May 17, 2006

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Whitney - Barr house - now the Cappelletti residence - Old Allegan and Maple
photo by Bill Werme

Martell house - currently owned by the Peterson family - 345 Grand St.
photo by Vicki Stull

The schooner George M. Case


Here are two very fine houses of late 19th century Saugatuck in the Italianate style of architecture—the most fashionable building style in the several decades after the Civil War. Both are interesting because they mirror some of the most important economic and social history of the village—shipbuilding in the case of Mr. Martel, and farming and basket making in the case of Mt. Whitney.

John Baptise Martel was a French-Canadian ship builder who lived in Saugatuck for a quarter of a century, building Saugatuck schooners and steamers until 1897. Martel’s boat building yard is about where the Butler restaurant is now located and where his schooner (above) George M. Case was completed (he built the hull upstream in Allegan). The shipbuilding connection to his house is evident in the exquisite carpentry work by George Hames and fancy scrollwork (note the porch columns) by William Finley, both ships carpenters. The window frame decoration is of an oak-leaf-and-acorn motif—which can also be seen on the Good Goods building on Mason Street. The house was later purchased by a Chicago industrialist and restored by the noted Chicago interior designer Florence “Danny” Hunn in the 1940s. At that time the rear coach house was relocated and attached to the house and the bay window was added to the north side to mirror the one on the south side.

Calvin Whitney was a young fruit farmer when this 12 room Italianate style farmhouse was built for his new bride, Johanna Burns. Whitney had enlisted in the Civil War at age 17 in 1861, then came to Saugatuck after the war and had a career as hotel proprietor, grocer, fruit farmer, a partner in Saugatuck’s “Iron Clad” basket factory, and a boat builder. Miss Burns lived across the street—the daughter of a local grocer (his store is now East of the Sun shop on Butler Street). Called a “model farmer” by the local newspaper, Whitney raised sheep and had a carp fish farm built on the property. A busy man indeed. In about 1909 the house became the home of Henry and Olga Barr. Mrs. Barr was born on a farm in Germany and preferred to live a farm-life in Saugatuck while Mr. Barr worked in Chicago. An old barn foundation is now used as garden wall.

The “hill” area of Saugatuck became loaded with these Italianate houses most dated from the 1870s and 1880s. They are rather box-like and usually tall (for the time) and of two full stories—with a low-hipped roof with a wide overhang supported by decorative brackets. They are the epitome of the “Victorian age” and although they are very “American” in invention, the name comes from references to Italian classicism. By 1890 the fashion had switched to an even bigger and more ostentatious style, the Queen Ann. More on this architectural form later.      by Jim Schmiechen

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