Oshtemo Historical Society

The Benjamin and Maria Drake Farmstead

Where/ When/ Type/ Pictures

 

A treaty with the Native Americans in 1830's brought speculators to western Michigan creating a land boom. Michigan had the largest population increase during this time of any other state or territory. Most people traveled on the great lakes from Buffalo to Detroit or Saint Joseph , built or secured a wagon and preceded into the unknown.

Mr. Drake was one of the first to arrive at the new land office in White Pigeon to claim the land as his alone. At the time the government was selling land in this area for $1.25 an acre.

Mr. Drake built a cabin with the help of the local Indians. This was a rudely constructed shelter with a single board for a door. He resided in this structure while building a more proper log cabin and later his permanent dwelling.

 

The Drake family built a lovely Victorian farm house in 1852. The original Drake home was located in the center of Grand Prairie surrounded by prairie and woodlands. The architecture was typical of the times, Greek revival with Italianiate influence. This elegant brick Victorian farm house had a long lane, lined with maple trees, as the entrance to the home.

 

 

The farm had grown to almost 500 acres straddling both Oshtemo and Kalamazoo Townships. Out buildings, barns and carriage houses were soon added. When the house was thirty years old, on April 25, 1882 a raging fire swept thru the structure with a vengeance, leaving only the brick walls and fireplaces. Mr. B. Drake, at age 95, immediately began the rebuilding of his home. He made structural changes, adding a second floor onto the south wing; the gable ends were rebuilt with steeper pitches. and a porch was added to the southwest corner. This change added a total of four rooms and a back stairway, making a total of fifteen rooms.

Mr. Drake died at age 96, shortly after the home was rebuilt. Maria lived for three years later and died at age 94 in 1886. Jane Drake, daughter to Maria and Benjamin, lived in the homestead with her brother, James Fitch, for the remainder of their lives. James (AKA Fitch) was ill, so his care and the managing of the farm fell to Jane. Together they raised cattle and horses of quality for many years. James died at age 55 years and Jane continued taking care of the farm until her death in 1899 at age 75. The homestead was then deeded to Elizabeth P. Fuller, (the daughter of Maria Drake Kidder Waterman) the granddaughter of Benjamin and Maria Drake. Elizabeth's death in 1901 brought the sale of the homestead to those outside of the Drake family. The new owner, Thomas Stewart used it as a summer residence and on his death, deeded it to his daughter, Helen Stewart Frays. Helen sold portions to a commercial developer, willed other portions to Western Michigan University and Kalamazoo College. Yet another developer purchased the portion belonging to Western Michigan University in 2003

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In 2004, the developer was planning to demolish the Drake home and use the land for commercial development. Oshtemo Township officials learned of the plans when applications were made to complete the action. The board of Trustees recognized the historical significance of the home and agreed to do their best to save it. David Bushouse, Trustee, worked with owners and was able to negotiate the purchase of 5.36 acres of land, the house and the carriage barn by June 8, 2004. The township pursued the formation of a citizens group to over see the care and restoration of the property. Immediate past Oshtemo Township Clerk, Elaine Branch, did a brief study of townships and historical societies working together and had a meeting of interested people mid January of 2004. Thus the historical home is owned by the Oshtemo Township and the Oshtemo Historical Society partners with them in the care and restoration of the home. By 20015, the Township had acquired the property from the Maple Hill shopping center to Croyden Road. A plan for the development of this area is being created at this time.

"History paints the human heart". Napoleon 1

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