Rebuilding history: Mt. Pleasant local renovates historic home

It took Ken Williams a matter of minutes to decide he wanted to become the owner of a long-standing home at 502 S. University St. The historic home in Mt. Pleasant was built in 1875 and had been left mostly empty for several decades.

After attending an auction in the Mt. Pleasant area for another home, Williams decided to stop by the property on University just to get a look at the place. There, he says he connected with the previous owner and the rest was history.

Prior to renovation work.“I said ‘I'll take it,’ and he looked at me real funny, and I said ‘yeah, I'll take it,’” Williams says. “So he said he'd call his wife, he did, they contacted me, and I bought it within two weeks.”

Williams’ interest was surprising, mainly due to the rough shape that the home appeared to be in from the outside.

One of the major reasons Williams says he purchased the home is to be closer to his property up north, but he was also able to see the potential of the home with a little bit of time and elbow grease.

“I was looking for a place here in Mt. Pleasant because I own property further up north and this would get me closer to that,” he says. “I just saw his vision. I mean, it has great bones, and it has such potential if you know what I mean.”

With a total of 4,000 square footage, the project was expected to be quite the feat, according to Mt. Pleasant City Planner, Jacob Kain.

“The property had gone through a couple of waves of foreclosure since 2000 and it's certainly a big project, so we knew that it was going to take somebody who had a lot of capacity to take on such a big project and do it well,” Kain says. “We were, of course, excited to see that there was a new owner in place that was excited and anxious to get underway with the renovation work, and he's made tremendous progress so far, which is great to see.”

With the home’s good bones, Williams says he didn’t encounter any foundational issues when it came to the renovation. However, the interior was completely gutted by the previous owners, which left him in limbo with floor plans.

The interior of the historic home.

Williams says the biggest challenge was finding a contractor. Once he located one out of Detroit, he was able to map out his concept for the property.

“I think just getting the essentials in there like electric, plumbing, heating, and things like that, and from there it's just the design of putting in the rooms,” he says. “It's a rather large house, but we're probably going to have maybe four or five bedrooms.”

Along with the foundation, some other original elements of the home have remained intact, such as a rounded window and leaded glass. To bring the home up to code, Williams said he plans to reinforce the original walls with wood.

As for the design of the interior, Williams’ goal is to keep it close to the original, with an added twist.

“So it's kind of going as I go along, as we put in more details on the building itself,” he says. “The porch was originally tongue and groove planking on the porch. I went back to tongue and groove but used a different wood, and that's pretty much it, and the porch itself is 46 feet long.”

To suddenly be the owner of one of the community’s oldest homes has been a unique experience, he says. Originally from Illinois, Williams is relatively new to Mt. Pleasant. He took his mobile home and parked before moving into the carriage house on the S. University Street property.

Williams says the response from the community has been kind and welcoming.

“They're overjoyed, actually, and the nicest folks you ever want to meet,” he says. “I mean, I've had neighbors come help, I've had neighbors to actually feed me and invite me over for dinner, and it's just been one big village so to speak.”

Ken Williams works in the basement refinishing the front door of his historic home on S. University Street.

Kain said a repeat piece of input they receive from the community when addressing plans is the desire to maintain historic homes in the area, so Williams’ project was welcomed.

“Anytime we have an opportunity to see a historic home like this one get attention and have it be rehabilitated so that it can continue to serve a residential purpose over the long run is certainly consistent with the city's future vision,” he says.

There have been several successful rehabilitation projects in the past such as the Ginkgo Tree Inn on Main Street, and Kain says his hope is that Williams’ accomplishment will be an asset to his neighbors and the community beyond.
Prior to renovation work.

“I think it will be a great benefit to everybody who lives in that community, but especially those that live in the neighborhood to see that home come back to life,” Kain says.

Williams officially began working on the project in October and he says a lot of progress was able to be made over the last four months. As of right now, he is planning to complete his renovations by the summer.

Kain says he’s looking forward to seeing what the finished product brings. Taking on a 140-year-old home is a challenge for anyone, but he is confident that Williams is the right person for the job.

“The results kind of speak for themselves,” he says. “We’re happy to see that Mr. Williams has been able to make as much progress as he has so quickly, and there's still a lot of work to do on that property, and so we're excited to see him continue to make progress.”

Read more articles by Riley Connell.

Riley Connell is a senior at Central Michigan University majoring in journalism and minoring in broadcast and cinematic arts. She has written for CMU's student-run publication Grand Central Magazine for two years and is now the editor-in-chief. After obtaining her degree, Riley would like to become a full-time feature writer. In her free time, Riley enjoys listening to music, trying new food, and collecting vintage clothing. She grew up in Metro Detroit and currently resides in Mt. Pleasant.