the all-seeingeye James McAllaster House, Tecumseh, Michigan

The house I live in is almost 165 years old. Not startlingly old for most of the world, but for North America, and the Midwest in particular, it is old enough to be a museum piece. When I acquired the house in 1999, it was the first time that where I lived was older than my furniture. (the second oldest was built about 1890) It is often said that they made things better back then, and I suppose a superficial reading of "The Antiques Roadshow" would support this notion. But what we have inherited is a very small fraction of the day-to-day products of the past. Much of the "antique" in this country is only just a little over a century old. This places it squarely inside the bounds of the industrial age. Like it or not, we in fact owe much of the modern age-its badly made goods and hyped-up marketing-to the Victorians. What we see when we examine their products is only those that have survived. In any age there are well made and not so well made things, and while it is worthwhile to study those things that have survived, it is probably a mistake to revere a period as being in any way superior to our own.

The McAllaster House has survived. This is mostly because a series of owners have cared enough to maintain and upgrade the house as time passed. Certainly, it has not hurt that the original structure was largely composed of massive oak beams. But a list of what has been rebuilt over the years would encompass just about every part of the place except the original frame, some of the foundation, and a few bits and pieces on the outside and inside. There are quite a few "new" bits, if you can call something built in 1913 or 1927 new. The last change to the footprint of the house appears to have been in 1957. In many communities that in itself would be an older home.

The house is a one and a half story frame-built Greek Revival. The facade of the house follows the "basilica-type" which several authors claim is unique to Michigan. The original portion of the house was built in 1839, with subsequent additions from 1913 through 1957. There is some debate as to whether or not the side "wings" of the house are part of the initial structure or were added later. Some experts have suggested that the wings were added within a few years, though that appears to be based on the known construction sequence of another house. Most of the structural clues which would answer the question have been obscured by renovation and repair. The only remaining evidence is buried in the foundations. When time permits, I plan to excavate one of the crawl spaces and find out.

The construction sequence question was largely answered during an upstairs renovation.

Much of the interior was extensively restored and updated in 1988 when it was the Designer Home for Promenade Tecumseh. Records show that the house has been a part of Tecumseh's home tour three times since 1977.

Plan and elevation drawings (PDF)