History Of Sanford House


Sanford House was built in 1847 by Samuel Ransom Sanford. Mr. Ransom came from New York and started the first drug store in Grand Rapids. He was appointed Village Clerk in 1847 and served in that office for two years. Sanford House is an excellent example of Greek Revival Architecture. It sits within a Nationally Registered District, Heritage Hill, known for its Victorian architecture.

Greek Revival Architecture

The popularity of the style of Greek Revival architecture in the early nineteenth century was due to strong associations with classic tradition and democracy. Something we can relate to in its current iteration. Many prominent features illustrate Sanford House’s Greek Revival style such as a front gable with side wings topped by four large, fluted, two-story Doric columns. They were formed from trees hewn on the property. Also, traditional entablature, slender leaded sidelights and a transom light surrounding the front door are Greek Revival style.

In addition, a fanlight window is centered within the pediment, and the front wall under the columned portico is made of flat boards to give a smooth effect and resemble a stone building. Sanford House represents one of the finest examples of the Greek Revival style in the Heritage Hill district.




Remodeling Sanford House

Sanford House history is also significant for the remodeling overseen by owners Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Wilmarth in 1907. Although the home passed through a series of owners in the late nineteenth century and survived a fire, the Wilmarths brought the home into the new century with the addition of indoor plumbing and electricity. More notably, and adding tremendously to the historic value of the home, they added a wallpaper mural the length of both sides of the central hallway. Block-printed by hand by Jean Zuber & Zie, a French decorating company founded in 1797, the pattern Vues d’Amerique du Nord (Views of North America) was first produced in 1834. It depicts Boston and New York City skylines, United States Military cadets at West Point, the side-wheel steamer Erie, and Native Americans against the backdrop off Virginia’s Shenandoah River and Natural Bridge.

Artist Jean-Julien Deltil (1791-1863) based his somewhat fanciful scenes of the United States upon his travels. Also, from the travels and writings of fellow artist and naturalist Jacques-Gerard Milbert (1766-1840). The same mural design was rescued from a Maryland demolition. It was restored and hung in the White House Diplomatic Room at the request of Jacqueline Kennedy in 1961. It can also be found on the walls of Historic Monmouth Inn in Natchez, Mississippi, And in the formal dining room of the Old Louisiana Governor’s Mansion in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.




Historic American Buildings Survey

Additionally, Sanford House was included in the Historic American Buildings Survey. Part of the Historic Records Survey, a WPA project (1935-1942). The project sought to provide unprecedented public access to many important art and design works. The survey of works in Michigan began in 1936 and the “Samuel R. Sanford House” collection of 4 photographs and 6 measured drawings, is part of a project designated HABS No. MICH-12. A plaque indicating inclusion in the Historic American Building Survey remains in place near the front entryway of the home.

Beginning in the 1970’s, Sanford House was used for a number of social service organizations. In May, 2014, David and Rae Green purchased Sanford House and directed an extensive renovation of the residence. In October, 2014, the Green Family officially opened the doors of Sanford House. As a private residential and outpatient rehab facility for women in recovery from alcohol and drug addiction.


Sanford House Today…

At the column lighting ceremony dedicating Sanford House as a women’s treatment center, Co-founder David W. Green made the following remarks:

“The idea of Sanford House was conceived over 170 years ago. By Grand Rapid’s first pharmacists and pioneering entrepreneur, Samuel Ransom Sanford. I imagine that Mr. Sanford trekked up the city’s landmark hill over there. And said to himself, ‘Self, I do not want to walk up that hill from the river every day.’  So he had a big and audacious plan. To come over here to this valley in the valley, to build the grandest home in the city.

One Hundred Seventy years ago Samuel Sanford and his craftsmen cut down the giant trees on this twelve acre farm and built these columns by hand. The timber of these columns is over 300 years old. Think about the history made during this time.

Tonight we light these grand old columns and rededicate Sanford House to another big and audacious idea:

That a treatment center for women suffering from drug and alcohol addiction can be established right here at Sanford House. In Grand Rapids, Michigan. And become the foremost facility of its kind in the country.”