Fire damages historic house in Ionia

Ionia County

IONIA, Mich. (WOOD) — Firefighters battled flames for hours overnight after a fire broke out at a historic house in Ionia.

The fire sparked around 10:45 p.m. Monday on the second story of a house in the 100 block E. Main Street near Rich Street, according to the Ionia Department of Public Safety. Eventually, the flames broke through the roof. It took firefighters more than three hours to douse them.

Ionia house fire
Firefighters battle a house fire in Ionia Monday, July 15, 2019. (Courtesy I-96 Towing)

There were no reports of injuries but the house was heavily damaged.

It’s more than a structural loss; it’s the loss of a piece of history. The home is in the Michigan Register of Historic Places and sits in Ionia’s historic district.

It was built in more than 140 years ago next door to the home of one of the richest men in the county at the time, Fredrick Hall.

“I like to point out that every object in a museum has a story behind it. Well, every house has a story behind it as well. That was someone’s home, somebody’s dream house,” Ionia County Historical Society member David McCord told 24 Hour News 8. “I like to resurrect those stories and tell me just how important they were. It’s not just a big old building. It really meant something to somebody.”

Online records show the house was built in 1878. In 1885, the Michigan Asylum for the Criminally Insane opened in Ionia.

“The first appointee to that position of superintendent was Dr. Oscar Long, who lived here” at the house that caught fire with his wife and daughter, McCord explained.

McCord said the house’s address has changed from 144 to 142 Main Street, but not much else is different now than it was then.

“You can see those kind of yellowish bricks up there. Those bricks were actually made here in Ionia. Those are the famous VanderHeyden bricks, and the VanderHeyden brick company was up on West Main Street,” McCord said.

The front features two staircases up to the porch and two doors. McCord said one was the entry for Long’s medical practice and the other was for the home.

Ionia historic house fire
A damaged historic house in Ionia the day after it caught fire. (July 16, 2019)

“The house was always known locally as the ‘Cupola House’ because it had the cupola on top of it,” McCord continued. “A lot of the houses had a widow’s walk on the top of the houses. They could go up there and enjoy fireworks or just hang out. Most every house had a view a family gathering place, like a back porch would be today.”

24 Hour News 8 was unable to get in contact with the homeowner Tuesday. The historical society hopes they will rebuild.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.  

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