Piece of Rockford history moves to new location

The building believed to have been the original home of Reverend David Johnson Gilbert was moved in May 2011 from its original location to a lot on the corner of 13 Mile Road and Ramsdell in Courtland Township. Constructed in 1842 on 12 Mile Road in Section 19, it is considered to have been the oldest home in Oakfield Township.

Reverend Gilbert was a pioneer farmer and Methodist minister serving the area of Laphamville (later renamed Rockford) and brother-in-law to Smith Lapham, founding father of the city.

The home was purchased with a large tract of land by Rockford resident and farmer Ron Porter in 1970. He later married and lived in the home with his wife Beverly for over 30 years. The Porters made a decision to build a new home in 2011 and hired Rockford custom home builder Tom Bruyn of Bruyn Builders Inc. for the job. Because of its proximity to the farm’s barns and outbuildings, the Porters wanted their new house positioned exactly where the old home stood. This led to a dilemma, especially for Mrs. Porter, who continues to have an emotional attachment to one of the oldest dwellings in the area.

Fortunately, Bruyn also has an appreciation for historical buildings. After making a thorough inspection of the house and determining that it was in excellent condition, he purchased the building. Bruyn then began to separate the house into pieces. He walled off a rear addition and removed it from the main house. Then he removed the wraparound porch in two pieces. And then he hired a moving company.

They loaded the main body of the house, the separated addition, the porch and a detached garage on trailers. Escorted by local police and Consumers Energy, the trailers made a slow procession down temporarily closed roads a mile and a half to where the home currently sits on a new daylight basement overlooking a small pond.

Bruyn set an extraordinary pace finishing the Porter’s new house in record time in order to start work on putting Rev. Gilbert’s historical home back together. According to Tom Bruyn, the home (parts of which date back 170 years) was suspended on steel I-bars over the newly excavated basement area while the foundation was finished, ensuring that the walls would meet exactly to support the building. He then installed a new heating system, plumbing, electrical, well and septic.

Bruyn sold the property in late March 2012 to new owners Linda and Roger Humbert. The original portion of the home is intact and is now the western end of the building surrounded by a reconstructed porch covered with the steel metal roof. Signs of the building’s history are everywhere. While repairing an area of drywall, Bruyn uncovered a portion of what was once an exterior wall constructed of massive 16-inch heart pine boards fastened by five-inch handmade square nails. The Humberts refinished wood floors in five rooms, including areas with the original 1842 boards.

Although the home has had several additions over the years, it still reflects the history and charm of that bygone age when Rev. Gilbert performed the first marriage in Rockford, working alongside brother-in-law Smith Latham (married to Gilbert’s sister Katherine Gilbert Latham) and forging the beginnings of the city of Rockford.

Humbert said, “We’re so thankful that Tom Bruyn recognized the value of preserving this old house and he did a wonderful job of moving it and then putting it back together. It’s a real labor of love for all of us.”

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