‘We did run screaming at first, but we came back’
by BETH ALTENA
When Bill Jr. and Sandy Jobse wanted to relocate closer to their work places, they knew they wanted to be in downtown Rockford. “We always came down here during the festivals and festivities. It’s like a perfect little bubble town, always decorated and beautiful,” Sandy said. They were looking for a home, and had previously owned two other houses that had needed a little work. This time it was going to be different.
When asked why they didn’t run screaming when they first walked through the house at 20 Fremont, Sandy said they did. “We did run screaming. But then we came back.”
The home had been that of an elderly man who had apparently become unable to keep the house up. On top of neglect and age, the home had been sitting empty for two years on the market. The other people who had made offers had stated that they planned to tear the building down and build new.
There were holes in the walls inside and out, and stains in the ancient carpet. The garage was unusable because beams had been propped in to keep the roof from coming down. The ceiling stucco was peeling down in big strips. There was a cistern for water in the basement, an ancient water-holding structure from before indoor plumbing. The upstairs was completely closed off and apparently hadn’t been used in years. On the porch the rails were rotted out and the floor was caving in. There was no landscaping, just dirt and rocks.
They first saw the home after they’d
come to town for dinner. After the initial walk-through, they wanted nothing to do with the house. But for both of them, something about the house connected.
“I like old things and appreciate the history of old houses,” Bill stated.
He said they returned to the home and looked it over with a new attitude. The son of the owner of White Creek Lumber, who inherited his dad’s interest in woodworking and craftsmanship, Bill is more able than many to do the repairs the home needed.
Sandy noted both of their previous two homes had needed some repairs. “They were nothing like this, though. Not even close,” she stated.
They decided to take on the house and see what they could do to the home, which they believe dates back to the 1860s, when Rockford was little more than a pioneer lumber town. They even found their plot on the original plot map when the streets of the town were first planned and platted.
In April 2009, when they called the City to come turn on the water of their new abode, water literally began shooting out through the walls in the bathroom. The City promptly turned the water back off until repairs could be made.
A long job, three years later, the home is charming, warm, welcoming and craftily decked out, with storage space behind sliding secondhand glass paned doors, and a bookshelf inset where a deep wall used to hold heating ducts. The original floors are gleaming hand-sanded wood, the kitchen is sunny with plenty of natural light, and the garage is safe for two cars to park inside. The cistern had to be filled in to make the Michigan basement safe.
“On our anniversary when we would have been on vacation, we were sanding the floor,” said Sandy. She said it was miserable, hot work and the windows were still sealed because they had not yet been repaired after years of being painted shut.
Most telling are the ways the Jobses have saved what they could of the historic beauty of the home. History is literally everywhere in the tidy home.
“The trim isn’t original to the house, but I made it like that because that’s how it was originally,” Bill noted of the molding on the doorways and along the tops of the ceiling.
Actual antique grates grace the wall bases and the pair searched estate sales, salvage yards and sales to find the fittings for the home. Sandy said the two were walking their dog, Jasmine, one night and went past the trash of a house being remodeled. Bill saw an old grate in the garbage.
“I felt funny, but Bill didn’t. I kept walking but he didn’t mind taking it. It was pretty dark anyway,” Sandy laughed.
Today a beautiful thorny rose bush covers a trellis to enter the front yard, trained through spindles over the last three years to grow over the arch. The front yard is charming with flowers and beautiful natural features. In the back the yard is roomy and comfortable, with a new deck for outside entertaining or relaxing.
“Sandy did all of this. There was nothing here but rocks and dirt,” Bill praised his wife’s efforts and horticultural success.
She was modest. “Everything takes off in the third year,” she said of the lush landscaping.
The two used and saved what they could. Decorative pillars in the back yard were the former front porch posts.
“Almost everything we purchased for the remodel of the house was made in the United States,” Sandy stated.
“Not all of this is actually antique, but we wanted to retain the character of 100 years ago,” Bill said.
The blend of antique and authentic with clean, cozy comfort and up-to-date comfort is seamless. An heavy wood desk handmade by Bill Sr. for his son looks as though it could have been crafted a century ago, but features a space for the power cord for the couple’s laptop. The beautiful dining room table is likewise ageless, a wedding gift handmade by Bill Sr. for the couple. The front porch features two Adirondack chairs—colorful and comfortable and fit the happy mood of this saved home. Bill Jr. and Bill Sr. made them together.
“The house just called out to us,” Bill described. “We felt like it wanted us to save it, so we saved it.”
The couple have been doing research to find more of the history of their house. If you have any information or pictures, please contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org. They appreciate all the neighbors putting up with their remodels and all the friendly encouragement and comments.