lse Resurrection

IDuring the early summer of 2000, a visitor to Northville would have thought things were finally looking up for the old Lehman place. The house, which had served as the residence and "funeral rooms" of undertaker William Lehman through the 1920s, had long sat worn and inconspicuous toward the back of a deep, narrow lawn sandwiched between the South Main Street stores. But after the winter of 1999, it had shed its coat of weathered blue-grey shingles and revealed its original handsome Greek Revival lines.

But the resurrection was an illusion. A slow motion chain reaction had been taking place in the village and its fallout cloud eventually cast a shadow on the Lehman house.

The story is that there had been occasional summer weekend parking lot jams and complaints about the adequacy of the village's storefront-sized, Eisenhower-era post office. By 2000, a larger replacement post office with a huge parking lot had been constructed further up Main Street, on the site of a small white house that had served as a VFW Post and a nondescript one-story building that housed a shuttered restaurant. Unfortunately the small house, built as Van Arnam's Tavern in 1800, was actually the oldest building in the village. The restaurant building was afterwards theorized to have encased a classic diner which had been brought to the village in the 1930s. But perhaps the most immediately felt loss was the open land covered by the new parking lot. This had served as the carnival midway for the Northville July 4th celebration, an event which easily tripled the year-round population of the village and presumably accounted for a significant portion of its business' revenue.

At the same time, the price of waterfront property was soaring. The village had little public water frontage and many residents found themselves in the absurd position of having limited access to the lakes which surround them.

Given the lack of public open space and the Lehman house's rear frontage on Northville Lake, it is not surprising that its site was acquired for the new Village Park. The Lehman House's shingles were apparently removed for separate disposal early in 2000, and the house itself disappeared over the next winter. Although even today much of the park is barren hardpacked dirt, it has served as the midway for large and well-attended July 4 carnivals in 2001 and 2002.

The Lehman House's tale has a bittersweet ending, as it was torn down for a public benefit rather than a parking lot. Nevertheless, it's fundamentally sad that choice was "either/or", and that some solution could not have been found that permitted both preservation and a park.