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Tuesday, January 3, 2006

Bishop-Brighton House, Wyandotte, Michigan

1978 photo courtesy Michigan State Historic Preservation Office

The Bishop-Brighton House has stood at the cross-roads of business, political, and civic activity in Wyandotte, from the time it was built through present day.

Like many properties in the historic center of Wyandotte, the ownership of this property can be traced to the Eureka Iron Company which acquired it in 1854, and even earlier to Major John Biddle's estate "The Wyandotte" set up here in 1818, and the Maquaqua Indian village located here even before that.

Title was transferred several times between 1854 and 1896, though as late as 1900 no building had yet been constructed on this site.

Jerome H. Bishop, Sr., Wyandotte industrialist, philanthropist, and mayor, purchased the property on September 14, 1901. His 33 room mansion with 10 fireplaces was located across Superior Blvd. on the north-east corner of Superior and Biddle. Returning to the home across the street, either Bishop Sr. built the house on this site or his son Jerome H. Bishop, Jr. did when title was transferred to him on September 26, 1902. Either way, a home was built with Tudor Revival details on the exterior and Arts and Crafts Details inside. Both of these features were strongly influenced by the English Arts & Crafts movement of the 19th century and early 20th century. The building in which R.P. McMurphy's restaurant is located is another fine example of the style.

The Brighton family was next to own and occupy the house between 1916 and 1938, after Bishop Jr. and his wife sold it to them. Much like Bishop Sr. transferred the property to Bishop Jr., Brighton Sr. apparently transferred the property to Archibald W. Brighton Jr., a single man, in 1938. A building permit in 1934 signals the changes about to come. This permit by A.W. Brighton, Sr. was for a cement-block gas station to be placed between the house and Biddle Ave.

Now, at first glance, it appears strange and uncommon for a gasoline station to be placed in the front yard of a house. Though at the time this was not an unfamiliar practice, especially in historic centers where most of the prime lots were occupied, and when the physical environment had not been adapted so thoroughly to meet the needs of the automobile (as it is today). This filling station is unique though, because it has three gables punctuating the roof, and faux-timbers, with both of these features picking up on themes from the main house behind.

Intrusion of this filling station in front of this grand house was a portent of things to follow. Houses were demolished on three of the other corners, including Bishop Sr.�s former house that served as City Hall from the 1930�s to 1960�s, before being demolished and replaced by the Bishop Co-Op. Of those great houses that still remain, the Ford-Bacon House was only saved because it was incorporated into a Public Library, and the Ford-MacNichol House for use as a museum.

Other uses for the Bishop-Brighton House and fueling station in front of it came in the years to follow. The house was sub-divided for multiple uses in 1960. A permit was filed by the Gulf Oil Company to hang an electric sign in 1961. In 1967, Brighton, Jr., now living at 17775 Parke Lane in Grosse Ile, sought to obtain a Certificate of Occupancy for "Laundry and dry cleaning pick up station," but was denied by the City Engineer. Apparently reeling from this defeat, a permit was approved for the demolition of the filling station in 1971 (when John Stanko was the owner). In 1986, a flower and gift shop was proposed for the first floor, but this too was found to be a use that was not allowable in the district.

After all that happened in the storied history of this house, what was next was for its rediscovery and preservation to occur. New owners, the Murphy's, acquired the property, and began a painstaking restoration. In an letter on November 5, 1992, Dennis Murphy describes how �we are in the process of a painstaking restoration and my wife and I had literally spent every free hour of the past summer sanding, priming, and applying two top coats of top-of-the-line paint. Other improvements that the Murphy's made include upgrading plumbing, rebuilding the porches, replacing the roof, improving the back yard, and building a fence.

The current owners Gerry and Vicki Lucas purchased the property in 2000, and for the next five years made it their home, while also transforming the building and preparing it for use as a bed and breakfast. They received their Certificate of Occupancy and officially opened for business on the weekend of October 1, 2005.

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