Sam Moraco points out some pieces of the Bailey house that will be preserved. Photo by Phil Custodio
BY PHIL CUSTODIO
Clarkston News Editor
Oakland County worked for more than a year and “confirmed all efforts exhasted” before condemning the almost 150-year-old Bailey house to demolition.
For Sam Moraco of Independence Township, that’s not nearly enough.
“There were definitely viable options to save the house,” said Moraco, owner of MLC Building, which has the contract to deconstruct salvagable items from the house before demolition. “It’s sad. If this were in the village, they wouldn’t tear it down.”
The Bailey family helped settle Independence Township, and the house is on the original U.S. Government land grant of 1856. According to a 1998 Independence Township inventory report, “This house is significant because of its high degree of exterior architectural integrity. It is a good example of the T-plan farmhouse style built within the township in the late 1800s.”
The county said it doesn’t have the funds to repair and maintain the structure, and residential leasing of it violates grant agreement and deed restrictions.
“The Bailey House is located in closed proximity of the future completed Safety Path and the unoccupied structure could possibly become a hazard or attractive nuisance to trail users,” according to the Oakland County Parks and Recreation Commission.
A posting about the house on the Clarkston News’ Facebook page last Friday reached 29,059 people, with 81 shares and 160 comments, as of Tuesday morning.
Most commenters called for the county to save it.
“Save it and preserve it – there is no second chance,” posted Andy Sprague. “The unnecessary destruction of our past should be a crime.”
“Why does everything have to ‘move forward’ – can’t we forget about money for a moment and save what little is left of our history,” asked Sue Ash-Dean. “I wish I had the money. I am a direct descendant of the Bailey family. I just learned recently about this house being part of our family. Please someone save this house. The township could if someone on the board was a Bailey family descendent.”
The house, which is in the north section of Independence Oaks County Park, is a mix of Gothic and Queen Anne details and designs, according to a review of the structure in 2013,
“This blend of styles is found consistently through Independence Township and Clarkston Village and represent a vernacular that is distinctly Clarkston. The mix of styles is more common in the village and is more rare in the township farming area where many of the farmhouses from that era (1880) tend to be less decorative. This more uniquely elegant rural character continues on into the interior,” according to the report.
It has been owned by Oakland County Parks and Recreation Commission since 2010, when it was part of the Upper Bushman property donation. It had been used as a rental property for decades and was unoccupied at the time.
Independence Township Board voted 6-0 on June 20 to support the county in its decision.
“We unanimously agreed we are comfortable with whatever decision the county parks team makes as it relates to this property,” said township Supervisor Pat Kittle in an email to the county, June 28, 2017. “Of all the options discussed, in my opinion, the most prudent decision would be for the county to demolish the house and allow the township install a historical kiosk focusing on the Bailey legacy.”
The county has been working on the house since April 2015, when staff found it was in below average condition and needed $80,000-$100,000 to improve it, according to Oakland County Parks and Recreation Commission meeting reports from June 7.
From May to June 2016, they worked with the Oakland County Historical Commission on a planning review. In July 2016, the parks and rec commission posted a request for proposals to buy and move the Bailey House. The request was posted on websites and social media pages for Oakland County Historical Commission, Michigan Historic Preservation Network , and Curbed Detroit, and WJBK-DET Fox 2 News Morning aired a report on July 28 about the opportunity to purchase and relocate the house, the county said.
On Nov. 29, 2016, Moraco met with Oakland County and Independence Township staff “to discuss options of moving home onto existing PUD property. It was determined this was not feasible. Also confirmed with Independence Township staff that no financial resources were available to aide relocation of the house.”
In March 2017, the county “confirmed all efforts exhausted to try and move home over past 8-12 months” and recommended decontruction and demolition.
“After researching several options it was determined the expense was just too great to relocate the structure. As a result staff is recommending the deconstruction/demolition of the structure,” according to the June 7 minutes.
Oakland County Historical Commission presented options to the parks commission in addition to deconstruction and demolition, including sale of house and relocation; renovate as a park facility, costing up to $242,000; and relocate and renovate as park facility, up to $432,000.
Burning it as training for local firefightrers was recommended against because it “projects a negative image to the public due to the very visible destruction of a familiar landmark and presents potential environmental risks from smoke and release of toxic materials to the atmosphere.”
Sale of park property and house, and renovation as residential rental property would violate the grant agreement and deed restrictions under which it was acquired.
Melissa Luginski of the county Historical Commission suggested mothballing the structure until funds could be identified to update the structure for public use.
Parks officials said the cost to bring the facility up to code could be excessive, and was not included in the parks and rec Capital Improvement Budget. They also said several items would need to be repaired or replaced to mothball the facility.
Moraco said the county and township don’t see the historic house’s value as an asset to the community.
“Historic houses do have value. They give the township charm,” he said. “They had a plan to move it but the county thought it was too inconvenient – they’re too lazy to care.”
For more information, call Oakland County Parks at 248-858-0906, and Independence Township at 248-625-5111.