Historic Constantine house added to National Register
CONSTANTINE — Over 170 years after it was first built, and after more than a decade of research and shelf-sitting, a historical house in Constantine has made even more history.
The Nettleton-Cond House, a mid-19th century Greek revival house located at 260 S. Washington St. in Constantine, was named on July 26 to the National Register of Historic Places, the official list of the United States’ historic places worthy of preservation. The program is under the umbrella of the National Park Service.
The house was added to the list due to its distinctive characteristics of a type, period or method of construction, one of the four applicable criteria for National Register eligibility. It joins 16 other St. Joseph County properties and entities on the list, including downtown Three Rivers’ historical district, the Gov. John S. Barry House, the White Pigeon Land Office and the Silliman House, among others.
“The house embodies the distinct architectural characteristics of the Greek Revival style, and is as an excellent example of a high-style Greek Revival house built during Michigan’s first decade of statehood,” the house’s nomination form to the National Register stated. “The Nettleton-Cond House stands out among local examples of this style for its employment and retention of many of the style’s key attributes and for its historic integrity.”
The house is composed of a one-and-a-half-story, wood frame, Greek Revival section constructed in 1847 and two smaller one-story additions constructed at an unknown date, but prior to 1897, according to the nomination document. Although additions were added in the years since by different owners, the nomination form states the house “retains its form, plan, and character-defining features,” as well as much of its original materials and workmanship.
“This was actually an interesting project,” Nathan Nietering, a project coordinator with Michigan’s State Historical Preservation Office (SHPO), said. He handled the final stretch of the nomination paperwork and process, something that was started by a graduate student in history that helped out at SHPO around a decade ago.
“I think they had some relationship with the owners of the house, so they started to do the research and compile the materials, and then that individual got her master's degree and got a job somewhere else and left Michigan,” Nietering said. “Everything she had done up to that point was collected by our office, but it just kind of sat on a shelf.”
The ball didn’t get rolling on it again until just before the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Nietering said the grad student reached out to the office and inquired about the progress of the nomination for the house. When it was discovered it hadn’t been completed, Nietering said although nominations don’t normally originate within SHPO, he got to work on finishing the paperwork needed.
“Sometimes, if there's not a champion working on it or a squeaky wheel, we don't have the capacity to keep doing all the research required. It's a lengthy process, and there's a lot that goes into it,” Nietering said. “But, basically, this rekindled our interest. We looked at the work already done, it was clearly still eligible, and the owners were still interested to have it listed. So we pushed it forward from there.”
Nietering said considering the integrity of the house, the age of the house – it was built 10 years after Michigan was recognized as a state – and some of the quirkiness about its location and attribution, appealed to him to help with the application.
“There had been some previous research done on the house in the 1970s, and it misattributed who the original builder was. In the meantime, this grad student had done a lot of research and determined that wasn't probably correct,” Nietering said. “That matched with the info I found even now 10 years after that, that the first owner was a different person than originally thought. It also turns out this house was actually moved at one point, moved one lot over from where it was originally standing, and it was owned by a different person at that time. So we kind of wanted to correct the record a bit, or make sure that info was correct.”
The first half of the house’s actual namesake is attributed to a man named Zelus Nettleton, who owned the house when it was originally constructed on the corner of what is now South Washington Street and Third Street, where the Eley Funeral Home resides today. Nettleton, born in Connecticut in 1821, was listed as a carpenter in the Constantine area in the 1850 Census. He bought the property the house sat on for $100 in 1847 from John S. Barry, later the governor of Michigan, and two years later sold the property for $1,600.
The second half of the namesake is attributed to Charles W. Cond, who owned the house when it was moved one lot north to its present location and attained its current form in 1874. Cond was a successful businessman in that era, according to the house’s nomination document, having been on the Board of Directors at the Farmers’ National Bank of Constantine in 1876 and listed as the president of the bank in an 1883 report to the U.S. Comptroller of the Currency.
Misattribution of the house’s namesake, according to the nomination document, dates to around 1977, when the house was listed in the Michigan State Register of Historic Sites as the Wells-Bryan House and listed with a construction date of 1840 without much substantial evidence for the exact date. At the time, the house was attributed to John M. Wells, a local merchant and innkeeper, and John Bryan, one of St. Joseph County’s most prolific carpenters between 1834 and 1860.
The misattribution and “correcting the record” of the house, Nietering said, was the most interesting part of the research done on the house.
“Those are kind of fun pieces. You kind of have to trace back and try to find newspaper obituaries, newspaper records, do some property research into tax rolls and that sort of thing, to try to figure out what was happening way back in this time and sort of put the pieces together and put the story together that way,” Nietering said.
Overall, Nietering said he was pleased to see the property get listed on the National Register, a process that usually takes 12-18 months normally.
“There hasn't been anything listed recently in St. Joseph County, so this is kind of an opportunity to say, yes, people may already think about the historical landmarks they know about, the Covered Bridge and downtown Three Rivers, but we're not done,” Nietering said. “I was really pleased to see this one move forward in Constantine, a small town, a more rural community, to say that your history matters too, that your history matters just as much as other historic places that are being nominated in big cities like Grand Rapids and Detroit.”
Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 23 or email@example.com.