Saginaw Bay lies in the heart of Michigan’s “gap,” the area between the state’s mitten and thumb. The bay feeds into Lake Huron to the northeast, and in turn is fed by the Saginaw River running up from the southwest. Centuries ago, these waterways were used by lumber barons to ship massive loads of old-growth timber around the thumb and down to Detroit’s lumber, furniture, housing, and later auto factories.
The timber floats were so broad that at times workers could walk across the mouth of the river, more than 200 yards, on the massive logs—some up to 30 feet wide. The hub of activity was in Bay City, where an influx of new money went to building homes along Center Avenue, which remains a parade of mansions.
Today, struggling farms have replaced the massive forests. Detroit has endured sinking budgets and blossoming debt; once handsome neighborhoods have been vacated. The glory years seem tied to yesterday. Still, in the midst of the region’s problems, a few proud homeowners are committed to preservation.
One such person of remarkable vision and resourcefulness is college historian Patricia Drury of Bay City, Michigan, who purchased her 1882 Victorian just off Center Avenue in 1982. She has been on an incredible 30-year journey, restoring the unique Queen Anne house inside and out. “The house had sat on the market for some time,” Pat remembers. “I made them an offer they couldn’t refuse.
“My goal was to be part of a local community,” she continues, “and I felt fortunate to stumble upon a property I could research, finding information about the original owners and the history of the house. I liked that all of these houses are just a little bit different from each other, reflecting the whims and desires of their respective owners.”
As just the third party to own the home since it was built for John Wesley and May Stocking Knaggs, Pat knew her priorities. The structure had some water damage, which was quickly mended, allowing for restoration of the front porch. “The next thing to go was the wall-to-wall carpeting,” Pat winces. “We sanded, refinished, and sealed all the hardwood floors, bringing back their original luster.” Her initial efforts had merely scratched the surface.
“Realizing I may have bitten off more than I could chew,” Pat confides, “I decided to do what any good historian does: immerse myself in research!”
After days spent teaching courses in European and Russian history at nearby Delta College, she would burrow into local museums, libraries, and Bay City’s own historical society, searching the shelves for anything to do with High Victorian architecture.
“I was fascinated with the inexhaustible combinations of shapes and colors,” Pat says. “I find this decorative architecture very joyous, and I found inspiration in the boldness of the Victorians.” After poring through volumes of designs and photographs, she had the insight to create plans around her own interpretations. “Planning became more fun because we had to wait for funds to accrue,” she says. “We didn’t rush to finish everything at once, and being relaxed sharpened our focus. When the time came to do the work, there were no mistakes to be made.”
Pat was preoccupied, too, with finding period antiques to fill the house. She shopped at estate sales, stopped by garage sales, and found favorite antiques stores. Little by little, her friends and family began contributing to the effort.
One of her great finds is a Renaissance Revival suite of bedroom furniture, bought at an antiques store in Bay City. The ornately carved bed frame, dresser, and chair, all made from an assemblage of hardwoods including walnut, beech, and oak, found a place in the large front bedroom upstairs. “Once the owner knew what I liked, he began calling often with similar finds,” Pat explains.
Another great find is a person with whom she’s shared the journey. On a trip to the local Ace Hardware, Pat asked for a contractor referral. “A clerk gave me a neighborhood handyman’s business card, saying ‘he can do everything.’”
Marshall Lupp attended Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and spent years as a professional photographer, then as an art teacher at a high school nearby. All of it contributed to his role in this restoration. “I’ve always been curious about people who decide to buy a Victorian house and make it theirs,” he says. “Pat had an idea of turning the restoration into an art project. We have added some whimsy and thrown things a little off balance.”
And so what began as a visit to fix a leaky bathroom sink turned into a 10-year partnership. The list is long: refinishing the original woodwork, installing wood inlays in porch risers, rebuilding the front porch, painting the complex exterior, inscribing Susan B. Anthony’s initials on corner blocks in a bedroom, uncovering original fireplaces buried behind makeshift walls, hanging period wallpaper, reworking the exterior of the 1912 garage.
“Working with Marshall has been like working with an artist,” Pat says. “The plan started out a certain way, but changes would develop in real time, sometimes for consistency, sometimes to do something unique. And to think I found him over a washbowl!”
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