Historic home restored, on market

Becky Vargo • Mar 1, 2019 at 1:00 PM

SPRING LAKE — Six months after starting the renovation project of a lifetime, a local businesswoman is listing her historic home for sale.

What’s known as the Sisson House is located at 318 Rachael’s Way, Spring Lake, formerly 319 E. Savidge St. It was built in the early 1870s by a local lumber baron and is now on the market for $1.2 million.

The large, orange Victorian is on the edge of a project known as Alden Place. Its sister home, a blue house with a tower next door, could also be renovated soon.

“Everyone told me not to buy it,” said Jennifer Sunderlin of Bulldog Property Development. “This was a huge gamble, but it’s paid off. I’m so excited for Spring Lake.” 

This is the second historic home that Sunderlin has taken on in the village. In 2016, she restored a 150-year-old home located at the corner of Jackson and Tolford streets. Sunderlin said that she lost money on that project, but she gained a lot of education and motivation to restore properties, rather than just flip them.

She started the work after her husband became sick of the constant projects that she was creating in their Spring Lake home. Her husband, Matt, encouraged her to work outside of the house, so she started Bulldog Property Development.

It hasn’t been an easy road being the boss in building projects, but Sunderlin said she feels like she is gaining ground.

Renovations needed

The old Victorian mansion started to take on new life when Norm Beebe began renovations and started the Alden Place project before the economy took a dive in 2009. Another developer took over Alden Place in 2011, but the Victorian sat empty for years.

Sunderlin picked up the house for a little more than $200,000. The original price tag was $700,000.

She said she had to negotiate down the price when she learned that previous renovations were not up to code and she had to rip out its heating and cooling, plumbing, and electrical systems.

“Nothing was working,” she said.

Photo Gallery: Take a look inside the home

And that’s one of the reasons that she couldn’t get a bank loan for the deal. She and her husband funded the renovations and they weren’t cheap. It cost $20,000 to update the heating and cooling systems. It was about $30,000 for the electrical and lighting.

All of the upstairs bedroom doors were missing and had to be replaced with solid wood doors.

A 15-foot section of trim by the fireplace in the lady’s sitting room cost $1,500.

The previous owner’s renovation included all new windows, cement siding and a 50-year roof. Sunderlin said that was all in good condition.

Sunderlin said the renovation was about keeping things simple but to still give the home “flair and grace.” She also wanted to make sure it included updates that would appeal to today’s families.


The main living floors, about 4,000 square feet, have tall ceilings and some 10-foot-tall doors.

The back entry is inside a two-stall garage that has a stairway into the kitchen.

A modern chandelier lights up a 1,200-pound slab of granite on a large island. The island contains a dishwasher and a slide-out microwave oven. 

Also on the main floor is a room renovated into a large laundry and pantry area, a formal dining room, women’s and men’s sitting rooms separated by arched pocket doors, a half bathroom, and side and front entry areas. 

Plaster molding in the sitting rooms contains cherries, hearts, acorns, peaches and pears.

Lights in the sitting rooms are a nod to the pulley systems from the old windows and former gas lighting, Sunderlin said. Most of the new light fixtures contain crystal, while some have glass.

The 9-foot entrance doors off Savidge Street include a rabbeted mortise lock, which has not been manufactured since 1874. Fortunately, that was still in the doors, Sunderlin said. Most of the hardware, as well as many of the doors, were stripped from the house.

The original curved grand staircase was painted to match the back staircase. The original newel post remains, with its arrow decorations.

There’s also a large copper pipe in the corner, running from floor to ceiling. It is still in use, 120 years after plumbing was installed in the home, Sunderlin said.

The second floor includes three bedrooms, three bathrooms, an office/bonus room and a large linen closet.

The master suite is on the back of the house. It has a large bedroom that opens onto a small balcony. There is a 10-by-12-foot closet with two windows and an inset and plumbing for a stackable washer and dryer. The modern bathroom has a separate water closet; a large, glassed-in shower; and double vanities.

“There was nothing here,” Sunderlin said when talking about the work that had to be done. “They had to walk on the joists to work on the plumbing.”

Sunderlin said that there is an extensive amount of woodwork in the house.

“Any window has 13 pieces of trim,” she said. 

Near the front of the second story is a stairway that leads to a large attic. A ladder in the attic leads to a hatch that opens to the roof, where you can see panoramic views of the village. Sunderlin and her crew cleaned up the area and renovated the stairway. 


The home’s basement was also scoured and parts of it renovated. Years ago, the basement was one of five apartments in the building, Sunderlin said.

The basement has egress windows, as well as three entry doors. Sunderlin placed a cabinet in a small room for storage or potentially a wine cellar. Another room has new flooring and a closet. Sunderlin said this could be a craft room or an extra bedroom.

A new zoned furnace includes two humidifiers, and there’s also a large air conditioning unit. Sunderlin said the house has all new heat runs and returns.

Sunderlin said she was told that, at one time, the house had a tunnel connecting it to the Lilley House next door. This was supposedly used as part of the Underground Railroad. The developer said she saw no evidence of the tunnel. 

“It was long-ago covered up,” she said.

The Spring Lake Historical Commission toured the home Feb. 25. A formal vote on its historical designation is scheduled for the commission’s March 25 meeting.

The home is being marketed by Meghan Heritage of Bluewest Properties.

Home history

The Victorian homes at 319 and 325 E. Savidge St. were built by lumber mill partners George Sisson and Francis Lilley in the early 1870s.

There is conflicting information about which family lived in which home. However, a couple of historical sources say the Sissons lived at 319 and the Lilleys lived at 325.

The orange house at 319 E. Savidge was occupied by the Sisson family until 1893. Then, Dr. Orlando Newell operated his medical practice in the house that he and his wife called “Bay View,” in the late 1890s.

In the 1960s, the Pellegroms owned the house at 319 E. Savidge, and it was converted into five apartments. 

Brother and sister Gary Kieft and Ruth Ann Kelly said their father, Clyde, bought both homes, along with the white house on the corner to the east, in the early 1970s.

The buildings were sold to Norm Beebe around 2006. He started the Alden Place development, but sold it a few years later.

Ottawa County records show Boscoe Construction Co. sold the property at 319 E. Savidge to LifeSpace LLC on Jan. 31, 2014, for $160,000. LifeSpace sold it on the same recorded date to Jane Robertson for $310,688.

On Aug. 1, 2018, Sunderlin’s company purchased the house for $203,000.

The carriage house was separated years ago and converted into a residence.

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