These 2 Michigan homes earn spots on the National Register of Historic Places
The stately features of a brown brick home perched near a rural road in Northfield Township are so distinctive that passers-by have stopped and snapped photos.
Some even park in the driveway not far from an orchard, a hint of its past as part of a more than 150-year-old farmhouse, to approach the five-panel wooden gates at the entrance lined with white and ask the owners how they came to find such a lovely place.
Although Victor Volkman has lived there since the 1980s, he often shares the admiration of visitors.
“It’s a unique architecture,” he said. “It’s like a museum, a bit.”
Government officials felt his home and another in southeast Michigan deserved a permanent place in history.
This month the pair of properties, known as Walbri Hall in Bloomfield Hills and Nathan Esek and Sarah Emergene Sutton House in rural Washtenaw County, were added to the National Register of Historic Places.
They join more than 96,000 nationwide deemed worthy of preservation, according to the National Park Service Registry website.
Todd Walsh, coordinator of the National State Registry, estimates Michigan has about 2,000 such locations and districts.
The latest additions, which went through a lengthy process involving local, state and federal authorities, were selected for their representation of the region’s distinctive architectural styles.
“Everyone agrees that these properties are significant in some aspect of our collective history,” said Walsh, who works for the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office.
The Sutton House is the older of the two, having been erected in the 1860s, according to the nomination request that Cheri Szcodronski, an architectural historian, submitted to the owners.
It bears an Ann Arbor mailing address, but has long been considered part of Northfield Township and is closely tied to that community’s heritage.
The Italian-style mansion, which spans about 3 acres teeming with apple trees and open fields, has ties to Benjamin Sutton, considered among the township’s settlers in the 1820s, and his brother George Sutton, a future overseer and legislator of the state, wrote Szcodronski.
The descendant behind the building, Nathan Sutton, was also active in national and local politics. He started a substantial farm with fruitful orchards, hundreds of animals, and a farm producing wool and butter as well as other items, according to the application form.
His son, Daniel, who had become county sheriff, sold the 185-acre farm in 1942; through multiple sales, the land was later subdivided. The two-story gabled house has undergone updates, including additions in 1880 and 1940, while retaining its form and features such as a porch with chamfered wooden posts, masonry load-bearing walls and narrow windows with brick and stone hoods as well as much of the original flooring, the application pointed out.
“Italian homes are known for their elaborate bay windows and little porches, and the Sutton House is interesting because it’s two and a half stories tall, which gives it an imposing, monumental feel,” Szcodronski said, adding his le first owner “was a prominent local politician from one of the township’s most prominent pioneer families, so the stately and impressive architecture reflected his wealth and social standing in the township.”
The extent of the spread’s timeline was unclear when Volkman and his wife, Marian, moved in. They lovingly tended the grounds, which included a barn and chicken coop, and reveled in the antique woodwork and touches.
Volkman first sought a historic designation years ago, scouring records to back up evidence and learning from the township historical society he and his wife had written about the house, which in 2019 was cited in an investigation into local historic properties. But it wasn’t until meeting Szcodronski shortly before the pandemic that the idea materialized into work to gain official recognition.
“History is usually in the books and abstract, but I can look around this building which is over 100 years old and it’s like I’m connected with the past,” he said. “It’s a wonderful feeling.”
The National Register recognizes not only historic examples of architectural style “but also how it has been interpreted locally and how it has been influenced by local factors,” Walsh said. “The Sutton House is a good example.
Walbri Hall, nearly 80 km to the northeast, also highlights a specific period and how the residences were shaped.
When it was built in the 1920s near what is now Long Lake Road, prosperous Detroit residents generally sought wider spaces away from the city. So Walter Briggs, a wealthy auto industrialist who once owned the Detroit Tigers and co-founded the Detroit Zoo, bought more than 160 acres for a “summer country estate,” according to the application filled out by consultant Nathalie Wright. in historical preservation.
The result: a sprawling, scenic piece of land that eventually contained the mansion, a stable, two cottages, a swimming pool, tennis courts, a greenhouse, an ice house, a gatehouse, a garage and a workers’ dormitory, she writes. .
Named after the first letters of Briggs’ first and last name, Walbri went to see his five children after he died Jan. 17, 1952, at a Miami Beach winter home, Wright said.
“The Briggs heirs quickly dispersed the Walbri Hall property, with forty acres given to Sacred Heart Academy (per Walter O. Briggs’ wishes) and 107 acres sold to four Ford Motor Company executives for an estimated $550,000, $30,” according to his research. “The lots north of Long Lake Road and the section on the east side of Squirrel Road were sold separately…”
The registry designation is for the 2.71-acre parcel centered by Walbri, a two-story “hunting lodge” rising above street level and situated approximately 75 feet above two lakes fed by a source, Wright said.
It is in the Tudor Revival style considered popular in the 20th century among summer homes and in newer suburban neighborhoods, she wrote.
Today the space still bears exterior walls clad in stucco and half-timbering, leaded glass windows, a cavernous English-designed “great hall”, a living room, a large fieldstone fireplace, French doors and “medieval-inspired” light fixtures, the depot register noted.
There are also glazed blue tiles, an original wrought iron electric chandelier moved to a balcony, a bedroom, a butler’s pantry and, in the basement, a concrete “safe room” with built-in furniture and a wine rack.
“Taken together, the existing materials, evident workmanship, location and setting allow Walbri Hall to continue to convey the important feelings and associations of a 1920s Tudor Revival country house,” Wright wrote.
Greatness has attracted personalities.
Actress Elizabeth Taylor attended a party there in 1980 with her then-husband, U.S. Senator John Warner, and Wilhelm Kast, a subsequent owner, “was known to host military and international leaders, such as Indonesian governors, the mayor of West Berlin, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” Wright wrote. “In 1994, Kast hosted an official reception for Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chemomyrdin, at which assisted the governor, as well as several state and national politicians.”
The current owners have had the home since 2011 and have applied for National Registry nominations for the past three years, Walsh said.
The process, which typically takes 12 to 15 months, involves a state historic preservation review board, which includes appointees from a variety of disciplines, to review images, maps and other materials before officials nationals intervene, he added.
To be considered eligible, a property must meet certain criteria, such as being at least 50 years old.
A National Register listing does not lead to public acquisition, require public access, or automatically invoke local historic district zoning or local landmark designation, according to the website.
Michigan’s site listings mean local authorities are notified, but homeowners can choose not to post markers or signs indicating their homes’ new high status, Walsh said.
Their recognition reflects Michigan’s rich heritage, which has produced historic sites in categories such as agriculture and maritime developments, he said. “There are significant properties all around us.”