When a house changes hands twice in one day, something may be amiss.
That’s exactly what happened when George Munro sold his Jonesville, Michigan house to his across-the-street neighbor Ebenezer Grosvenor for $2,500 on Oct. 1, 1864. Only hours later, Grosvenor sold the house back to Munro for $500.
Neither Grosvenor nor Munro’s descendants know enough about their ancestors’ history to explain the transaction, but Lori Venturini — one of the current owners of the Munro House, which is now a bed and breakfast — has her own theory.
“He didn’t get tired of the house,” she said. “You don’t make that kind of sale unless it’s for something underhanded.”
According to Venturini, Munro made the deal with Grosvenor for political reasons. Because of the Civil War, 1864 was a contentious election year, and as a Republican, Grosvenor was deeply invested in the war effort. Part of the 4th Michigan Regiment was even nicknamed “The Grosvenor Guard” in his honor. In addition, Grosvenor was running for Michigan Lieutenant Governor on the Henry H. Crapo ticket.
Grosvenor won the election, and Lori Venturini said she thinks the fact that the sale took place in October — near the election date — indicates political foul play between Munro and his neighbor.
“Munro sold Grosvenor the election,” she said.
Although the controversy is unprovable, Grosvenor and Munro led intertwined lives. In addition to residing in mansions facing each other on Maumee Street, the two were both prominent businessmen in Hillsdale County, and some of the richest men in Michigan at the time.
According to records at the Mitchell Research Center, Munro opened an industrial mill in Litchfield, Michigan, in 1837 that became one of the most prominent producers of snow plows, or “the Michigan plow,” as it was called then.
Grosvenor opened a mill in Hillsdale and a prominent bank through which he organized the rest of his business transactions. Like Munro, he prospered. The Jonesville Independent records show that on May 6, 1864 — even as the Civil War deprived so many others of their goods — Grosvenor brought in “the biggest shipment ever of dry goods into Jonesville.”
While enjoying good financial fortune, both men took to politics. Munro successfully became the first village president of Jonesville in 1855, but following an unsuccessful run as the Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor in 1858, never broke into national politics in the same way as Grosvenor.
Both men, however, became high-order Freemasons. Munro rose to become Grand Master of the State and Grand High Priest of the Grand Chapter of the State. Grosvenor became a Master Mason.
Today, the Munro house has a copy of a photo of Munro as a Mason high priest. Co-owner of the Munro house Mike Venturini said he thinks both Munro’s and Grosvenor’s connection to the Masons increases the likelihood that the two would be involved in shady politics.
“If you wanted to get anywhere in politics or business back then, you had to be a Mason,” he said.
When she heard this, Lori Venturini smiled.
“The Masons got George further in business than politics,” she said.
Although the top competitors in their era, little remains now of the Grosvenor and Munro rivalry except their mansions.