil War, allowing architects to abandon the boxy forms associated with post-and-beam construction, such as the Choate House. Instead they could create novel variations on asymmetrical floor plans, complex roof designs, and decorative treatments. For the first time in the history of architecture, it was affordable for upper-middle class homeowners to ask their builders to push and pull the facade of their homes by adding projecting porches or towers, or by fitting in a few receding verandas and niches. Moreover, they could afford to tack on elaborate trim, including, in the gables, factory-made verge boards, complex molding, and/or fish-scale shingles. On the porches, they regularly added lathe-turned spindle work and a huge picture window framed with stained or leaded glass. The second development at this time was that the New York City printer Robert W. Shoppell and the Knoxville, Tennessee, architect George Franklin Barber began publishing influential mail order catalogs, booklets and magazines full of architectural plans and views of homes in the Queen Anne style, which they referred to demurely as "modern houses" or "cottages." Local architects, such as Matthes, could show these catalogs to prospective clients and discuss with them various price points and options for customizing their plans.  

 Full-page advertisement in the McEldowney’s Lenawee County Directory, 1896-1897.

Why did the Hart family choose Matthes to design and build the Parsonage? Matthes was the obvious choice for this project since, in the late 1880s and early 1890s, he had been responsible for designing and building some of the most elaborate Queen Anne style houses in the Dennis and State Streets Historic District, including the home of Samuel Hart’s business partner Byron Shaw, who lived at 304 Dennis Street, as well as many of the homes of Adrian’s business elite: E. L. Baker (414 Dennis Street), Lafayette Ladd (510 State Street), David Metcalf (322 State Street), William H. Rogers (312 State Street), and Rial Clay (216 Division Street). Each of these homes cost about $5,000 to build.

Why did Hart's family make such a generous donation? It is, perhaps, not surprising that Samuel Hart's family would make such a generous gift to the Presbyterian Church since Samuel’s father Joseph, whom Samuel referred to as “Deacon” Hart, had been a founder and promoter of the first Presbyterian Church in Samuel’s hometown of Albion, New York. Moreover, in 1888, Samuel described himself (in the third-person) as having "assisted in erecting the Presbyterian Church [in Adrian], of which he was a member since 1845, and has filled all the offices of the church." During his lifetime, members of the church had spent more than $35,000 enlarging, rebuilding and beautifying the church's buildings.

How do I find the next house on the tour? Continue south Dennis Street until you get to Michigan Street. Turn right on Michigan Street and then turn left onto Winter Street. The next house on the tour is the forth house on the left.

Click here for an essay about the Old Presbyterian Parsonage by Alicia MacGeorge

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9. J. H. champion House

Really, this old wreck? Adrian's Octagon House is in rough shape today, but deserves to be preserved because it is a rare surviving example of a craze for building octagonal homes in the era just before the Civil War. In addition, this particular home is associated with a significant figure in Adrian at the time, J. H. Champion, who was the editor of the local Democratic newspaper.

What caused the craze for octagonal houses? The craze for building eight-sided houses resulted from the publication of a curious book in 1848, A Home for All or the Gravel Wall and Octagon Mode of Building, New, Cheap, Convenient, Superior and Adapted to Rich and Poor. Written by one of the century’s most eccentric and original thinkers, Orson Squire Fowler (1809-1889), it proved to be so popular that Fowler reprinted it six more times between 1849 and 1856, the year the Champion House was built. Fowler clearly intended for this house to appeal to homeowners with practical sensibilities, describing it as “much admired by builders for its neatness, simplicity, convenient arrangement, and cheapness.”

Has this home always looked like this? The octagon house in Adrian, when it was first constructed, closely resembled the only house described in A Home for All for which Fowler also provided plans, an elevation, and building specifications. Constructed of unpainted brick, it had simple, Italianate swans-neck brackets under the eaves and the front porch was not enclosed.

Who was J. H. Champion, and what can we learn about him by reading his newspaper? J. H. Champion was the Editor of Adrian's newspaper linked to the Democratic Party, the Adrian Watchtower. Not surprisingly, considering that he built himself an octagonal home, Champion's newspaper published ideas that were similar to those espoused by Fowler. For example, on March 10, 1854, at the dedication of the new, four-story Watchtower Building in Adrian (now gone), the Watchtower newspaper underscored the important role that novelty and moderation would play in its pages, declaring that it would “dish” up “all the News” with…

the choicest variety of miscellaneous literature, science and art, and all the regular developments of the age. The Agriculture and Mechanical branches will occupy a fair proportion of our columns. The spice of wit and humor, the concerts, fanciful notions and the real and ideal romance of the day will be culled and served up for their amusements. Religion, morality, and temperance in all things will have advocacy in the Tower and every other subject of a nature calculated to make the world wiser, happier and better.

How long did Champion live in this house, and why did he leave town? Champion only lived in this house for ten years. When slavery emerged as a hot political issue around the same time that the Champion House was built, the Watchtower and the Democratic Party took a subtle and complicated position on the matter—and subtle and complicated political positions rarely turn out well. The paper described slavery as objectionable, yet at the same time argued against proposed federal bans on slavery in the territories, describing such bans as unconstitutional limitations on States’ rights. To reconcile these two contradictory positions, the Watchtower chose to forecast a time when new technologies and labor-saving inventions would make slavery obsolete, when, to use their words, “the Inventive Genius of the world will, ere long, free it of physical bondage and break up the relations, which now exist between the Master and Servant.”

This was a subtle and complicated position that would result in the undoing of both the Democratic Party and the Watchtower. Democrats had held complete control over local politics when Champion started building his house. But, with the success of the Republican party in the 1856 elections and the start of the Civil War in 1860, the Democrats lost control of local politics. Then, after a paper shortage in 1862, the economic viability of their paper was threatened, too. By 1865, the Watchtower’s owner (Ingals and Mills) sold the paper and presses to J. H. Champion and Thomas Applegate. The following year, Champion and Applegate resold their operation to the Expositor, which changed its name to the Adrian Times and Expositor. By the end of 1866, Champion’s name disappeared completely from the city directories.

Are there any other eight-sized houses in Lenawee County? Today, fewer than 500 octagonal houses from the nineteenth-century are still standing in North America, and only 50 survive in Michigan, just two in Lenawee County: this one in Adrian and the Heman Goodrich House (1862), at 428 South Church Street, in Hudson. 

How do I find the next house on the tour? Return to Michigan Street and pass Dennis Street. Turn left onto State Street. The next house on the tour is the second house on the left.

Click here for an essay abou the J. H. Champion House by Peter Barr

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10. Damon-Ash House

Summary: The Gothic Revival style was never very popular in Adrian. Only a handful of Gothic Revival homes were built here, and this one has several features that are not typical of the style.

In what ways is this house typical of the Gothic Revival style? Typical of the Gothic Revival style, this house features a steeply pitched roof, which can be seen in an aerial view map of Adrian that was drawn in 1866.  It also has board-and-batten siding, which is common to the style, as well as the style's key feature, a decorative verge board at the peak of the gable.  (Verge boards also appear on some Queen Anne style homes.) 

Detail of the Damon-Ash Home from a n Aerial View Map of Adrian, Michigan, drawn and published by A. Ruger, 1866.

What other house styles are evident here? There is also a peculiar blend of other styles. The plan of the house mirrors the 1844 Greek Revival-style Holloway House next door, at 448 State Street, (visible in the upper right hand corner of the illustration from the aerial view map) and the triplet of windows and green shutters closely resemble the Colonial Revival style home, such as the 1925 Mott House at 304 State Street (next stop on this tour). Moreover, the front porch, which was added between 1908 and 1916, has knee braced posts that bring to mind a Craftsman structure. This mixture of styles is not unusual for Adrian's Historic District, where each generation of homeowners seems to have updated their homes in some way.

Who are Damon and Ash? The Damon-Ash House was first owned by merchant Luke R. Damon (1822-1912), who sold dry goods in Adrian from 1852 to 1857. Until his retirement twenty years later, he offered wholesale and retail millinery goods on Main Street for the manufacture of hats and head wear. The house is also named after Mabel Mae and Fred E. Ash, who was Assistant Cashier at the Lenawee County Saving Bank. They lived in the house from 1911 until they lost the house to foreclosure during the Great Depression. The Ashes are most likely responsible for adding the Craftsman-style front porch.

How do I find the next house on the tour? Continue north on State Street until you get to Union Street. The next house on the tour is on the corner of State and Union streets.

Click here for an essay about the Damon-Ash House by Matthew Cochran

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11. Mott-Lentz House

304 State Street, 1925
Designed by Toledo architect Harry W. Wachter
Colonial Revival Style (1890 to 1990)

Who designed this home? This handsome brick home was designed in the Colonial Revival style by the Toledo architect Harry W. Wachter, who was one of the architects of the Toledo Museum of Art. Wachter designed this home for Ollie E. Mott, who was owner of the Nu-Way Stretch Suspenders company in Adrian, manufacturers of suspenders, neck wear, garters, belts, billfolds, and jewelry.

How did the Colonial Revival style become popular? The Colonial Revival style emerged in the 1880s, when architects were inspired by America's centennial to investigate Pre-Revolutionary War architecture. By the time the Mott house was built, the Colonial Revival style was well established as America's most popular house style.

How can I recognize the Colonial Revival style? The Mott House is typical of one sub-type of the Colonial Revival style called the Georgian, which is named after a series of British kings named George. This sub-type features:

  • a symmetrical, rectangular plan with the long side facing the street
  • flanking single-story wings, often a porch on one end and a garage on the other
  • a centrally placed portico featuring classical columns
  • a side-gable roof with narrow overhangs
  • unadorned chimneys at each end
  • large, double-hung windows with small panes of glass in the upper sash, and
  • decorative shutters.

What other sub-types of the Colonial Revival style are there? Variations on the Colonial Revival style include the Dutch Colonial which has a gambrel roof; the Cape Cod, which is one-and-a-half-stories tall; the Garrison Colonial, which has a second-story that projects forward beyond the first; and the Classical Revival, with colossal columns and sometimes a Palladian window.

Why are there so few Colonial Revival style homes in this part of Adrian? Although there are few other examples of the Colonial Revival style in the Dennis and State streets Historic District, for example at 523 State Street, they tend to be in places that were filled in after the introduction of automobiles. With their horizontal expanse, most Colonial Revival homes require at least two city lots and are, perhaps, better suited to the suburbs.

How do I find the next house on the tour? The final house on the tour is across the street, on the corner of State and Church streets.

Click here for an essay about the Mott-Lentz House by Nicole Morley

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12. Burnham Historical Building

Summary: The Italianate-style Burnham Historical Building was built during the Civil War for local merchant George Bidwell, and is situated just outside of "Berry's Southern Addition," on a huge city lot at the end of Broad Street, located within convenient walking distance of both Adrian's commercial downtown to the southwest, and of the city's largest factories to the northeast.  

How can I identify the style? Italianate buildings are immediately recognizable by the decorative brackets (or consoles) under their deeply overhanging eaves. In addition, most have tall, narrow, floor-to-ceiling windows that are capped by window heads (or crowns). Doors are often richly molded and set into arched openings. Bow (or bay) windows are common.

How is it different from the Italian Villa style? The distinctive feature of the Italianate style, which distinguishes it from its sister style, the Italian Villa, is its square or L-shaped plan. Occasionally Italianate homes, such as the Burnham Historical Building, will also feature a tower-like cupola that rises from the center of the roof.

Doesn't this home have an unusually large front yard? A typical feature of mid-19th-century homes in the Italian style is their large gardens, which were popularized in the United States by a Andrew Jackson Downing’s Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening, Adapted to North America. This publication included not only a view and plan of the first significant Italian Villa home in the United States, but also an extensive discussion of how to create a fashionable garden. Bidwell seems to have taken this discussion to heart. Three years before Bidwell started building his home, Adrian newspapers commented on the shade trees that he had planted on his property, and, as late as the 1920s, the home's grounds required the services of two gardeners. 

"Fig. 8 Plan of a Suburban Italian Villa Residence," from Andrew Jackson Downing's Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening, Adapted to North America, 1841, p 73.

Who lives here now? This building remained one of the city's grandest residences for almost a century. Bidwell sold it in 1877 for a whopping $18,000 to banker William H. Waldby. Many years later, Waldby resold the building to W. H. Burnham, who had become President of Adrian's largest industry at the time, Lamb Fence Company. But, with the dawn of the automobile era, most of Adrian's wealthy families preferred to live in sprawling, new homes in the suburbs, and in 1957 the home needed to be saved from possible demolition by being converted to office space, and it remains an office building to this day. 

Click here for an essay about the Burnham Historical Building by Annie Carden.

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