The Residential Community

Houghton was not only a setting for industry, commerce and entertainment, but also a settlement of families, houses and residential neighborhoods. Up through the 1870s, houses were built alongside commercial buildings in the small waterfront community. As the town developed, however, many of these early homes were replaced with additional retail and office buildings, some with apartments in their upper floors. Single-family homes were pushed to newer residential areas south of Shelden Avenue. Yet houses remained relatively close to the business district as most residents relied on foot or horse transport to reach places of business.

During the 1880s and 1890s, the city’s population grew exponentially as did housing around the city’s original central district. Houghton’s historic neighborhoods are now loosely grouped into western, central and eastern segments. The eastern section, particularly the main thoroughfare of College Avenue, is known for its larger, upscale homes and includes many fine examples of Victorian architecture. Yet each of Houghton’s neighborhoods includes a mix of housing sizes and styles. Unlike the housing at many company-owned mining locations, characterized by uniform rows of identical buildings, homes in Houghton’s neighborhoods were individually owned and allowed for a greater variety of color, architectural style and personality.

A concentration of families and children also concentrated churches and schools within these neighborhoods. The central area, for instance, included three historic churches constructed from locally quarried Jacobsville sandstone. Grace United Methodist Church, the oldest of Houghton’s church structures, was completed on Montezuma Avenue in 1893. Like other buildings from the early era of stone construction, the building features Romanesque architecture with rough-cut stone. St. Ignatius Loyola Church was constructed on Houghton Avenue in 1902 and the current Trinity Episcopal Church was consecrated further west on Montezuma Avenue in 1910.

The earliest of Houghton’s schools dates to 1856 and consisted of a one-room log structure south of the current St. Ignatius Church. Several log and frame buildings succeeded it before the completion of a stone schoolhouse in 1864. Under the leadership of John Doelle, who was made school superintendent in 1906, the district grew to include thirteen schools, including a central high school on Houghton Avenue, elementary and middle schools in the eastern and western neighborhoods, and smaller schools in several outlying communities. Oddly enough, Houghton’s high school was located only two blocks from the county courthouse and jail, a strange juxtaposition of municipal structures built for quite different purposes.

Some historic downtown structures, such as the Douglass House Hotel and the Sheldon-Dee Block, have been converted into apartments, and older houses near the university campus remain in demand by students and faculty. A renewed appreciation of older homes and architectural styles has many people rediscovering the advantages of living within walking distance of downtown businesses, the university and the city’s historic waterfront.

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Shelden residence
at Isle Royale and Shelden Streets