On this day: May 5, in 1936, Louise Lathrup Kelley, her husband Charles Kelley and their daughter Louise moved out of House-in-the-Woods. How do we know this? Louise was an inveterate list maker. One list, titled Important Dates to Remember, provides us with this date. It also indicates she moved into the house in 1927. So she had, at best, nine years in the 10,600-square-foot Tudor Revival mansion.
I’ve heard speculation that the family moved out because of the Lindberg baby kidnapping, but that seems unlikely. The Lindberg baby was taken three years earlier, on March 1, 1932. A suspect was quickly identified, tried and executed. Meanwhile, as the Great Depression dragged on, Louise was significantly burdened with debt while sales and construction in her Lathrup Townsite development came to a halt and even getting lot owners to pay on their land contracts became difficult.
Our archives show that she tried to sell House-in-the-Woods in the 1930s and 1940s, along with the surrounding 250 acres of unplatted land. The house itself was advertised at one point for $125,000. In 1936 Dominican nuns came to look at it for a school. But they might have been looking for a donation, as they admitted they did not have the money to buy the house. In 1938 it was offered to them for rent; in 1939 it was offered for sale for $75,000.
Another idea was to turn the house into a country club, in which members would buy shares. That didn’t happen either, and in 1936 the Kelleys took out a land contract on the house and several other properties. A 1940 letter indicates they were seriously delinquent on the contract. They later received an FHA mortgage and paid off the land contract. The mortgage was paid off in 1953.
During the years the house was unoccupied, it was used by the Lathrup Village Woman’s Club, and it served as the first Lathrup Village city hall (1953-1962). Louise and Charles would never occupy the mansion again, living out their days upstairs in the Town Hall. But their adult daughter and her family would later live in the house.
On June 19, 2009 the house was struck by lightning and burned. It was later demolished. Some of the land remains vacant today and in the hands of the city, which is seeking someone to develop