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Finding the Home of Benjamin Schofield

Finding the Home of Benjamin Schofield image Finding the Home of Benjamin Schofield image
Michael Newberry
Rights Held By
Ypsilanti Historical Society
OCR Text

It is amazing how one discovery often leads to another. Such is the case of Benjamin Schofield’s rifle, written about in the Summer 2010 Gleanings by Lyle McDermott. Oddly enough, at the same time Lyle was researching and writing his story on the Schofield rifle I was researching several Civil War era homes in the Historic East Side Neighborhood of Ypsilanti. That is when I happened across the home of Benjamin D. Schofield. I, too, perused through the city directory of 1860 and noticed he was listed as having resided on “the north side of East Cross Street.” One valuable piece of information that the YHS Archives possesses are the property tax ledgers for the city dating back to 1860. This is Holy Grail for connecting the person with the residence. It is also a way to verifiably date a structure built after 1860. Because Schofield’s house was built before 1860, there is no way to verify the actual construction date based upon tax records, but it was a way to find out which property parcel number was linked with the residence of Benjamin D. Schofield. While house addresses were certainly nonexistent in 1860 in Ypsilanti, one method of identifying properties was established, and this method has changed little, if at all, over the years. The legal description and parcel/lot number of a house never changes unless there is a change in the boundary of the lot. Even if there is a change (i.e. someone purchased the empty lot next door and incorporated the two), it is duly noted in the legal property description and the lot numbers are still the same. When I leafed through the 1860 property tax ledger for the 4th Ward of the City of Ypsilanti, I found Benjamin D. Schofield listed as having paid taxes for a piece of property with the following legal description: OLD SID - 11 11-360-460-00 YP CITY 21E-37 LOT 460 M. NORRIS' ADDITION. Lot 460 of the M. Norris Addition still exists today, and I verified it through the city tax assessor’s web site as 333 E. Cross Street, Ypsilanti, MI 48198. 333 E. Cross Street, present day: The obvious question that arises in the mind of the reader is, “While this is certainly the lot where Schofield’s house was situated, is this really the actual house Schofield resided in?” This is where a more thorough look at the house itself becomes necessary. When comparing the footprint of 333 E. Cross Street with the implied footprint of the artist’s rendition in the c1865 Panoramic Map of Ypsilanti one will see that the two are very similar, but not exact. Both are one and a half story framed structures with an entrance centered on the south elevation of the house, flanked by two windows. Both houses are also located in the same space. Next I examined the c1890 Panoramic Map of Ypsilanti, and the two structures look much more alike. In fact, they are nearly identical. Both have the summer kitchen addition on the northeast elevation of the house and both have the wall dormer on the south elevation. The panoramic map depicts two tall chimneys on the main structure and one on the kitchen addition. Today, the tall chimney on the kitchen addition still remains but the two other chimneys have been partially dismantled, lying in waiting in the attic space below. Other features that have been updated post 1890 are the partial enclosing of the west porch and the covered entryway around the front door where before there was none. Now take another look at the picture of 333 E. Cross Street. Can you see underneath the aluminum siding and newer alterations? Can you picture the home that Benjamin D. Schofield lived in? For the skeptical reader, I took my research a bit further. I wanted to make sure that this house was indeed the same one built prior to 1860. I was certain it had simply experienced a face lift in the last quarter of the nineteenth century in order to keep up with the fashion and aesthetics of the times. I went back to the property tax ledgers in the archives. There I located and recorded the property value of Lot 460 M. Norris’ Addition in each tax ledger the archives possess between 1860 and 1891. The taxable value on the house had changed little if at all in the 31+ years of tax records I examined. This serves as an indicator that the same structure present in 1860 was the same present in 1890. It indicates no fires destroyed a previous structure so as to leave the lot vacant. It also indicates no new dwellings were erected on the site that could boost the property value substantially. On an interesting side note, the City of Ypsilanti has this house recorded as having been built in 1886. It is very common for the recorded year of construction for a house built before 1900 to be incorrect with the City records, but could this be the date of the face lift? I made one final effort to verify the age of 333 E. Cross Street. I went to see it myself. Conveniently, the house had been for sale for some time, so viewing the interior was not a challenge. While the interior had been altered significantly to meet the requirements of its current use as a two-unit rental, several telltale signs of its age could be seen. Underneath the high-traffic carpet lay wide, tongue and groove, soft wood floors (most likely pine). Gas lines ran exposed up the plaster walls of the bedrooms on the second floor indicating the house was likely constructed before the installation of gas lighting in residences on East Cross Street. Perhaps the most substantial evidence for the age of 333 E. Cross Street was the interior trim. Door and window casings and baseboards all resembled the form typically seen in modest midcentury homes and not later Victorian structures. Baseboards were plain and affixed to the wall prior to the plastering of the walls, causing the plaster to sit on top of the baseboard to create a flush finish between the two. This was a common practice in the first half of the nineteenth century. The door and window casings were also plain and matched the design and installation techniques of the baseboards. There was a fireplace mantle in the house as well that matched the simplified design and style typical of the baseboards, etc. - all exemplifying vernacular architecture of the mid nineteenth century. I mentioned earlier that one discovery often leads to another. No period photographs have been found of the house (although I’m sure one could be found at the Bentley Historical Library), and the house currently does not reflect the glory that it once may have been. But just imagine the routes of exploration and discovery one could embark upon to continue this chapter of Benjamin D. Schofield, local gunsmith, and one of Michigan’s top 100 marksmen. (Michael Newberry is enrolled in the graduate program in Historical Preservation at EMU and is serving an internship in the YHS Museum.) Photo Captions: Photo 1: The Schofield home at 333 E. Cross Street as it appears today.

Photo 2: The c1865 panoramic map of Ypsilanti showing the location of the Schofield House.

Photo 3: The c1890 panoramic map of Ypsilanti showing the location of the Schofield House.