Two families breathing new life into an historic neighborhood on Bay City’s East Side

Tucked away on North Grant Street, like many areas of Bay City, lies a late 19th-century neighborhood with Victorian and Italianate homes. Over the years, the homes fell into disrepair. But two young families living across the street from one another are turning this around by restoring their dream homes.  

At 620 N. Grant St, sits The Holcomb House, owned by Joe and Andrea Frost. Across the road at 615 N. Grant St., Wayne and Cadia Hoffman are restoring a home built in 1872. The two families hope others follow in their footsteps and do the work to return the neighborhood to its glory days.

Andrea Frost grew up in Bay City and works in West Bloomfield now. Her husband, Joe, is a Davison native. The couple wants to move to Bay City to be near familyThe Frost family is enthusiastic about restoring the historic home

The Frosts recently moved to town from Oxford, Michigan. Andrea, who grew up in Bay City, is a registered nurse for the Labor and Delivery Unit at the Henry Ford Health System in West Bloomfield.

Joe, a Davison native, is Economic Vitality Specialist for Michigan Main Street and holds a master’s degree in Historic Preservation from Ball State University. He runs his own business, the Michigan Historic Window Co., and previously served as Village President of Oxford. For 20 years, Joe has been a living history professional and war re-enactor working everywhere from Fort Mackinac where he met Andrea, Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, and Indiana Landmarks. History and preservation are important aspects of their lives and they aim to keep both alive through the Holcomb House.

A grand staircase stretches from the main entrance to the second floor of the 620 N. Grant St. home.
“My goal as a preservationist has always been to do a rehabilitation of a project from start to finish,” Joe says.

The home will be their permanent residence and will include five bedrooms, three bathrooms, and a home office.

The Frosts have un-covered surprises while renovating this home. Artifacts, including a handwritten note from 1908, were hidden under a knot in a floorboard.“Our goal is to raise a family here and grow here,” Joe says. “We’re also investing in the community, and we’re setting down roots.”

The Frosts have three children and wanted to move to Bay City to be closer with family. With Joe’s remote position for Michigan Main Street, and Andrea commuting three days week, the move was easy to make. Last October, they acquired the property from the Bay County Land Bank with a development agreement.

The Frosts’ home will include five bedrooms, three bathrooms, and a home office.The Holcomb House is an Italianate home built in 1884 by Emmet and Julia Holcomb. Emmet and his brother, Daniel, owned Holcomb Brothers, a wholesaler and hardware supplier on Water and Fourth streets. Emmet also served as a city councilman between 1891 and 1893. Julie died in 1889, and Emmet re-married in 1891 to Anne L. Potter. The couple re-located to Detroit, where Emmet died in 1894.

The Frosts spend a few hours a week at the home now, but expect to make it their permanent address.Throughout the restoration, Joe has researched Emmet Holcomb. “He was very pro-city parks, and pro-sidewalks,” Joe says. Holcomb was also a freemason and a member of Trinity Episcopal Church.

The Frosts plan on keeping the exterior as original as possible “with the exception of a shift in a door here and there,” Joe says. “I have always leaned toward more purist in terms of preservation.”

The home’s character and original layout is still visible, although the historic plaster is gone, Joe says. The Frosts work a few hours a week on the house and will be putting in more time with warmer weather.

“This is a fun project so far,” Joe says. “It has allowed me to use many aspects of my professional historic preservation experience. This includes planning, drawing floor plans and concepts, and hands-on restoration work. It is very relaxing to spend a few hours at the house.”

The second floor was gutted down to the studs before the Frosts purchased the property.So far, the biggest challenge is demolishing flooring under a bathroom. Leaking water caused mold growth. Also inside the house were multiple years’ worth of debris and materials. Most of the debris didn’t come from the house, but it all needs to be cleared.

Joe holds master’s degree in Historic Preservation from Ball State University. He says he’s always wanted to execute a rehabilitation project from start to finish.At some point, someone tried to restore the house, but never finished the work.

“The upstairs was already gutted down to the studs,” Joe says. “The downstairs, all the historic plaster is gone. But the original layout is still there.”

The Frosts hope to keep history alive through this project.The home’s character and defining features are still present including interior window trim and the grand staircase by the entrance. What isn’t there will be fully replicated, Joe says.

“Somebody else has gutted it in the past and so it provides the opportunity to run the electricity and modern plumbing systems without having to fish through the walls or anything like that,” Joe says. “All of that will be new, but we will be keeping the historic character on the inside and out.”

Emmet and Julia Holcomb built the Italianate-style home in 1884.Joe adds the exterior’s paint scheme will be chosen from a historic palette that highlights the architectural details.

The restoration has come with surprises. The home’s second owner, William Brownson, was vice president of the Alert Pipe and Supply Co. A hand-written note from 1908 was found in the floorboards of the second floor. The note, an invitation to visit, was addressed to William’s 6-year-old daughter, Helen.

While restoring the home, Joe has learned that Emmet Holcomb was a city councilman who advocated city parks and sidewalks. “There was this knot in the floorboard, and there was a treasure trove of artifacts that were found in the ceiling where that hole in the floorboard was,” Joe says. “That tells us that note was probably put there in 1908, and the finished floor that’s there was obviously post-1908.”

Newspapers from 1929 were tucked behind walls and under floors in the 620 N. Grant St. home.Joe’s love of the community goes beyond the walls of his home.

The Frost are preserving the window trim that’s still inside the home and replicating more to keep the home historically accurate.“If you take a walk on the Riverwalk you see wildlife, you see this dynamism that you don’t see in every community,” he says. “We’re on a navigable waterway. You can see freighters coming and going, there’s railroads, there’s industry, there’s shops and this vibrancy, this energy that I think you can feel in Bay City that I think is an incredible opportunity.”

The Frost are preserving the window trim that’s still inside the home and replicating more to keep the home historically accurate.Andrea moved from the area in 2004 and is stunned at how different the city is now.

“It’s so much more vibrant than it was when I was growing up,” she says. “It’s really exciting to see that growth and hoping along with what Joe said that our project and Wayne’s really can spur that same revitalization in the neighborhoods.”

The Hofmann family expects to keep the exterior of the 615 N. Grant St. home true to its original design. (Photo courtesy of Katie Bruessow- Junie B. Photograpie)The Hofmanns encourage other families to take advantage of Bay City’s potential

Joe’s future neighbors, Wayne and Cadia Hofmann at 615 N. Grant St., helped to steer the Frost family to The Holcomb House. Wayne called Joe’s business for a quote on windows for his own restoration project. After chatting for a while, Joe expressed to Wayne that his family wanted to re-locate to Bay City. Wayne knew of a house, and it happened to be directly across the street from his late 19th century Italianate home.

Wayne and Cadia Hofmann are restoring a 19th century Italianate home at 615 N. Grant St.Wayne works as a business consultant for HD5 Strategies and is President and Co-Founder of Infuse Great Lakes Bay. Cadia, a Upper Peninsula transplant, works for Penzien Steele Funeral Home as funeral director.

“Re-doing this house has been really awesome,” Wayne says. “I think we both, Cadia and I, are more excited that there’s another family wanting to join us on that street.”

Wayne was initially worried about the scope of work needed, but warmed to the project. Cadia immediately fell in love with the home.Like the Frosts, the Hofmanns also have three children.

The Hofmann’s home was built in 1872. In 1889, it was purchased by Newell Eddy ­­– banker, lumberman, and Yale graduate. Eddy was a collector of birds and bird eggs and constructed an addition to the home to house them. In 1917, after his death, the collection was donated to Yale University’s Peabody Museum of Natural History.

For months, the family has been busy removing old plaster lath from the walls at 615 N. Grant St.Prior to restoring the house, Cadia was shown a photo of 615 N. Grant by Jenifer Acosta of Jenifer Acosta Development. Cadia assumed the house was in Detroit and was surprised to learn it was in town.

“All the stars aligned,” Cadia exclaims, describing how she felt after visiting the home. “I fell in love the minute I walked in the door.”

Wayne, Cadia, and their three children hope to move into the home next fall.Wayne was initially worried about scope of the restoration, but he warmed to the project.

“It’s the kind of stuff that I really like to embrace with adaptive re-use,” Wayne says. “And trying to restore parts of our community.”

The Hofmanns bid on the house in March 2020 and executed a development agreement in September. They bid on the house in March 2020 and executed a development agreement with the Bay County Land Bank in September.

The Hofmanns are pushing ahead and plan for the home to be move-in ready by September.

Wayne hopes to keep many of the original materials, but use them in more functional ways.Wayne plans to keep much of the original materials and says things will be used in a more functional way. The exterior will be kept true to the original with a fully modern interior. The past few months they’ve been busy with demolition prep and removing old plaster lath from the walls.

“We’re saving the trim,” Cadia adds. “Basically, it was gutted when we purchased it so what is there will stay.”

In Newell Eddy’s addition, the Hofmanns discovered the Eddy children had signed their names behind the wall panels. (Photo courtesy of Katie Bruessow- Junie B. Photograpie)The Hofmanns have also come across interesting finds. In Newell Eddy’s addition, they found signatures in the wall panels.

“His children signed the wall in pencil. So that’s 130 years ago,” Wayne says. “That was really neat to find. I think we’re going to have our kids do something similar before we put up drywall.”

The Hofmann children likely will continue the tradition and sign the wall before drywall is installed. (Photo courtesy of Katie Bruessow- Junie B. Photograpie)Wayne obtained a Neighborhood Enterprise Zone designation for the entire block, which awards tax abatements for redeveloping land parcels.

“Our taxable value is capped at the existing value over a period of years, so we’re putting a very significant equity investment into this house,” Wayne says. “It’s helping us out, otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to do it.”

He emphasizes the need for the region to utilize the Historic Tax Abatement for neighborhoods with multiple vacant lots.

Newell Eddy, who bought the 615 N. Grant St. home in 1889, was a collector of birds and eggs. After his death, his collection was donated to Yale University.“I would love to see this policy utilized across Bay City and Saginaw,” he says. Although around since 1994, it has hardly been used, he adds.

Joe thinks these projects could be viewed as case studies or pilots for others to follow. You can follow the Hofmann's journey on Instagram.

“Hopefully down the street the next guy will say ‘Hey let’s do that, get his house going,’ and then the next one, and the next one,” Joe says. “That’s how you build communities, that’s how you build capacity.”

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.