Farewell to the round house

Published 11:05 pm Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The round house on M-51 South of Dowagiac was in jazz musician Franz Jackson’s family for more than 50 years. The saxophonist’s daughter, Michelle Jewell of Niles, offers her memories.

My husband, daughter and I took a drive up to Wood Fire in Dowagiac Oct. 7 to have dinner and drop off some promotional cards for the fifth annual Franz Jackson Jazz Celebration being held there on Nov. 6 in honor of my dad, musician Franz Jackson.

As I drove past my parents’ former home, now my brother’s home, I looked, as I always do, across the street to see the house that until last year had been in my family for more than 50 years — a Dowagiac landmark —  the “round house” on M-51 South between Dowagiac and Niles.

What I saw made my heart sink and left me speechless.

A vacant lot with only trees surrounding a large patch of dirt — the house and barn, gone.

Nobody told me it was being torn down, much less when. Not that anyone was obligated to, but had I known, I would have been there, mourning the loss of a piece of my family’s heritage.

I called my brother as soon as I got home and he said he hadn’t known about it in advance and didn’t see it happen either; he was at work.

But, apparently, spectators lined the highway to watch the demolition of what we had long used as the landmark to help people find our home.

We certainly weren’t the only ones with a connection to the house.

I think many of Dowagiac’s residents used that house as a guidepost to let people who were unfamiliar with the area know where they were and how close to town they were.

Many were fascinated with the structure: cylindrical on the outside and painted gray so as to appear as though some giant sword had simply lopped off the top of a castle turret and planted it in the middle of rural southwest Michigan.

I always heard people talk about that house with interest and was always proud to say that it had been my grandparents’ home and now belonged to our family.

My grandparents, Arthur and Effee Turner, didn’t build the house but they bought it soon after it was finished and they had a small working farm for many years.

They bought the land across the street as well and built the house that my brother and I would eventually grow up in.

I remember when we moved to Michigan from Chicago when I was about 9.

My parents thought it was nice to be right across the street from my grandparents and my mom would walk us over there frequently to visit with them when my dad was in Chicago performing.

When my grandmother passed away, my parents kept the house and rented it out for many years.

Toward the end of my dad’s life, when he could no longer manage the house, my brother and I assumed the task of renting it.

But maintaining a rental along with homes of our own was too much, and we ultimately had to sell the property last year.

When we did, I don’t think we were under any illusion that the house would be there forever. However, I also don’t think either of us was prepared to see an empty lot this soon, either.

I am blindsided by the flood of emotions I now have after seeing only space where there was once the link to many childhood memories.

I’ll be honest: when it sold, I was relieved. It was one less thing we had to handle. I was sad to know that we had to let it go, but I also believed it was time and it was what my parents would have wanted — one less thing to encumber us.

Now, I struggle with the wish that there was more we could have done and the reality of knowing that we did everything we could.

In retrospect, I suppose it’s better that I didn’t watch it fall.

That certainly would have been more difficult.

I hope that the people who were there when it came down watched with reverence.

I hope that there were some who remember it when it was new and shiny and home to a family.

For my part, I will remember running up and down the stairs, in and out the doors, the smells of my grandmother cooking and canning, picking blackberries by the back fence, watching my father pull up the drive coming home from Chicago, sitting out on the front steps with my mom, running through the yard, hiding under the long wispy branches of the huge weeping willow tree, the scary thrill of jumping out of the top window of the barn with my brother into a pile of hay below.

I will remember what that house meant to my family.

And, while I know that time moves on and things are bound to change, I will mourn the loss of something special.

And, I’d like to think that part of Dowagiac will, too.


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