Heritage Hill Tour-Walk into History

Every 3rd weekend in May, a handful of houses the Heritage Hill district open their doors for public tours. This has been happening for over 50 years and is a neat way to see some of the history of Grand Rapids! Heritage Hill is one of the largest historic urban areas in the country with more than 1,300 homes with some dating back as far as 1843! With several different styles of homes in this area of Grand Rapids spanning multiple time eras, the area is registered in the National Register of Historic Places. Houses are different from year to year, so there’s always something new to see! In 2023, there were 7 homes plus Stonecastle Dentistry, Meyer May House, and Cornerstone Church to tour. Some friends and I went participated in the tour and had fun seeing all of the interesting architecture, and learning about the history of these buildings! Unfortunately not many places allowed interior pictures, so there aren’t many pictures to show what we saw. Below is a summary of what places we toured.

17 Lafayette Ave-Redstone Properties

The tour starts at GRCC’s Fulton Campus. This is where you can buy your tickets if you haven’t bought them prior and get your wristband and brochure for the day. There are also restrooms you can use, and it is a great place to park and take the shuttle bus. Don’t skip out on just looking at some of the design of the building! There is some really beautiful paneling and rooms close to the restrooms. Setting off to see some homes, we hit up the Redstone Property Apartments on Lafayette. This Italiante duplex was built in 1875! There were limited rooms to look through here, because they are apartments, but even so, there were some really beautiful original pieces to see. The tile floors, door hinges, and wood paneling were all original. A feature all the homes/buildings we saw had were beautiful fireplaces with various tile surrounds.

48 Lafayette Ave-Cornerstone Church

After we left the apartments, we started realizing that there were going to be lines at every other location we went, which was the case. So if you have problems with standing for longer periods of time, I would suggest taking measures needed or maybe not doing the tour. The next property we went to was Cornerstone Church. This building is an imposing column fronted church that was built in 1904 as a Christian Science Church. It was bought in 2013 by Cornerstone Church, and they’ve done some additions and changes inside, but have also worked to restore some of the beautiful pieces in the church. They are restoring the columns in the front currently, but they’ve replaced the front doors with replicas of the originals, and kept all of the original stained and leaded glass throughout the building. The highlight of this building is the auditorium. The old-fashioned theater seating, beautiful wood “screen” on the back wall and huge sunburst, stained glass dome in the center are so cool. The stained glass dome is 1 of 4 in the state of Michigan. It is made of a special glass that is luminescent and diffuses and reflects more color when the sun shines on it.

414 Washington St SE-One Loved House

After the church we walked to the next house that was of interest to us! A Gothic-style Cottage built for the daughter out of leftover materials from the house next door. The outside of this home looked like a quintessential English cottage with a huge Wisteria vine growing on the side. There were no pictures allowed here, but you can check out their Instagram account to see what they’ve done with the house. While feeling quite Mid-Century Modern inside, they did keep the original fireplace, windows, and beamed ceilings. Some of my favorite things in this house were the many nooks and storage areas it had, the beautiful plant room turned sunroom, and meticulous backyard.

455 Cherry St SE-Stonecastle Dentistry

We decided to head over to Stonecastle Dentistry as our next stop. This huge house was built in 1884-1886 and converted into a dentist’s office after being converted to a store in 1978. The home was owned by local lumber barons Ethelbert Crofton Fox and Charles Fox. The building retains much of the original woodwork which is beautiful oak! The parquet flooring, carved oak staircase, and window casings are stunning and a testament to the craftsmanship of that era! A neat piece of history in this house are the several sconces that are wired for both gas and electric. There are also many gorgeous fireplaces and a stunning China chandelier in one of the offices! Again, another location where pictures weren’t allowed, so if you want to see some interior pictures, check out this page on the dentistry’s website!

450 Madison Ave SE-Meyer May House

Our final stop was to the famous “prairie” masterpiece by Frank Lloyd Wright, the Meyer May House. This home is owned by Steelcase and available to tour year round. As a fan of Frank Lloyd Wright and intrigued by his thoughtful designs, this was a treat to go through. This tour was fully guided with many fun tidbits explained throughout the tour. Prairie style is an American specific architectural style created by Frank Lloyd Wright. The home reiterates the prairie by being lower to the ground and more flat than the many other style homes around it. The home is immaculately restored from pictures of the original interior with many furniture pieces either being replicas of the originals or time period original pieces. Wright always wanted to bring nature into his designs and he does this through materials, patterns, lighting, and colors. The home was built in the 1910’s and purchased by Steelcase in 1985. Wright could be considered meticulous, bordering on hyper-controlling in his designs, even designating where pictures were to be hung, but it all had a purpose in his eyes. The Meyer May house is one of the best, most fully restored Frank Lloyd Wright homes in the country and is free to tour when it is open! For sure worth a look! There is tons of information on their website!

Final Thoughts

It was a fun 4 hours touring the Heritage Hill District, and there were many other houses to see that we didn’t stop at. The tour is totally walkable if you want to walk it or there is a shuttle bus that stops at several of the homes. If you love the looks and styles of yesteryear, this is a really fun weekend to enjoy the craftsmanship of days gone by. While I was expecting to walk into more fully restored homes, like the Meyer May House, it was still really cool to see the melding of old with new. It was also interesting to notice what trends are making a comeback in housing design! Patterned, hardwood floors, wainscotting (which never goes out of style), ornate staircases, ceiling beams and details, chunky window frames, and many more things, while becoming simpler in look, are nods to the past. Mark your calendars for next year to see the new spaces that will be open!

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