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January 1, 2013

South Washington Street home has many ties to Constantine history

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Written by: Bruce Snook
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Winding staircase complements elegant entryway to Italianate home built in 1880

Mark Voege and his wife, LeeAnn Farmer, have collected a wealth of information on their lovely historic home located on South Washington Street in Constantine, and are always interested in acquiring more.

Mark Voege and his wife, LeeAnn Farmer, own this historic home on South Washington Street in Constantine. It was the Constantine Hospital for a brief period until 1943. They are interested in acquiring more information on the home. (Click on photo to enlarge)

Voege is an art teacher at Kalamazoo Central High School and he does pottery. LeeAnn teaches special education at the middle school in Marcellus, and is president of the Animal Rescue Fund.

Both said they were looking for an unusual older home to buy and fell in love with Constantine. “This is our eleventh year here. We bought this house from Don and Deb Eiswald, who had done some work on it,” Voege said.

“Don tuckpointed the home and painted the brick exterior red, using a cherry picker.  He remodeled the downstairs dining area with beams from a “T” style barn he dismantled on Riverside Drive.”

Built in 1880 by an affluent local banker for his wife, Mary Catherine Waldron Marsh (1840-1930), the home is Italianate style, with a flat roof and large brackets in the eaves. Italianate preceded Queen Ann style homes which were popular following the Civil War.

“This was the first home built in town with steam heat,” Voege said. “Marsh also had wall-to-wall carpeting installed. There are no fireplaces. All this was considered unusual at the time.”

Mark Voege and his wife, LeeAnn Farmer, stand in a unique dining room remodeled with beams from a “T” style barn.

“It was the Constantine Hospital for a brief period ending in 1943 when the nurses left for WWII,” he said. “Doctors practicing at the hospital included Slote, Bush and Sweetland. Mary Newcomer and Dorothy Stears were nurses.”

Dr. George Sweetland and his wife sponsored the construction of Constantine High School’s Sweetland Stadium, which was given to the school as a memorial to their youngest child, George J. Jr. who died of polio in 1937.

Voege said he heard when someone couldn’t afford to pay a bill at the hospital, “Sweetland would ask them to go help dig his stadium.”

A large portrait of Mary Catherine Waldron Marsh hangs in the front room. Behind it is a list of all the babies born when the home was a hospital.  A list of Marsh’s descendents is also framed and on display.

“Many people have told us they either were born here or else knew some that had been,” Farmer said. “Where I’m standing right now (the kitchen) was the ‘birthing room.'”

The home has eleven-foot high ceilings, two bay windows, five bedrooms, two baths and a grand winding staircase. There are three small additional bedrooms upstairs that served as servants’ quarters, with a back staircase leading to the kitchen. A large painted cupboard in the kitchen is original to the house. Original samples of the wall paper were found to copy. Rooms are painted vivid period colors. A huge front porch was added on in 1905.

One interesting thing found in the basement of the home was a yellowed advertisement from a general store owned by Gov. John Stewart Barry (1802-1870) and his brother. Voege is a member of the historical society which meets in Gov. Barry’s home. (Click on photo to enlarge)

One interesting find was a yellowed advertisement from a general store owned by Gov. John Stewart Barry (1802-1870) and his brother. Barry moved to Constantine in 1834 where he built the village’s first frame building and general store in hopes of capitalizing on the trade along the St. Joseph River. His brother, Charles, assisted him run the mercantile.  Coincidentally, Voege is a member of the Gov. John S. Barry Historical Society which meets in Gov. Barry’s home.

People frequently tell to Voege and Farmer anecdotes about the house.  “We learned Mrs. Marsh had a huge claw foot bathtub. We heard later it was kept in the basement and was filled with ice to keep the house cool,” Farmer said.  “I heard a window was left open upstairs in a servant’s room. A nest of honeybees started making a honeycomb there and the residents left it and collected the honey,” Voege laughed.

Both Voege and Farmer say they intend to continue renovation of the home, and Farmer intends to landscape in period style.  “We already have two 100-year-old rose bushes, with small pink fragrant roses…very charming,” she said.

Source:  Story and photos contributed by Angie Birdsall.


  1. Angie Birdsall

    I think this story will attract a lot of interest. Locals still refer to the home as “the old hospital.” Mark Voege is a member of the Barry Society and would always tell us fascinating stories about this house at our meetings. It is one of the more well known residences in Constantine. It is the former residence of (artist) Deb and husband Don Eiswald who had the Ice Forest here before it was moved downtown. Deb had ladies come in and model wedding, bridesmaid dresses in an elegant fashion show at the home. LeeAnn Farmer credits Deb Eiswald with compiling most of the information (which was quite a lot) on this home. Her stack of info included “before and after” photos and also a 20 page typed history (“remembrances” of a former resident.) I told Mark I’d like a copy of it for the Barry archives, and I’d love to read it for a possible article down the road. I’m always interested in our “glorious past.” Voege credits Don with doing the lion’s share of the exterior work…evidently tuck pointing is tedious work. I find I miscounted the bedrooms upstairs, but it can hardly be helped in such a huge house. lol LeeAnn proofread my write up and said there are a couple less bedrooms. (I envy them the extra rooms which they utilize for storage.) LeeAnn also said the honeybees upstairs were contained a bit more, which I think was prudent. I believe they would welcome any information about this home. angiebirdsall

  2. Nancy Nanna,

    Thank you Angie, What a great story! There’s a similar home in Sturgis which was also used as a hospital at one time. I stayed there in 2002 when it was a B&B. My aunt Francis (Lampe) Taylor was briefly a patient there following a car accident many years ago.

  3. All about the History.....

    Most folks in town know of the houses once owned by Gov Barry. A bit lesser known is that the brother of Gov. Barry once owned a house also on Washington Street a few blocks North of the old hospital building. That house is across the street from the Washington Street Park 3rd house south of the late Doc Vercler’s place. Have had several family members live there over the past several decades and one produced the deed that went all the way back to the brother of Gov. Barry and the date on that was 1829. When my aunt and uncle bought that old place back in the early 70’s the attic and basement had some really nice antiques from the early mid-1800’s timeframe — most of which departed when my uncle passed away and my aunt moved South in the late 70’s. With the town being founded in 1828, that has to make that house one of the oldest in town.

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