Photo by Jeannie Breternitz of the John Alden Chapter
Home of Charles Miller Croswell
Croswell House History
This lovely Greek Revival house was built in the 1840's, but the circumstances that would lead to its construction began earlier, in 1825, in the state of New York. When the Erie Canal, which of course linked the Great Lakes to the Hudson River, was completed, a cask of water was loaded onto a barge and transported to the mouth of the Hudson River. The trip took 6 days by canal instead of 4 weeks overland. NY Gov. Dewitt Clinton poured the water into the Atlantic Ocean in a ceremony marking “The Marriage of the Waters”. On the same day as the ceremony, in Newburg, NY, Charles Miller Croswell was born to Sallie Hicks and John Croswell. This child would one day be the Governor of a state which didn’t yet exist, but would be settled by many, many people who traveled on the Erie Canal.
Charles Miller Croswell lived an ordinary life for a time period in which a simple infection could mean death. Charles Miller Croswell lost his mother and little sister to fever when he was 7 years old. A few months later, his father was accidentally drowned in the Hudson River. At this time, Charles began to make his home with his mother’s brother, Daniel Hicks, and family. When Charles was 12 years old, the extended family moved to Michigan. They traveled on the Erie Canal, crossed Lake Erie and traveled by wagon from Toledo. Daniel Hicks was a carpenter. When Charles was 16 and an apprentice to his uncle, they built the house pictured above. The Greek Revival style was popular in the east. Instead of a marble temple, the architecture and materials had been adapted to bedrooms and living areas, and stone, brick and wood.
There was another apprentice carpenter who helped build the house. His name was Thomas Cooley. He and Charles became friends and, while still carpentering, they began to study law. It seems that they weren’t very busy when they first opened their own law offices. From either time on their hands or lack of paying customers, they had time to build furniture for their offices. The bookcase containing their law books is believed to have been built by them and the graceful table now used by the Regent was built by Charles Croswell.
Charles Croswell’s first public office was as Register of Deeds for Lenawee County. He was 27. His uncle, Daniel Hicks, had been the first Register of Deeds for Lenawee County. In 1847, Mr. Hicks went to the Mexican War as head of the Adrian Guard. “After his return he had gone to Sault Ste. Marie to be a collector of the Port, and died there of cholera, which he had contracted in Mexico.” At that point, Charles bought the house he had helped to build from his aunt for $1700.00.
In 1852, Charles married Miss Lucy Eddy. Her parents were Mr. & Mrs. Morton Eddy. Mr. Eddy had a saw mill on the River Raisin. It’s possible that Mr. Eddy might have sawed the wood and timbers used in the building of the house. The mill was located on the site of Bohn pool.
Charles and Lucy Croswell had 5 children, but not all survived childhood. When the youngest was a babe in arms, Mrs. Croswell was coming down the front stairs carrying her. She tripped, perhaps on her long skirts, and fell. She managed to protect the baby who was unhurt, but she died the following day. (One of our members is a descendant of that child.) After her death, Charles had a wing added to the south side of the house into which the Eddys moved. They lived here for 12 years while they helped raise their daughter’s children. After that they moved to their home on the corner of S. Main and Cross Streets. They took the youngest one with them.
Over the years Charles Croswell was elected to almost every office he could hold in Lenawee County and the city of Adrian. He was made Secretary of the Republican Party when it was formed in Jackson. He was a member of the Michigan State Senate 1863-1866; 1867-1868. He was a Presidential Elector in 1868. He was elected to the House of Representatives in Lansing and was Speaker of the House of Representatives, 1873-74. He was on the Penal Institution Committee when Adrian acquired the Girls Training School and was elected Governor in 1876, and re-elected in 1878. His first duty during the second term was to dedicate the “new” Capitol building in Lansing. (Another Adrian Governor, Greenly, was Gov. when Lansing was chosen as the State Capitol.) While in Lansing, he lived in hotels and boarding houses. He met and married a young woman more than 25 years his junior, Elizabeth Musgrave. They married in 1880.
After his term in office ended they returned to Adrian, but never lived in this house together. After 6 years of marriage, Charles Croswell died. Three months later Elizabeth gave birth to their only child, whom she named for her husband’s mother, Sallie Hicks. Shortly after Sallie’s birth, they moved into this house.
When Sallie Hicks Croswell was old enough for boarding school, her mother accompanied her to Albany to attend a school that had been founded by one of Sallie’s Croswell ancestors. Mrs. Merrill (Mrs. Croswell had remarried) lived in an Albany hotel during that time. While away at school it was discovered that Sallie had diabetes. Insulin was unknown at that time. They returned home to Duluth where Sallie died a few weeks later on August 21, 1904. She was brought to Adrian and buried next to her father in Oakwood Cemetery. Many years later her remains were moved to lie next to her mother.
When it became important to “put her house in order”, Mrs. Merrill tried to give the house to the city of Adrian as a memorial to Gov. Croswell, but was turned down. She then offered it to the D.A.R. who accepted. She also gave some of the furniture pieces which belonged to the Governor. The other belongings were shipped to his daughters in the east, but the train they were on wrecked and burned.
From 1926 -1928, Mrs. Merrill had the house
restored. During that time she had the south wing, built for the Eddy’s,
removed. In 1927, it became the home of our chapter. The auditorium was
added in 1949. It was donated by a charter member, Clara B. Hopkins, in
memory of her sister, Mary B. Hopkins. Mary B. Hopkins was another charter
member and Regent from 1919-1921.