Archived Story

What a house cost in 1940

Published 12:00am Thursday, January 19, 2012

If you happen to read Reminisce Extra, you know there’s a piece in the January issue by Meryl Bromley of Dowagiac.
She writes about her husband, Fred, building a house in 1940 when he was just 19 for a contractor for 40 cents an hour.
The 24-by-24 house had two bedrooms — one with built-in double bunk beds — a kitchen and living room. The bathroom was a two-hole outhouse.
Curious about what house it might be, I phoned her, only to learn that while it’s still standing, it looks different and is in Buchanan to boot. They came to Dowagiac for Fred’s job at Kaiser-Frazer and lived on a farm outside town.
In her article, Meryl recounts that Fred came from a family of 10 boys and two girls and “learned early that if you wanted something, you had to work for it.”
“He kept track of everything,” so she can reliably reel off: 10 acres of land, $312.50; abstract, $22; taxes, $3.73; lumber from an old barn, $45; hauling it, $9; nails, $3.75; tractor, $30; drag, $10; plow, $2.50; pump for the well, $16.50; hammer, 69 cents; rule, 25 cents; 25 gallons of gas, $3.76; clevises (those U-shaped metal devices), 43 cents; gravel, $7.50; cement, $8.45; lumber, $103.60; square, $1.25; level, $2.25; saw, $3; pipe, $2.70; ruler, 45 cents; building paper, $1.50; chimney brick, $6; seven sacks of mortar, $6.50; trim, $3.75; shingles, $39.39; windows, $29.54; paint, 74 cents; brush, 50 cents; siding, $69.74; electrician, $10.60; and other labor, $54.50.
It was good talking to Meryl, whom I met when she operated B&R Pallet.
She was in the business for 17 years and owned it for seven before stepping aside in December 1986.
She eventually had 75 employees and a fence factory on M-51 South.
Fred’s 90 now and his wife of 69 years is 87. They married in 1942, he went into the service and “life changed,” so he didn’t continue building houses.
Here’s the twist where it gets a little like the rest of Paul Harvey’s story.
She lives near Lee mansion, so I couldn’t resist asking her about the late Stan Hamper’s contention as a former resident that it was haunted.
The local historian wrote about it and the house at 302 Green St. in one of his books.
Meryl’s reply surprised me. Bromleys actually lived in the latter house, which the 1965 city directory confirms — today the home of County Commissioner Clark Cobb. Wrights probably lived there after Bromleys when they owned the restaurant on M-51 South. I knew their kids growing up in that neighborhood and playing with Jim Laing, Phil Mack, Todd Miller, Andy Neff, Mitch Cripe and Gary Benedix.
Meryl describes seeing a shadowy figure in her bedroom, but “never anything negative. He was always friendly.”
In fact, her family called the spirit Grandpa.

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