House Crazy Sarah did a little house-peeping in person recently and came across this old beauty in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
It is set up as an old house museum in a row of historic buildings that the public can tour, but it was by far the most fascinating because it had the most original features.
In fact, it is said to be the second oldest house in the region – dating back to 1795-96.
In the recent photo (above), you can see that the structure no longer has the gabled dormer windows. More on those in a bit.
The home was built by Irish fur trader John Johnston and his Ojibwe wife, Oshahguscodaywayquay, in the 1790’s as their home and business on the St Marys River.
But the home that you see today, unfortunately, is not the original 1790’s house.
You can blame the Americans for that.
The original home was demolished in 1814 when Johnston, an English loyalist, was defending Fort Mackinac against the Americans. American troops retaliated against him and attacked Johnston’s property in Sault Ste, Marie, destroying his home and confiscating his trade goods. A new, smaller home was hastily built on the site of the old one.
In 1822, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft was appointed US Indian agent at Sault Ste. Marie. Schoolcraft married John Johnston’s eldest daughter Jane in 1822, and Johnston built a substantial addition to the 1815 structure for the new couple to live in (pictured below).
The new addition is the side with the dormer windows – the side you see today.
The older section to the left was torn down after being damaged by a fallen tree.
What remains is not original, but is still a fascinating example of architecture and construction of early houses of the then “northwest”.
Below are portraits of John Johnston and his wife Oshahguscodaywayquay.
After the Johnstons and the Schoolcrafts, the next inhabitants of the house were Colonel Eben S. Wheeler and his family who lived in the house from 1883 to 1900.
It was Wheeler who added the dormer windows. In 1910, a tree fell on the house, demolishing the older 1815 section. The Great Lakes Towing Company purchased the house shortly after and in 1949, they donated it to the city of Sault Ste Marie.
House Crazy Sarah was not able to determine when the dormer windows were lopped off – perhaps during re-roofing?
In any case., the house now displays artifacts and furniture from the Johnston era.
Johnston and his wife furnished their home with aristocratic finds from Europe, and the dwelling became a favorite stop for dignitaries who were traveling through the region.
The Johnstons were prosperous and were able to send their children to school.
John Johnston was the Justice of the Peace in Sault Ste Marie for many years. He remained in Sault Ste. Marie for the rest of his life.
The musical instrument pictured above is said to be the only known surviving item that was owned by the Johnstons. They were a musical family and many of them played instruments.
The stove above looks like a stout little ceremonial guard of the British royal palace, but in actuality, it was made by the Kalamazoo (Michigan) Stove Company.
Have a look in one of the bedrooms…
Lace-covered windows make us old house lovers swoon!
There are some great antique finds in this old house museum.
One of the most intriguing acquisitions is this framed Victorian hair art:
Yes, that is actual human hair. Very, very old human hair!
The house also features an antique spinning wheel:
Another fascinating thing about this structure is that many of the walls have been stripped back to the lath boards, which as you can see, are quite primitive in their construction.
House Crazy Sarah gave a stern warning to the docent to tell the historical society to NOT cover the amazing lath work with *gasp* modern drywall – which had been done in two of the other old houses on display.
Not to mention those wide old plank wood floors! Leave those beauties be!!
There is even some original beadboard that remains:
Out the back door, you can’t actually see St. Marys River due to the bushes, but take House Crazy Sarah’s word – the big river is there!
John Johnston never did have any more scuffles with the Americans.
He and his wife lived a long happy life in the Sault area.
John Johnston died on September 22, 1828, and Oshahguscodaywayquay died c. 1840.
The other historic homes on display on Water Street next to the John Johnston house are:
Henry Rowe Schoolcraft House
Kemp Coal Dock Office and Industrial Museum
Bishop Baraga House
But the most fabulous by far (in House Crazy Sarah’s humble opinion) is the John Johnston house!
If only the walls could talk!