Historic Bay City homes open their doors for tours in early December

Strolling along Center Avenue to gaze at the historic homes lining the thoroughfare has become a beloved pastime for Bay City residents and visitors alike. The grandeur of the architecture and craftsmanship of the mansions’ walls connect the community with its history.

With the rise of the lumber industry in the late 1800s, Bay City was once viewed as a contender with New York and Chicago. Experiencing a population boom, it drew ambitious entrepreneurs eager to shape the town with their wealth and prosperity.

Lumber barons, shipbuilders, and other prominent citizens favored Center Avenue and built lavish residences to reflect their fortunes. Boasting a variety of architectural styles, the intricate detail and artistry of the homes’ exteriors leave onlookers curious about the interiors.

Black and gold signs dot the Center Avenue Neighborhood Association, giving visitors details about the history of some of Bay City’s most striking homes.The Center Avenue Neighborhood Association, or CANA, offers the opportunity to satisfy that curiosity when it hosts its annual Holiday Parlour Tour from 3-7 p.m. Sat., Dec. 2, and from noon-4 p.m. Sun., Dec. 3.

Attendees are invited to walk through participating historic homes and peek into the past.

Tickets are available for purchase online at canabaycity.org. Advance tickets are $20; same-day tickets are $25. Participants will meet at Gilly’s Bistro, 1023 N. Johnson St., to receive the tour booklet, providing information on each home. A stamp will be added to the booklet for every home visited.

CANA’s history includes the desire to preserve homes and educate the community.
“Bay City really is a historical place,” says Margeaux Appold, CANA President. “A lot of cities across the country haven’t been able to preserve their historic homes.”

A map on the CANA website shows Bay City’s 900-property historic district reaches beyond Center Avenue.

“There are tons of homes throughout the district that are cool and still important on Fifth Street, Sixth Street, and Green Avenue,” Appold says.

During Bay City's heyday, wealthy lumber barons built ornate homes throughout the community. A concentration of the homes is located on and near Center Avenue. This 526 Green Ave. home is one of those on the 2023 CANA Holiday Parlour Tour.Appold herself lives in one of the more recognizable historic homes. Built by a lumber baron for his daughter and her husband, the home is guarded by two gargoyles sitting at the entrance. Appold routinely speaks with curious residents who stop and stare.

“Sometimes I’ll chat with them if I’m outside,” says Appold, “but they always want to see the inside of the house.”

Recognizing the interest in seeing how people of the past lived, Appold is excited for this year’s tour, which also raises funds for CANA. With membership fees ranging from $5 to $150 a year, CANA relies on the Holiday Parlour Tour for most of its funding.

CANA uses its funds to help maintain homes in the district.

CANA pays for the historical plaques in front of many of the homes. Homeowners also may apply for grants when renovating the exterior of their homes. Living within the historic district, homeowners need to ensure the renovations are historically accurate and appropriate.

Take a peek inside this historic home during the CANA Holiday Parlour Tour in early December.“We want to make sure that people have an appreciation for the history and the construction quality,” says Appold. “There’s a lot of work and upkeep to maintain the original condition of the home; it isn’t always easy.”

One homeowner knows all too well the type of care and maintenance a large historic home requires.

Living in one of the largest homes in Bay City, Joshua Hampshire has had his eye on the district since he was a child. Raised in Unionville, Hampshire and his family routinely visited Bay City and made the drive down iconic Center Avenue. He fell in love with the home at 2230 Center Ave.

“This is the house I always wanted since I was a kid,” says Hampshire. “I would tell my mom, ‘If I ever win the lottery, I’m gonna live in this house.’ ”

After living in Dallas, Texas, for 12 years, Hampshire and his family moved back to Bay City in July 2022.

The home Hampshire dreamed of was the only home on the market at the time. Hampshire’s husband was immediately enthralled with the home and eager to place an offer. However, Hampshire was a bit hesitant. Having lived in older homes before, he knew it would be an undertaking.

“Initially, I didn’t want this house because I restored an old Victorian home before and knew how much work would be involved,” says Hampshire.

Upon inspecting the home and realizing the previous owners updated the plumbing and electrical and replaced all 77 windows, Hampshire was sold.

This home at 1901 Fifth St. is one of eight one the 2023 CANA Holiday Parlour Tour.Built in 1912 with a Tudor Revival architectural style, the home holds over 30 rooms consisting of six bedrooms, seven bathrooms, and six fireplaces. The square footage of the home is debated, but when factoring in all three floors, the home is approximately 9,000 square feet.

A grand mahogany staircase stretches to the upper levels, as does an elevator. (The eleventor is not in working condition.)

An old oak library with a decorative molded plaster ceiling has claimed Hampshire’s heart as his favorite room in the house.

The solarium was the first project Hampshire undertook. He commissioned a local artist to hand paint its stone columns, evoking the foundational ones that have since been plastered over.

Original owners Ernest and Susie Perry began construction in 1909.

Ernest “E.B.” Perry was the president of Industrial Works in Bay City, one of the largest suppliers of railroad cranes in the country.

CANA President Margeaux Appold says architectural details on the exterior, such as these gargoyles at her home, inspire people to be curious about the interiors. In December, CANA offers the chance to step inside eight of Bay City's historic homes.Perry died in 1927 after the merger of Industrial Works and Brownhoist Corporation, leaving the home to his widow. Susie remained in the home until her death in 1944.

The house was purchased by Hoyt Hayes, Perry’s successor as president of Industrial Brownhoist, and his wife, Marie. The Hayes family lived in the home for 40 years. Even though the home sits on Center Avenue, it officially is on Hayes Lane, paying homage to its second owner.

Upon Hayes’ death, his wife turned the home into a duplex and rented out the space. As years progressed, the home underwent more structural changes as it reverted from a duplex back  into a single-family home.

Hampshire is the epitome of a historic homeowner, maintaining the integrity and history of his home. He has decorated his home with antique pieces fitting of the time period and with family heirlooms flawlessly sprinkled in with modern amenities.

The family at 1812 Center Ave. is opening its home to visitors in December, helping raise money for CANA.This will be Hampshire’s second year opening his home to the Holiday Parlour Tour.

“We like to share it with everyone,” says Hampshire. “I just love seeing people’s reactions as they walk through the house.”

Many homeowners opt to leave during the parlour tours, giving CANA volunteers the opportunity to point out interesting architecture and educating attendees with the homes’ histories. Hampshire will be at his home, eager to tell its tale and show off his professional-grade decorations.

“One thing I tell people is to take your time when going through the house. I work hard on the fine details,” says Hampshire. “For my family, this is such a cool house. The charm you get in these houses you just cannot find in today’s homes.”
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.