A hand-carved, hand-painted owl looks down up on the street from the gable of the historic home at 69 South Howell Street.
“It was always an easy house to explain where you live. All you have to say is, ‘It’s the house with the owl on it,’ ” said former Hillsdale resident and current Jackson resident Jim Heinowski.
The owl on the gable of the mint green house, though, originally served as more than just a landmark. Legend has it that carpenters added the owl to ward off evil spirits when it was built in the late 1800s.
“Indians believed that owls were the guardians of the grave,” said longtime Hillsdale resident Sir Martin “Shmeed” Reed.
When digging the foundation of the house, builders unearthed a lone Indian grave. Reed explained that the grave likely belonged to a Pottawatomie Indian.
“Evidently, one of the carpenters must have had knowledge of Indian traditions or was part Indian,” Reed said.
Heinowski said, though, that he had never heard a specific reason addition of the owl.
Currently, chemistry professor at Hillsdale College Mark Nussbaum and his wife Sandi reside in the Howell Street home. When the Nussbaum family moved into the house in 2005, they repainted the intricate owl detailing.
“It was painted over for a while,” Mark Nussbaum said.
Decades before, Jim Heinowski’s family moved into the Howell Street house in June of 1964. From his infancy until he graduated from high school, Heinowski lived there with his parents and five siblings. During his college years, he wrote a research paper on his residence and spent several weekends in the Hillsdale Historical Society’s research room.
“I learned that the house is approximately 140 years old. The house was built by brother architects,” Heinowski said, “On the wall of the room hung a map from 1880 and it had the house on it.”
The trimming and design of the houseplaces it in the American Queen Anne style, which stemmed from English late-19th century Victorian architecture. Specifically, the dominant gable, the picturesque windows with small-paned upper sashes and the porch give it the Victorian feel.
“There was more ornate trim in the past than there is now,” said Nussbaum, “and the porch used to wrap around the front all the way.”
Both Nussbaum and Heinowski tell of the detailed architecture of the house and of the random details that give the home its character.
Mark Nussbaum explained that former owners found an old shoe in one of the walls of the house when they were doing rennovations.
“Apparently, it was put in the wall when they were building the house for good luck,” he said.
Hienowski spent his childhood in the house with his family and tells of a fire that occurred before they moved in, a back stairway that renovators removed, and the fact that – for many years – the house had no indoor plumbing.
“When I was a kid, there was stuff previous owners had left in the attic. One, I found rolls of player piano music and the actual guts of a player piano just buried in the floorboards,” Heinowski said. “On the floor in the dining room, there used to be a button to call the maid. It was where the table would be,” Heinowski said.