who will get the starkweather house?

[If this post looks a bit familiar, it’s because it was first posted over the weekend. A request, however, was made that it be edited. Hopefully, what you see here is both without error and inoffensive. If not, please let me know so that I can take it down again and further dismantle it.]

It was reported in the “Ann Arbor News” a few days ago that Art Campbell, the owner of Ypsilanti’s historic Starkweather House, has agreed to give the property, located at 1266 Huron River Drive, to the city , in hopes that he can somehow use teh gift as a credit against his federal taxes. According to the “Ann Arbor News,” the 83 year old Campbell said, “I’m too old to renovate the house and I don’t want to spend money on it. The house is in a bad shape, but the city could find somebody to do it.” According to city attorney John Barr, the city would only be looking to make back the cost of the paperwork, which would be about $5,000.

I’m not sure how the city will handle the bid process, but it sounds like the 1840 property, and the third of an acre it sits on, could go for as little as $5,000, assuming the city finds a buyer with the background and resources necessary to take on the renovation. If this is the case, it could be a huge opportunity for someone. One just hopes that the city is upfront and open about the process.

So, here are my thoughts, in the order that they came to me (slighttly revised). 1) I want a $5,000 house. I have no idea what I’d do with a leaky 3,000 square foot structure, but if I can get it for $5,000, I want it. I want it desperately. 2) The city should have a national contest for it, asking people to write in with ideas as to how they’d use it. ($5,000 is a small price to pay for the good PR that might result.) God knows that we could use a little good national press right now, and something like this could attract a really energetic person with great ideas to our area. 3) On second thought, why open it up to everyone in the world? I’ve got friends who kind of know carpentry, and could, conceivably, be assets to our community… At least I’m pertty sure they wouldn’t steal anything. 4) Didn’t I read that Screech was looking for a place to live?

OK, and that’s where I stopped thinking and started blogging… If you have better ideas, let me know.

[For those of you who are interested, the image above comes from an 1874 etching in an atlas of Washtenaw County published by Everts and Stewart of Chicago. This and other great images can be found at the University of Michigan’s Bently Historical Library. The Bently rocks.]

This entry was posted in Ypsilanti. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.


  1. mark
    Posted June 25, 2007 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

    OK, don’t be freaked out if you see that you’ve left a comment in this thread even though you didn’t… I’m just moving some of the old comments from the last Starkweather thread over here.

  2. mark
    Posted June 25, 2007 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

    OK, actually I can’t make these comments look as though they’re coming from the original authors, so they’ll all just look like they’re from me. I know it’s confusing, but bear with me.

    The first note comes from Cousins Vinyl:

    That house needs a hell of a lot of work. And it seems crazy that cash strapped Ypsi would sell it for 5K when they could probably get at least 100K. I don’t get it. Wouldn’t they auction it off to the highest bidder? Anyone has the means to pay five thousand and then put fifty thousand into renovating it, and have a house worth probably close to 200 thousand. And doesn’t it back to the river? Something doesn’t make sense here. And I know Brett may “deserve” it but there are a lot of needy people out there-who is going to determine this? Mark seemed to imply that he could decide by picking from his friends. Does anyone have any more info about this? What if it goes towards a development company who fixes it up and sells it for a huge profit? Then is it still OK to sell for that cheap? Maybe I’m missing something here. But in any event, very cool history of that house. It should be preserved. I’m just very confused by the whole process-who wouldn’t try to get it at that price? And then who’s to decide that someone should get it over someone else? I have no interest-but I am very intrigued by the whole situation. Will the first five thousand take it, or will someone with political influence help decide?

  3. mark
    Posted June 25, 2007 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

    And this note comes from Emma:

    If this is the house I am thinking of (I looked at the sattelite images, I’m pretty positive it is…) It was on the market for a long time. I don’t remember the list price but think it was around $120k. I looked at it but it had serious structural problems. It needed to be demolished or completely gutted and rebuilt. With the historic distric people involved the renovation would be way more than $50k. It used to back up to the river. It now backs up to a couple of new construction homes which back up to the river making what might’ve been a great location more like a generic subdivision with the older house sticking out like an arthritic sore thumb. The city would be smart to get rid of the property ASAP for whatever it cost them. There obviously was not an accepted offer while it was listed for sale. Instead of doing something to promote the city, they’ll likely just hand it over to JC Beal along with a tax abatement like they gave them for the Thompson St. Block since their third generation business with 5 affiliated firms couldn’t possibly pay taxes on a building they obtained for $400,000 in uncompensated labor.

    Tax abatement article is here:

  4. mark
    Posted June 25, 2007 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

    And this comes from Robert:

    Hey, is that the same Starkweather they named a street after in Plymouth?

  5. mark
    Posted June 25, 2007 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

    And here’s what Suzie had to say:

    Emma – Probably not the same house, as with the replacement of the corner beams, this house is structurally sound. Would clearly need work but the bones of the building are all there.

    Cousins-I don’t believe this house’s lot backs up to the river with the new houses that have now been built.

    I read the article differently, that they want to recoup their costs of paperwork (seemingly said in response to the inevitable question of why Ypsi is taking on *any* additional costs in the economic climate), not that they would *only* be looking to make back those costs. Seems like the bid would need to include a combination of price offered and restoration plans – but I haven’t seen an announcement yet.

  6. mark
    Posted June 25, 2007 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

    And Robert came back with another comment:

    The county web site shows the original parcel was split on 8/18/04, and now leaves the property at 1266 Huron River Drive landlocked with no border on the river.

    The new parcel number for the property is 11-11-05-220-018.

    You can see the parcel boundries mapped at the county website:

  7. mark
    Posted June 25, 2007 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

    And then there was this from Ed Penet:

    Mark: The HDC is NOT commissioned by the City to preserve rich people’s houses. Your home, in fact, is in the District. And within the District, our charge is to protect, advise and consent/dissent to propose changes to all manner of fascades, landscapes, archeological sites and more … from those pre-dating the city to today and even yet to come. What exits now is to be honored and protected within its context and with all reasonableness.

    The Starkweather farmhouse escaped attention because it was not in the central District. There are other such signifcant individual and neighborhood properties throughout the city that we individually keep our eyes on, but we are NOT empowered to do much about, unless an extreme circumstance arose.

    Such a circunmstance, many felt existed with the Starkweather farmhouse, not with the Peninsular Paper Company. Some of us WERE disappointed with that decision.

    Anyway, an independent study commission was set up to deal with the Starkweather issue. It was THEIR recommendation to City Council … NOT the HDC … that created a special district to protect the house. The HDC supported their findings and is now empowered to do what is necessary to preserve the well-being of the structure.

    Again, their are many examples of current, post-modern, brand new and sundry other architectural sites within the District made with various technologies and from all kinds of materials … and which we honor for their place in time … if appropriate and in proper context.

  8. Posted June 26, 2007 at 9:38 am | Permalink


    Who was on the independent study commission and where is their report?

    There have also been other requests over the years to get historic district designation and they have all been turned down. Woods Road and Emmet are two street with significant houses and owners that wanted to be in a historic district and were denied.

    It seems strange that this house has received such a designation and that possibly certain insiders have the track to purchase the property. No mention of the report was ever given to City Council nor was the potential new buyers ever disclosed to Council or the public. They should.

    Keeping these things secret makes folks suspicious of a deal brought up at the last moment, added to the agenda with less than 24 hours, no opportunity to review or consider the legal language or ramifications of what happens if the deal goes south.

    For example the current owner points out he can’t get adequate water pressure to other homes on the same lot. So what does that do to the economic viability. These and many other questions were never asked or answered.

    – Steve

  9. egpenet
    Posted June 26, 2007 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    The report was researched and written by a committee independent of the HDC at the request of Council in order to substantiate the importance of the property to the history of the city and to aid in the request to have a non-contiguous district within the city.

    To be in accordance with state and federal law, our district, as I understand it, must be continguous, unless Council makes a move to grant an exception. Detroit has numerous “disticts,” which are NOT in compliance with the law. Ann Arbor is also having fits with its ordinance.

    The report, of which I do not have a copy, but which I read, was given to Council many months ago. It’s there, Steve. Don’t panic.
    The site, the history and historic records are widely available to the public and much has been published about the property and its owners.

    Yes, there are other sites and areas in the city, old, unique, and even new; but it is Council, not the HDC, that must act. We or any other body, or you, or any other citizen can petition Council to so move. But there are many other ways to have a site protected and/or so-designated historic (Centennial Farm, etc.) on an individual basis, either with the State or the Feds. There are procedures available on the web for all of that.

    The Historic District is NOT ceremonial. It is designed to provide ALL residents of the City with an enforceable means of protecting (my words) the central core of the downtown and contiguous elements of the surrounding neighborhoods … preserving to some extent each feature within its context of time and place and surroundings, while at the same time providing guidelines for upkeep, changes and potential new development.

    The ordinance is in full compliance with State and Federal guidelines. Each decision is cited according to the Secretary of the Interior’s guidelines. And there were to my knowledge and experience on the HDC no willy-nilly decisions made regarding either the Peninsula Paper property or the Starkweather homestead (what’s left of it).

    Anytime, Steve! Cheers!

  10. Posted June 26, 2007 at 11:43 am | Permalink


    The Starkweather Historic District Study Committee was appointed by Council at their August 2, 2004, meeting. A public hearing was held on the Committee’s preliminary report on December 14, 2004. The final report was presented to Council on March 1, 2005, and a public hearing was held at that time. From the minutes of that meeting, it appears you spoke at the public hearing – with some concerns – so I don’t quite understand your statement that, “no mention of the report was ever given to City Council”.

  11. Posted June 26, 2007 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    The Bentley is, indeed, awesome.

    /former Bentley employee

  12. Anonymous
    Posted June 26, 2007 at 3:18 pm | Permalink


    When the presentation to council was made last week, I do not recall any mention of the report that created the district. You have two new members on council, they should have been told about it. Was it in the packet? No. In fact the whole thing was a rush job with contract language put before the Council over the weekend.

    In quoting the minutes, you have hit upon one of my pet peeves for many moons now. The previous administration banished public comment from the minutes, so there is no way to know what was said.

    It is one of the reasons I am recording the meetings so we know exactly what was said at a meeting like the Water Street meeting in February rather than just trying to base it off memory.

    It would cost nothing for the city to audio record all the meetings and post them up as podcasts on the City’s Website. Video casting was done at the County for less than $1,500 plus cost of the equipment.

    Second issue:
    Who is the person or persons that have told John Barr they were interested in buying the property. Why was that never told to the City Council last week as well?


    – Steve

  13. Cleo Love Paste
    Posted June 26, 2007 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    What about fixing it up for the new President of EMU?

    The historic renovation department could do the whole thing.

  14. Kel Keller
    Posted January 25, 2009 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    Hello, I live in Romeo and am doing Underground Railroad research.
    Is there much documentation on the Starkweather family in terms of UGRR in Ann Arbor? Were they related to the Romeo Starkweather Family?
    There was a Starkweather family in Detroit who were UGRR conductors/stationmasters. I am curious to know the first names of these people and konw if they were related. Also curious if there is good documentation.

    Thank you!!!

  15. ol' e cross
    Posted January 25, 2009 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

    Kel, I have no idea, I’m just commenting so your question won’t get lost…

    But, if it does, e-mail the Ypsilanti Historical Society and ask for a certain James Mann. He is our all-seeing eye.


  16. schutzman
    Posted January 27, 2009 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

    kel keller– The starkweathers/newberrys of ypsilanti (John and Mary) were originally from detroit, and there are also a cluster of starkweathers in plymouth (they founded that town), although i don’t know what the exact relation was.

    I’m pretty sure that the ypsilanti starkweathers’ only purported connection to the UGRR is that they rented some of their land to the mccoy family (who were themselves freed slaves, and whose son elijah was the famous inventor); It’s believed that the mccoys maintained a station themselves, which if true, would mean that the starkweathers were possibly aware of this activity on their property but turned a blind eye. Thus one could argue that they gave it a sort of ‘silent blessing,’ by permitting it to continue.

    So it’s the mccoys who you’d really need to be researching in this particular case. The information is based on their family narratives, and while the phrase “good ugrr documentation” is nearly always an oxymoron, that’s still a primary source, and better evidence than many other supposed locations can lay claim to.

  17. Fred T
    Posted January 14, 2011 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    The guy they ended up giving it to (Ron Rupert) is now asking for the City to forgive $25,000 in fines. He was given 18 months to bring the structure up to code, and that was 4 years ago. (It’s still not done.)


  18. daniel e starkweather
    Posted February 12, 2016 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    very interesting to hear of the starkweather home….not so much as the reason. did mrs. starkweather contribute anything to the university..a dormitory a fountain or some other structure..i do wish I had heard of this sooner…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


BUY LOCAL... or shop at Amazon through this link Banner Initiative