200 E. Ridge ~ The Burt and Adams Home

The following is an excerpt from my book My Marquette:

Directly across from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church is the Burt house, more commonly known as the Adams Home. The Burt family is one of the most significant in Upper Michigan history beginning with William Austin Burt who discovered iron ore in Marquette County, thus leading to the building of the mines and Marquette as a harbor town. This home was built by William Austin Burt’s grandson, Hiram Burt. Hiram and his wife fell in love with a house in France while traveling there in the 1870s, and they decided to build a replica in Marquette. Hiram owned the Burt Freestone Quarry and used its own brownstone to build his home. It included a Mansard roof with Gothic gables, and a gabled tower. Behind the house, on the sloping hill down to the lake, numerous terraces were built for gardens and a place to hold parties. Hiram Burt decided to sell the house to Sidney Adams, and then he moved to 351 E. Ridge Street.

The Adams home today. The upper floor has been removed and it is currently the Terrace Apartments.

The Adams home today. The upper floor has been removed and it is currently the Terrace Apartments.

Sidney Adams, the house’s second owner, arrived in Marquette in 1850 with only a dollar to his name, but he bought an ax for fifty cents and set out to become a woodsman. He soon could afford to buy a wagon and oxen to deliver wood to his customers. Besides starting a side business as a potato farmer, he received a contract to haul iron ore in his wagons from the mines to Marquette in the years before the first railroad arrived. He also went on to own a sawmill and to invest significantly in land.

When he bought the Burt house, Adams indulged in designing terraces on the hill behind the house and filling them with fruit and vegetables, as well as bridges for people to walk on. He extended the terraces not only behind his property but behind many more houses extending eastward along Ridge Street. Adams also reputedly built an underground tunnel that ran from his house across the street to the Episcopal Church so his invalid adopted son, William Sidney Adams, could attend church without going outside.

Will Adams, the adopted son, was born in 1878 to Detroit parents who died while he was an infant. In his youth, Will was a soloist in the boys choir at school and church and enjoyed athletic pursuits, but a baseball injury resulted in soft tissue becoming hard until eventually he ossified into a living statue. By his mid-teens he was confined to a portable couch and only his face remained mobile. By sheer willpower, Will survived to the age of thirty-two. No longer able to perform athletics, he became one of Marquette’s first literary figures, starting his own magazine business. His family hired him an attendant to whom he could dictate his magazine. He named his magazine CHIPS. Besides his own text, he included political cartoons and even caricatures of such town leaders as Peter White, Nathan Kaufman, and John M. Longyear. The paper was largely supported by advertising, so a phone was installed in the Adams home, and his attendant would hold the phone to Will’s mouth so he could talk up his bi-monthly magazine to prospective advertisers.

Will also composed an opera with his childhood friend, Norma Ross, then the directress of the Marquette schools’ music program. Will hummed melodies and Ross wrote them down. Their end result was the production of Miss D. Q. Pons an opera which premiered at the Marquette Opera House on July 3, 1905 with Ross in the title role. Will viewed the opera from the wing in his portable bed, and when its success led to the troupe traveling for sellout performances in Ishpeming, Hancock, Calumet, and Sault Ste. Marie, Will traveled with them by train. In 1906, Will also founded another newspaper, the Marquette Chronicle to which he contributed an original article each day. He died on August 10, 1909, preceded by his adopted father, Sidney Adams in 1906. Will once joked about his literary efforts, “Every specimen of writ is a silent story of how the author was saved from cerrebrius combustion.”

After her parents and adopted brother’s death, Bertha Adams remained in the house for many years, but as time went on, her father’s terraces fell into disrepair and the gardens became overgrown. When the house was sold in 1946, only slight vestiges of the gardens and terraces remained. After the house was sold, the gabled tower was removed, and the house broken up into the aptly named Terrace Apartments, which it remains today.

(photos of the terraced gardens are included in My Marquette)

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6 Comments on “200 E. Ridge ~ The Burt and Adams Home”

  1. Former Resident Says:

    I used to live in an apartment here. I could tell it was once a grand home. Thanks for telling its story!

  2. Gerald Pieti Says:

    I lived in an upstairs studio flat in this house from 1963 to 1972. The fireplaces are under some of the windows with chimney flues rising on both sides of the windows. This was to get maximum warmth into the room from smoke on its way up to the chimney.
    Window sills are slabs of marble.
    I was in the back of the house with views of the lake. I was organist at St. Paul’s church.
    Thanks for the history of the Adams family. Abby Roberts used to speak of visiting the invalid son. Some days when he wasn’t up to a visit he’d have a red book in the window: otherwise there would be a green book so she could call in.
    Gerald Pieti

    • Hi Gerald, Thank you for the comment. That’s very interesting about the books being placed in the window. Since you were also at St. Paul’s do you know if there was any truth to the rumor that there was an underground tunnel from the house to St. Paul’s so they could bring Will Adams to church that way?

  3. Gerald Pieti Says:

    Hi Tyler
    What a pleasant surprise to hear of your research into 200 E. Ridge!
    Having been in the space under St Paul’s I remember that there is no paved floor, just sand. The way up is a rather narrow staircase which might have served Will in climbing to the ground level and to the church but I don’t recall seeing a tunnel on that end of the church. There are areas where there isn’t enough height to stand straight. It was a place to dump unwanted items.
    There was speculation that a whisky still was run down there in the 20s and you could see the possibility of it.
    I Inheirited the job as organist from Alexander Pearce Hamby who had taken it on some years previously, (perhaps 1930). Peter White paid for a new organ console in 1930 and Joan Kaufman’s marriage to Drexel Biddle took place about then. Mr. Hamby recalled that the bride’s mother arrived in a red riding outfit complete with boots. Flowers were arranged by a florist from New York, profusely covering surfaces never so adorned before or since.

    • Thank you, Gerald, for the additional information. I love when people share their stories and observations. I think the tunnel story unlikely, but there were other tunnels in Marquette – between the orphanage and St. Mary’s hospital, and between the cathedral and the Baraga School, and they certainly helped with dealing with winter. I love the story about Mrs. Biddle’s riding outfit. My uncle, Jay White, knew Drexel Biddle, Joan’s son.

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