Southwestern Michigan College’s Jarvis House is named for the family who in 1855 bought much of the LaGrange Township property the Dowagiac campus occupies from Abram and Fanny Fiero.
“Because of the close proximity and contiguous buildings and campus land, acquiring the Jarvis House was very key in completing the campus,” Board of Trustees Chairman Thomas F. Jerdon said. “SMC was so fortunate to work with the Millers to acquire the property as their property line was literally just a couple of feet from our maintenance building.”
Norman and Margaret Jarvis bought the original house parcel of 80 acres at the corner of Cherry Grove Road and Mathews Street for $4,000, built their home circa 1865 and occupied it into the 20th century.
Norman was born April 14, 1821, in North Carolina and died April 14, 1903, in Dowagiac at 82.
He married Margaret Simpson, born Feb. 20, 1825, in Ohio, on Aug. 18, 1842, in Dowagiac. Mrs. Jarvis, 84, died May 13, 1909, in Dowagiac. They are buried in Riverside Cemetery.
The Jarvis House bustled with their 10 children born between 1843 and 1872: Mary (Springsteen), William, Loraine (Thomas), Rachel (Makyes), Franklin, Jennie (Cribbs), Jasper, Ella (Townsend), Lucy (Watson) and Mertie (Churchill).
The home primarily exhibits Italianate revival style with a shallow roof pitch, doubled roof brackets, curved window header details and ornamentation around the windows and porch. It has a brick exterior, fieldstone foundation and was a notable homestead for its time.
The farm remained in family ownership for more than 100 years until Norman’s grandson, Jarvis McCoy, and his wife Frances sold to Monroe “Monk” and Johanna Mullett in 1963.
In 1964, the Mulletts sold 158 vacant acres to the college, keeping the house and 2.63 acres for themselves.
The Mulletts in 1970 offered to sell the house to the college, but no deal was struck.
SMC had an opportunity to purchase the house again in 1974. After a transfer from Sundstrand in Dowagiac to Frigid Coil Inc. in California, Monk Mullett listed the house with Realtor Floyd Jerdon, father of Chairman Thomas F. Jerdon.
Soon after, Jerdon had a viable purchase offer from Si and Helen Miller subject to the college’s option to purchase. Due to financial constraints, the college immediately waived its option, and the Millers became the owners of the house for 40 years.
The Millers raised five children at the house while Si served as Dowagiac Union Schools Assistant Superintendent and Bridgman Public Schools Superintendent.
“The Millers were the best neighbors the college could have had,” Chairman Jerdon said.
For example, each spring the Millers took extra care to groom their property for commencement.
In 2014, the college decided to purchase the greatly remodeled house along with two outbuildings from the Millers, finally merging the house parcel back into the original tract.
Today, the Jarvis House provides a wonderful, unique home to enable the college’s Executive Director of Campus Life to live adjacent to the three on-campus residence halls.