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The Jonathan Wade House of 1851, at 149 Washington Street, Douglas

A regent interesting house discoveryis that of what appears to be the fast house in Douglas-wilt by one of thefounders of Douglas, Jonathan Wade a decade before the Civil War. This tiny house,at 149 Washington Street (at South Street), is not only the first (and oldest)house in Douglas, it is the only known 'plank' house.

By most accounts, Jonathan Wade andfamily were the first white settlers in Douglas. He came to Michigan fromCanada by way of Boston in 1835-settling first in Singapore (the earlySaugatuck port town) where he was part owner of Singapore's first lumber mill.He lost his investment there when the mill failed and then was destroyed byfire in 1846, but by he 1851 was able to purchase much of the land [section 16]which eventually became known as Douglas. Here he built the village's firstlumber mill and a house in 1851-followed by a boarding house for the millhands, and hotel. The mill was located at what is the Point Pleasant Marina,and eventually evolved into the famous Douglas Basket Factory. The Wade'shotel, built in 1860 (destroyed by fire in 1934) was also on Washington Street(facing Center Street), and Wade platted out a village on the land south ofCenter Street in 1860.1

 

Still standing and little changed,"Wade Cottage" is the first house in Douglas. It is a traditional tworooms-up-two-rooms-down house. The main room was probably the living (includingkitchen) room, with the second room on the first floor a sleeping room. Twosmall and low bedrooms are up a narrow stairway. A lean-to kitchen and diningroom were added later to the rear. The house is similar in form to theSettler's House in nearby Holland.

 

The house is of "plank"construction-huge sawn boards placed side-by-side (vertically) which, alongwith heavy beams in a "braced frame" manner, carry the load of thehouse. This plank form of construction appears to be common in the earlypioneer era, and may have been copied from local Native American house-buildingpractice. It is most probable that the planks were milled by the primitive"upright saw" at Mr. Wade's mill at the opposite end of this street.Clapboard siding and new windows were added later, probably just before theCivil War--diving the house a somewhat stylish Greek Revival manner. Some ofthe planks are observable inside the house. The original wide-plank flooringhas been covered by a newer wood floor.

 

A number of Wade's family members movedto this little settlement from Canada-the village named "Dudleyville"after Jonathan's brother Dudley; the home (1853) of his brother Nelson stillstands on Wall Street (Rick Bradley's house). At one time people in Saugatuckjokingly referred to Wade's community as "Canada." The village wasrenamed Douglas in 1870. Wade appears to have had operated a large farm andorchard to the immediate south of this Washington Street house, and, owned abrick factory on Wiley Road. In 1863 the Wades owned 75 hogs. It is believedthat the Wades moved from this tiny house to a large new house and farm onWater Street across the ravine/Tannery Creek to the immediate south of thishouse in about 1867. It appears that he died shortly thereafter.

 

The house passed through several owners,including (in 1891) the Douglas postmaster and druggist, Henry Bird, Jr. Itsmost recent owner was Carl Ellstam, a retired circus acrobat and Chicago postalworker. The house is being repaired by its new owners.

 

1 Henry Hutchins, Recollections ofthe Pioneers of Western Allegan County (1919,1976,1995), 9, 12, 21; Thefirst settlement activity in Douglas was land clearing for farming, undertakenby Robert A. McDonald, William Scovill, and Michael B. Spencer, although itappears that none of them lived on this south side of the Kalamazoo untillater. See Kit Lane, Douglas. Village of Friendliness (1987), page 1.Wade's house in Singapore was destroyed by fire in 1848, and two years laterthe family moved to "the flats" [Saugatuck] for a year before movingto Douglas. [May Heath, Early Memories of Saugatuck (1953) 218.]