Media Rela­tions and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Manager Emily Davis and her family have ren­o­vated their his­toric Hillsdale home / Courtesy Emily Davis

The Vic­torian double parlor on the ground floor of 112 Broad St. takes vis­itors back a century. The grand, winding staircase, the large wooden door­frames with classic egg-and-dart moldings, the flam­boyant floral wall­paper, and the time-honored touch of a record player and an upright piano all give the room an aura of com­fortable living and sophis­ti­cated age.

The house was likely built between 1900 and 1915, said Emily Car­rington, wife of Assistant Pro­fessor of Pol­itics Adam Car­rington. Having worked with his­toric homes in the past, Emily Car­rington said she fully appre­ciates the home’s his­toric “char­acter and spirit.”

The Car­ringtons are one of several college faculty and staff fam­ilies ren­o­vating and restoring homes around town. Carol Lackey, the owner and broker for His­toric Homes of Hillsdale, a real estate company through the Hillsdale County Board of Realtors, said she’s familiar with the hard work these projects require.

“People get frus­trated because they feel there should be funds available to restore prop­erties,” Lackey said. “It’s not easy. When you do it, you need to use original products, some­thing that is dated from back then… It will take a lot out of you, phys­i­cally and finan­cially.”

Emily Car­rington knew retaining her home’s history and updating it would be chal­lenging. She did have the freedom to make styl­istic deci­sions because her ren­o­va­tions weren’t bound by a museum or his­torical society’s demand for period accuracy.

“It’s hard to keep things in the appro­priate time period because it’s been 100 years, and many people have lived here,” Car­rington said. “You can see many things that are incon­gruent within the house; for example, the wall­paper and the sep­a­ration between the rooms probably would have been added on later.”

While Car­rington bemoans losing the wrap­around porch, she does appre­ciate one update: the bath­rooms.

“The house didn’t need to be quite 1900-style, because I like warm, running water,” she said.

Hillsdale used to be a railroad town, so many grand homes in Hillsdale resembled the Car­ringtons’ during the 1800s and 1900s, said Lackey, who also serves as a board member on the Hillsdale County His­torical Society and vol­un­teers at the Mitchell Research Center.

“The railroad brought great pros­perity,” Lackey said. “At one point, this was the end of the railroad from Detroit before it went on to Chicago.”

The railroad also brought early stages of mass-pro­duced homes to the area. Cus­tomers could choose from the Sears Modern Homes cat­a­logue of designs and the company would ship pre-cut mate­rials on trains. Between 1908 and 1940, more than 70,000 homes were built through the program, elim­i­nating the demand for pro­fes­sional car­penters. Lackey said she once dis­covered a beam labeled “Sears” in the basement of a Jonesville home during a ren­o­vation project.

Unfor­tu­nately, some of these old homes haven’t sur­vived the decades. For example, the home of res­ident William Waldron became the old Hillsdale Hos­pital before being razed for a parking lot for the Hillsdale High Rise Apart­ments.

“There are buildings in town I would love to see done, but a lot of them are gone,” Lackey said.

Asso­ciate Pro­fessor of English Patricia Bart moved into her 3,000-square foot house at 40 S. Broad St. about four years ago and has since com­pleted extensive ren­o­va­tions.

“I knew it wasn’t going to be a 19th-century house,” Bart said. “I had to say that vinyl windows are going to be OK here, whereas the museum-quality is going to say you have to restore these to wood.” But she took extra care to pre­serve original ele­ments, such as the front door and wooden stairs.

Bart guesses her house was built in three stages: The original house was con­structed in 1883, fol­lowed by an addition near the end of World War II, judging from the cinder block foun­dation, the moldings, and base­boards. A third addition dates to the 1970s, char­ac­terized by smaller base­boards, thinner walls, a lower ceiling, and coun­tertops painted with “that avocado green we all love.”

For Bart, buying a his­toric home was par for the course, since she has lived in old homes her entire life. As a child, she lived in a 1920s Sears home in Mt. Lebanon, Penn­syl­vania, and later, she rented an apartment at the Palazzo Rucellai, the old palace of a wealthy Renais­sance magnate in Flo­rence, Italy, where the Rucellai family lives today.

Not all of the restored homes are downtown. Media Rela­tions and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Manager Emily Davis and her family reside in an old stone farm­house from 1846 that rests on 40 acres of land, just on the out­skirts of town.

According to Lackey and the Mitchell Research Center, the house, known as “Stonehome,” was built by Severus Roberts, who took a train from New York in 1840 when he was 18 years old. He orig­i­nally built a log cabin and then spent five years building his stone house out of native field­stone. A century later, the home was occupied by Harry and Sarah Dimmers, the namesake of Dimmers Road south of the college.

Davis said the pre­vious owner of the house, former pro­fessor of English John Reist, main­tained a “noto­rious” library that filled an entire garage and an addi­tional room. (He donated many volumes to Mossey Library.) Davis opted to remove some book­shelves to tear down a wall, making the room feel homier.

“We’re Hillsdale grads, but we’re not quite as com­mitted to that extensive of a library,” she said.

While Davis’ per­sonal Vic­torian style moti­vates her to keep some “froufrou,” she and her husband com­pro­mised with a simpler, more natural arts-and-crafts look, a styl­istic choice they could make because strict guide­lines for farm­houses don’t exist.

“We needed some­thing where we can both live in it and buy fur­niture that won’t fall apart with four kids, but we also don’t want it to be a house that is just built in the suburb and got copy-and-pasted out of Pottery Barn,” she said.  

Like Bart, Davis grew up in a his­toric home. She remembers her parents were always busy remod­eling their Vic­torian home.  

“My parents were both art majors and always knew about dif­ferent artistic move­ments,” she said. “I remember going to archi­tec­tural salvage places to find pieces before they were the cool place for hip­sters to go.”

While many college faculty members have only recently begun ren­o­vating their homes, Pro­fessor of Religion and Phi­losophy Thomas Burke moved into his house in 1994, and for the first 15 years he and his wife lived there, he said people worked on the house almost daily.

“We had no idea what we were doing or how to do it right,” he said. “We did it all back­wards.”

Orig­i­nally a very modest Vic­torian-style home built around 1867, Burke’s home was later given a more Spanish look, with arches going from room to room and grand Pal­ladian windows. Burke esti­mates his house is between 4,500 and 5,000 square feet, having undergone a couple of expan­sions over the years. Now that most of the ren­o­va­tions are done, he said the whole house is “won­derful.”

“I like big homes,” Burke said. “If I had the money, I’d buy a castle. When I see a place like Downton Abbey on TV, I think it would be neat to have… Since I’ll never get to own a mansion, this is the closest thing to it. It’s a really won­derful house to live in.”

His­toric homes inspire enthu­siasm for more than aes­thetic reasons. While working at a home on Howell Street, Lackey remembers being asked why she would take on such a project. She responded that those who have to ask “why” would never really under­stand her love for his­toric homes.

“I’m crazy, I guess,” she said. “I just love it.”