'Link' to the past

Couple keeps integrity of city centennial home

Story: Deborah Saul, Photos: Tom Hawley

William E. Sturn was a well-known downtown merchant actively involved in community affairs when he bought a lot carved out of pasture land on the banks of the River Raisin 100 years ago.
He paid $1,150 for the property on E. Elm Ave. near the foot of Lincoln Ave. He hired a local architect, Reed Dunbar, to draw up blueprints for a two-story home for himself and his wife of 10 years, Julia LaVoy Sturn.
The house he paid $5,500 to build celebrates its centennial this year with its current owners, Don and Ann Link. They have lived in the historic home for 30 years.
“We value our home as a piece of local history and are grateful for the opportunity to own it and live in it,” Ann said. “A 100-year-old house cannot be replaced.”
Thirty years ago, they already were living on Lincoln Ave. but in a smaller house with no garage. They had been looking for a new property and went through a house on E. Elm. But it was the house next door, which wasn’t actually for sale at the moment, that caught their attention.
“We walked in the front door, and I knew right away, ‘This is it,’ ” Ann said. “You just know.”
They have made some changes to modernize for today’s lifestyle, but they also maintain much of the original character of the home. Built-in red oak bookcases are a focal point in the living room, along with the fireplace. The opening into each room has either pocket doors or French doors with beveled glass. They also have left some of the original windows and duplicated the historic style where they’ve installed new ones.
“It is really hard to keep the integrity of a 100-year-old house,” the couple said. “Although we love historical buildings, … we also love our 21st-century creature comforts, such as central air conditioning, modern kitchen appliances, easy-to-clean windows. Any owner of an older building should try to not change too much.”
When they moved in, the kitchen was hemmed in by a wall with a door opening onto a back porch. Beyond was a view of the river and a deep lawn sloping down to it. Taking down the wall expanded the kitchen, allowing room for a large center island, seating and French doors that now open up the view to an in-ground swimming pool and a fenced-in yard ringed with colorful flowers and shrubs.
“She’s a master gardener,” Don said. “I mow the grass.”
Ann really is a Master Gardener and member of the Monroe County Master Gardeners Association. She took classes in 2002 with Monroe County Extension; the classes since have ended because of state budget cuts.
It is the lush plantings in the front yard that draw the attention of drivers and walkers on E. Elm Ave.
On the street side,  Ann has planted plenty of hostas, interspersing them with colorful annuals and perennials. Actually, she has used about 75 varieties of hostas and 15 kinds of hydrangea around the home.
The front landscaping includes ferns, cleome, cosmos, zinnias, black-eyed Susans and coneflowers. “My favorite right now is the sun-patien,” she said. This is an impatien that can take direct sun. “What a great invention!”
On the side of the house, she has planted trumpet vine, a hydrangea with blooms turning lime green, daylilies, roses, honeysuckle and a single potted tomato plant.
The back yard is ringed with more lush plantings, including a historic River Raisin grapevine twining along the fence. Gnarled cottonwood and willow trees shade the riverbank. Daylilies, daisies, petunias, bleeding heart and other flowers sprawl around the edges of the yard. Ann spends several hours a day weeding, watering and nurturing.
Both Don and Ann grew up in the country in the Petersburg area, where they met in high school. They’ve been married 47 years and now have three married children and nine grandchildren.
When it came time to start their own family, they wanted more of a city environment with more to do. One of the perks of city living has been that Don was able to walk to work throughout much of his career in engineering; he worked for the City of Monroe for more than two decades, overseeing engineering and the water department. Over the years, he also worked for the Monroe County Road Commission, Frenchtown Township’s water department and Mannik and Smith.
Now, when not working in the yard or enjoying visits with grandchildren, Ann likes to sit on the large front porch in the late afternoon and people-watch. Don prefers early morning on the porch along with a cup of coffee. They know many of the people in the neighborhood and passers-by by sight.
This vantage point gives them an upbeat perspective. “We love living in the city and close to downtown. We consider it our extended neighborhood. It is interesting to witness the hustle and bustle of everyday life, people going to school, going to work, going shopping. It tells us that our city is, indeed, thriving and progressing.”
The biggest downside? “If I could change one thing, it would be the traffic,” Ann laughed.
E. Elm Ave. is one of the busiest streets in the city but also one of the prettiest.
“But we don’t want the city to get any bigger. It’s fine just the size it is!”

A BIT OF HISTORY

William E. Sturn was only in his early 20s when he opened a boys’ and men’s clothing store at 19 E. Front St. in partnership with his brother, Frank, and Fred W. Kull. The store was named Sturn, Kull & Sturn when they opened the doors in June, 1903.
Two years later, he married Julia LaVoy in St. John Catholic Church. Eventually, they had two sons, William E. Jr. and Warren J.
The list of Mr. Sturn’s church and community activities is lengthy. Besides being a downtown businessman for 33 years, he served in leadership positions for state and local Knights of Columbus organizations, the Monroe Chapter of Infantile Paralysis, the Monroe Business Men’s Association, the Credit Rating Bureau, Roselawn Cemetery Association, Dansard State Bank, Monroe Finance Company, Monroe Golf and Country Club, Monroe Yacht Club and Monroe Club.
Although he had been in failing health for a year, he was stricken suddenly at the supper table and died of a heart attack in March, 1948, at the age of 69.
Now, 100 years after he built the stately home just across the bridge from downtown Monroe, Don and Ann Link try to honor the spirit and history of the house.
They were thrilled about a year ago when they made contact with two of Mr. Sturn’s great-granddaughters: Paula Owens and Anna Sturn. They all have enjoyed sharing photos and stories about the house. Don and Ann even have the original blueprints, and they have pored over them with Paula and Anna, who have been researching their family history and approached Don and Ann to see the house. The current owners were more than happy to invite them inside.
“We truly believe that Mr. Sturn’s spirit is still living in the house. We welcome his presence. He must have loved living here as much as we do.”