Albion home is a step back in time

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 8 November 2013 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers – Jean Smith stands in front of the Hardie-Blake House, where she has lived since 1957 on West State Street in Albion.

The carriage step with the inscription “1875” used to be in front of the house but was moved back by a carriage barn before Jean and her husband Ed moved in more than a half century ago.

ALBION – When Jean and Ed Smith moved to a Victorian house on West State Street in 1957, the couple quickly fell in love with the historic features of the property, including a carriage step in the back yard.

The house was originally built in 1830 as a much smaller home. It was expanded in 1875 and turned into a home of Victorian splendor.

It was in the Hardie-Blake family until 1962, when the Smiths bought it from Francis Blake. (For five years prior the Smiths rented the house.)

When they bought the property there was an apartment as part of the house. The Smiths took that out and worked for decades to restore the site. A finishing touch came 12 years ago when the Smiths put a sign on the front of the home, “The Hardie-Blake House.”

When the Smiths bought the house, Mr. Smith told Francis Blake the Smiths would honor the Hardie and Blake families with the house. The Smiths lovingly cared for the home, raising three daughters and welcoming seven grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren to explore the grand old house.  The sign was Mr. Smith’s idea.

“We kept our promise to Francis to name the house after him,” Mrs. Smith told me on Thursday when I stopped by. “Francis grew up here and he loved this house.”

I visited Jean because I heard about the carriage step she had in back. I like old hitching posts and carriage steps. I saw Jean at the polls on Tuesday. She works as an election commissioner. We made a date for Thursday to talk about the house and the carriage step.

The step is next to a carriage house in a herringbone style, which Mrs. Smith said is unusual. When she and her husband moved to the site it still had the buggies in the barn. The previous owner took them out when the Smiths bought the property.

When Ed and Jean moved in in 1957, the carriage step was already moved out back. It originally was next to the street. It bears the inscription “1875.” These old steps are heavy and this one has sunk into the ground a few inches, covering the bottom part of the letters.

Jean said the her children and other kids in the neighborhood often gravitated to the carriage step.

“Little kids loved to play on that in the way that little kids do,” she said. “They like to step up and step down.”

The Smiths put a bird feeder on the top of the stone. The base is still there. The carriage step is next to barn that was once used as a carriage house for buggies and horses.

Smith displays a blue star in her window to signify she has family serving in the military.

Jean and Ed were hoping to get the house listed on the National Register of Historic Places. But Mr. Smith was killed in an accident, crossing Main Street on the way to St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.

Mr. Smith loved local history. He led tours of the Catholic Church and served as parish’s unofficial historian.

“We really enjoyed putting this house back together,” Mrs. Smith said.

She lives down the street from where Grace Bedell grew up in Albion She’s the girl who wrote Abraham Lincoln, urging him to grow a beard. He took her advice.

Smith believes many of the old houses in Albion have interesting stories and architectural features. She would like to see a walking guide developed that give people a glimpse into the history of the community.

She has visited other places, communities with less historical assets as Albion. But many of these other towns proclaim their heritage, she said.

“There is so much in this town that we should be proud of and that we could include on a walking tour,” she said. “I think we’re really missing out.”

The carriage step is heavy and has sunk into the ground over the years. When her children were growing up, Smith said they loved to play on the step, going up and down.