B y Jaime Thomas
Someone stole the back copper roof off a house in South Hartford last month just days before heavy rain hit the area.
What these thieves probably didn’t realize was that they damaged one of the town’s most historic homes.
When Henry Ford visited 7684 State Route 40 in the early 1930s, the house was in good shape.
And it had stayed close to its original condition for decades until the beginning of June, when the roof went missing.
The white brick house was built in 1805 by Dr. Isaac Clary, one of the first physicians in Hartford, town historian Mike Armstrong said. Then, in 1928, Mrs. Francis Louisa King purchased the property.
King was a famous horticulturalist and very good friends with the Fords, said Hartford Supervisor Dana Haff. In addition to being well known as an author of garden books and articles, she was an editor at McCall’s magazine. But perhaps her biggest claim to fame was organizing and establishing the Woman’s National Farm and Garden Association, Inc. (WNFGA,) in 1914.
“Together with some of her friends, Louisa King developed the idea for a farm and garden association whose aim would be to stimulate interest in the conservation of our natural resources and an appreciation for country life as well as to support the Ambler school,” according to WNFGA’s website.
King was named the organization’s first president and served as such until 1920. Seven years later, Henry Ford’s wife Clara, took the role of president.
Though King gained a name for herself with her “Orchard House” gardens in Michigan, she was forced to move when her husband died and eventually landed in South Hartford at the property she called “Kingstree,” according to the Clark Historical Library at the Central Michigan University.
Here, King hosted plowing contests in the fields across from her house, which were attended by the likes of the Fords, Mr. and Mrs. Owen D. Young and others.
Today, the foreclosed house in the front looks much as it did when it was originally built. However, the grounds are no longer overflowing with well-maintained gardens, rather with grass and weeds.
“The way the house was built, they couldn’t remodel without large structural changes. People said it was beautiful inside,” Armstrong said. “Over time, with nobody in there and doing maintenance, it’ll gradually deteriorate.” Without the copper roof, the interior of the house has been subject to the elements, and according to Haff is now filled with mold inside.
“Thieves stole the roof; they stole it for the value of the copper. The rain is just going into the home,” he said, but several days later he found out that the bank in charge of the spot was planning to cover it with a tarp upon his request.
The property went into foreclosure in 2010, and the previous owners walked away from it. But because the foreclosure is not yet complete, Wanda Valenzuela still technically owns the house. Police have been unable to locate Valenzuela to have her sign a complaint, so there is not much they can do at this point.
“In this case, when the bank finally does own it, so much decay will have occurred it might become a tear-downer instead of a fixer-upper,” Haff said. The house was registered as historic by the Washington County Historical Society in the late 1970s, Armstrong said, but its future remains uncertain.
“It’s a victimless crime. The damage is done. It really is a shame because of the historic value of the home,” Haff said.