Lot 1, West Liberty Heights

2509 West Liberty Street


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After living here awhile, I really wanted to learn more about the first owners and who had actually built the house.  The original owners of my house were Ottmar Michael and Melita Maria Kaercher (Waltz).    Prior to moving here in 1927, they lived at 529 Fifth Street.  I was able to speak with Esther Kaercher who had lived at 744 S. Maple Rd.  She is the wife of Homer Kaercher, Ottmar Kaercher's nephew.  I have also spoken to Glen Steinman, son of Ben and Eleanor Steinman, William Luitje, the second owner of my house, Barbara (Kaercher) Mesnard, Ottmar's neice, Paul C. McCoy who lived here before me, and Ruth and Paul Jedele, who lived at 770 S. Maple Rd.

I learned from these sources that Melita Kaercher kept her house in an immaculate condition.  She was a hard worker.  Dorothy Kaercher Mason (whose father, Edwin Kaercher, was Ottmar's brother) said that Uncle Ottmar was a very intelligent, gentle and always good-humored and cheerful person.  The Kaercher family came here from the town of Leinfield, south of Stuttgart--the Black Forest area of Germany.  They called themselves "Schvatzes" meaning "from the Black Forest."  They worshipped in Musberg at one of the first established Lutheran churches after Martin Luther.  They brought their knowledge, ways, values and energy to Ann Arbor where many others from their area had settled.  In Michigan, the family were all members of Salem Lutheran Church on Scio Church Road, west of Ann Arbor.  The church was built by those early settlers as an almost exact replica of the church they left in Musberg, Germany.

The Kaercher family acquired a farm 9430 Scio Church Road in 1836.  The farm was passed down to relatives over the years and remained in the family for 165 years.  It was designated as a Centennial Farm in 1946.  Information about the site can be found on the Washtenaw County Historic Resource Database by searching for 9110 Scio Church Road.  It was a sheep farm for a number of years then a "general" farm. 

Mrs. Mason said that Ottmar used a wheel chair when he lived here and that there was a ramp on the front steps.  She said that Ottmar and Melita took in several male roomers, and Melita did laundry for them as well as other families to earn money. She was sweet and quiet and loyal to her husband.  Dorothy Mason remembers stopping at Ottmar and Melita's house on their way home from monthly shopping trips to Ann Arbor.  "Melita had her ironing board set up in the kitchen and I could smell the fresh, clean smell of the laundry," she said. 

Mrs. Mason also shared that Otto Buss, a cousin who lived at 2281 West Liberty, took Ottmar out for rides; and sometimes her father, Edwin Kaercher, transferred Ottmar into the front seat of the car when they regularly drove to Monroe, Michigan, where they filled aluminum tubs with iced-down fresh fish  They removed the back seats of the car to make room for the tubs of fish.  When they returned to the area, they made the rounds of customers who purchased the fresh fish, leaving a small profit for Ottmar.  It was as much an outing as a business venture. Those were great days for Ottmar. 

I would love to know who built my house.  One guess is that Otto Toney (Thone), the brother of Ottmar's brother-in-law, Robert Toney (Thone), may have built it.  He is listed as a builder in the 1926 City Directory; and since he was a relative, I thought that perhaps he was the builder.  Another possibility is that George Scott's son, Walter F. Scott, was the contractor and his father, George, provided the design.  In April, 2008, I saw an advertisement for the sale of 417 Soule Boulevard, which said it was, "designed by renowned A2 architect George Scott in the late 1920's."  I became curious because Ottmar Kaercher's brother, Reuben Kaercher, was the original owner of 417 Soule Boulevard.  The sellers, Barbara and Norman Yoffee, allowed me to see the inside.  Mrs. Yoffee told me that they had lived there for 15 years, and that she had researched the history of the house.  She had the original blueprints.  Here are some reasons why I thought the Scotts may have built my house:

-Walter F. Scott is listed in the 1926 City Directory a contractor at "ns W. Liberty Rd., 7 w of limits," nearly across from Ben Steinman (2553).

-Reuben and Ottmar were brothers, five years apart in age.

-Both houses were built in 1927.  Walter Scott would have been 43 years old, and his father 75.

-The houses have the exact same interior doors and woodwork (but the doors have different door knobs).

-The windows have identical woodwork; the 417 Soule blueprint shows the house's original windows the same three-over-one windows as my east living room and west dining room windows.  Most of my other double-hung windows are four-over-one.

-Stair balusters and handrails are the same (but the newel posts are different).

-Construction of the roof overhang is the same.

-The houses both have a first-floor bathroom with doors on two sides (but the 417 Soule bathroom is larger).

-Both houses have large closets with windows in them.

-The houses have cisterns with round cement covers.

One way the Kaerchers may have met Walter Scott is that he lived across the street from Ben Steinman.  Perhaps Mr. Steinman introduced him to the Kaerchers.  Another possibility is that the Kaerchers and the Scotts met because George Heinrich Kaercher (who shared a great-grandfather with Ottmar and Reuben) and his wife Tesa M. (Kern) lived in the Cutting Apartments (aka Flats) at 706 Monroe.  George Kaercher is listed as being the janitor there in the 1926 and 1927 City Directories.  George Scott designed the Cutting Flats in 1904. 

These are just guesses. I keep hoping I will find my house's blueprints hidden away somewhere.  You never know.  While I was cleaning my basement in the winter of 2008, I found Ottmar Kaercher's name on a board in the cellar entrance.  Neither Scio Township, nor the City of Ann Arbor has a record of who built the house.  I thought that perhaps my house was a Sears Catalog kit home because it resembles the Sears Westly. There is an authentic Sears Westly at 602 Soule Boulevard, which the owner, Dina Cocco, was kind enough to let me tour.  Similarities include the floorplan, the columns on the front porch, the windowed closets, and the mirrored closet in the living room.  There are a number of differences as well.  My house measures 26 x 30 feet, and the Westly 24 x 30 feet.  Also, I have been unable to find any numbers on the wood in my house.  So, my home's origin remains a mystery; but whoever built it was truly a craftsperson.

Ottmar and Melita Kaercher purchased Lot 1 from Benjamin Steinman on February 6, 1926.  Ottmar passed away on April 30, 1954, at age 66.  His obituary says that he was a farmer for many years until illness forced his retirement.  He is listed in the 1928 City Directory as a salesman.  Melita lived here until she moved to the Martin Luther Home in South Lyon, where she passed on September 13, 1975, at age 83. The Kaercher's had no children.

The Kaercher's deed came with restrictions, some of which, thankfully, would not be legal today:

(1) Said lots shall be occupied by people of the Caucasian Race only.  (2) No building for residence purpose shall be erected on said lots, the cost of which is less than $4,000.00.  (3) No house shall be erected nearer than thirty (30) feet from front property line and four (4) feet from side line, and garages not attached to house must be placed 50 feet back from front line and four (4) feet from side line.  On corner lots garages must be back at least thirty (30) feet from street property line.  (4) No garage shall be used as a residence longer than three (3) years.  (5) No frame building shall be erected and stand more than ninety (90) days without having been painted or stuccoed. (6) No outside toilets shall be permitted on said lots.  All toilets shall be of the approved chemical kind or shall be properly connected with septic tank.  (7) No chickens shall be permitted to run free on said lots.  They must have a clean coop with park to run in.  

William and Lydia Luitje were the second owners of my house.  They purchased it for $29,500 on June 1, 1973, and lived here for 13 years.  Mr. Luitje said that the house was in mint condition when they purchased it.--like a time capsule, something from the 20's or 30's.  They bought the house with all of its furniture.  He said,

When you buy the contents of a house, amazing to what extent there are problems and a solution for it. The apple tree is a Baldwin apple tree, good for cooking, bears once every other year. One of the problems - in years when it bears, it drops a lot of apples.  I found a rake here that had tines on one side and loops on the other side and used that to pick up the apples.

He was right about the falling apples--there were LOTS of them.  The Luitjes added insulation to the attic and remodeled the upstairs bathroom in the 70's . (The dark brown sink and tub are still here;  the matching toilet had to be replaced when I moved in.)  Mr. Luitje told me that rain water used to be funneled into the cistern on the west side of the house and used for washing.  When I moved in, the kitchen sink had an extra spout for this water that was no longer functional.  Mr. Luitje spoke as if he had fond memories of this house.  He told me that his children still missed the house because of the stairs.  When they were small, they would get ready for bed--had pajamas with feet in them--and they would slide down the stairs on their stomachs.  I had the pleasure of meeting them (all grown up) a few years ago just after Thanksgiving.

Mr. Luitje told me that there had been a chicken coop on the rear of the garage, and there are still what look like chicken prints in the concrete there.  There is also a recipe for sausage on the door to this room.

11 1/2 pork
salt pepper
7 lb lard 

On October 17, 1986, the Luitjes sold 2509 W. Liberty to the City of Ann Arbor for $59,500 "when real estate was difficult to sell.  The City wanted to widen one street or the other.  The appraisal for the amount of land they wanted was so high, they might as well have bought the house too."  The Luitjes had two children and "wanted to move where it would be better for them." 

The City needed 12.42 feet along W. Liberty and three feet along S. Maple for  road improvements.  The City owned the house for 18 months until they sold it to Shelley Steele for $62,500 on April 19, 1988. 

A 1966 photo of 730 S. Maple (from the City of Ann Arbor Assessor's card) shows that the shared driveway on S. Maple Road between 2509 W. Liberty and 730 S. Maple Road was wide enough to accommodate two driveways, side by side.  While the City of Ann Arbor owned 2509 W. Liberty and the S. Maple Road construction was undertaken, however, the curb cut that resulted was not wide enough to accommodate two separate driveways.  It was placed south of the 2509 West Liberty driveway.  By the time I bought the house, grass had grown over most of the driveway section nearest to 2509 W. Liberty.  So far sharing the driveway with my neighbors has not been a problem, but it would be better to have the two driveways there, just in case . . .  I have taken up most of the grass on the driveway and have found the gravel driveway underneath.  I would like to have the curb cut widened--someday when I can afford it.

Shelley Steele owned the house for 12 years.  She and her husband, Paul McCoy lived here until December 1993, when they began to rent it.  There were renters living here when they sold the house to me.  Mr. McCoy worked for the City of Ann Arbor for many years as Deputy City Clerk.  Paul C. McCoy passed away on October 8, 2007. 

At one point I spoke to Mr. McCoy, and he told me that he liked this house but that his wife wanted to move to a better neighborhood for the children--the sentiment also expressed by Mr. Luitje.  Fortunately for me, children and traffic are not an issue.  Shelley Steele told me on February 12, 2009, that  they had loved the house and seriously looked into trying to move it to another location, either further west on Liberty or into the Eberwhite Woods area.  That did not happen because they were unable to find a suitable lot.  I am glad they did not move it.  I doubt that it would have been in my price range if it had been moved, especially to the Eberwhite Woods area.  Actually, I like this location better. 

As I said, I did not have to do much to the house; it was in great condition when I bought it.  Shelley Steele said she is not surprised about this since it was built very solidly.  Also, one of their tenants had "put more than a little work into it."  So, I was able to just settle in and begin to enjoy my home. On my first Christmas here, my daughter surprised me by having Bertie Bonnell, a local artist, create a painting of the house. I love that painting.

I do not like lawn grass, so I was happy that some of the lawn had ivy on it.  I added a fish pond and waterfall which got rid of more grass, and I've let the ivy spread and have planted flower gardens.  As of 2007, the only grass left is on the lawn extensions. 

The grand old apple tree came down on March 22, 2005.  I liked that tree, even though it was work.  I had to scoop apples out of the pond and pick them up from the driveway every day while I dodged the bees.  It seemed like there were tons of apples.  I even had McFarland Tree Service put cables in the tree to keep it from splitting.  Finally, after limbs had fallen, and the ants had taken it over, I had McFarland take it down.  My side yard still looks kind of bare without it.

When I bought my house, I did not realize right away that it was a "bungalow."  Once I learned more about these houses, I knew why the house felt so good to live in.  Soon  I subscribed to American Bungalow Magazine, and added my house to their registry.  My  home appeared in the Summer 2007 American Bungalow  Family Album feature.

    When I bought my house, there was an antique stove and wringer washer in the basement, left here by the Kaerchers.  I was pleased to be able to loan them to the Washtenaw County Historical Society's Museum on Main Street for their exhibit "The Kitchen from 1830 to 1950"  in spring 2008.

In the warm weather, I spend most of the daylight hours outside in the garden.  I enjoy gardening, but it is getting more difficult each year to do the work.  Click here to see my South Maple garden in bloom.

Click to learn a little about me, Judith Marks.

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This page was last updated February 13, 2009.