Renovations begin at the house poet Theodore Roethke once frequented in Saginaw

SAGINAW, MI – Just over a year ago, Stone House, the house owned by the uncle of famous poet Saginaw Theodore Roethke, was in preparation for demolition. Today, a team of volunteers from the Friends of Theodore Roethke Foundation are working hard to restore the house.

The stone house, named after its fieldstone structure, is located at 1759 Gratiot Ave., next to Roethke’s childhood home, 1805 Gratiot Ave., which is now Theodore Roethke Museum. While the museum is well known in the community, Roethke House intern Tony Groulx said the Stone House is just as important to the history of Saginaw and the Roethke family.

“When (the Roethkes) lived in these two houses, they ran a huge greenhouse called William T. Greenhouse,” said Groulx. “We preserve the historical context in which the poet grew up because he went back and forth between the two houses. It was really more like a house, like a family complex.

Although the Stone House, built in 1904, is a monument listed in the National Register of Historic Sites, the Friends of Theodore Roethke Board of Trustees voted to demolish the house in February 2019. The board of directors had been paying the mortgage on the house since it was first acquired in 1998. While Dow Chemical paid off the mortgage in 2014, the house had not been able to open to the public due to the repairs it needed.

Fundraising efforts began to restore the house shortly after the vote, however, and the board launched a campaign to raise money for the repairs. The council asked the public for $ 50,000, said President Anne Ransford. Recently, they finally raised $ 13,000, enough to start a million dollar restoration project involving both the Stone House and the museum.

The Stone House will become a community center, a poetry reading space and a housing unit for poets in residence for the Roethke Museum. Groulx expects the first phase to be completed by the end of the summer. The restoration of the entire stone house can take a year or more. Restorations at the nearby Roethke Museum will take longer, as a wheelchair lift and other accessibility features for people with disabilities will be added.

“Now it’s our job as a board to write grants, do fundraising, grow membership, all of that,” Ransford said. “We just hope the community sees what we’re working on and that we get more donations.”

Groulx, Ransford and a team of three other volunteers showed up around 10 a.m. on Monday, June 15 to begin demolishing the first floor of the Stone House. The first phase of the renovation process will be to replace the roof and windows, said Groulx. In the second phase, volunteers will paint the interior and exterior of the house, insulate the attic, renovate the kitchen, restore the furnace, and update the electricity.

On Monday, volunteer Rachel Worthing tore down walls and floors to prepare the house’s first floor for restoration. Although she had never been in a restoration process before, she came to volunteer due to a desire to help preserve the historic house.

“I’m looking for opportunities to give back to the community, and Tony had mentioned to me that the museum needs help,” she said.

Groulx said many volunteers and community members are eager to see the stone house restored and finally open to the public.

“There has been a huge community gathering around the home restoration over the past couple of years,” said Groulx. “I think it would be good for the community to see where this money is invested and how it will be used to enrich the community.”

As the teams work to create a new cultural center for the Saginaw community, the Friends of Theodore Roethke Foundation continues to accept volunteers and donations. Visit the organization’s website Save the Stone House page to learn more.

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