1020 College Avenue
1020 College Ave. Houghton MI 49931
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1020 College Avenue

J.B. Sturgis House, c. 1888
President Teddy Roosevelt visited house
Sigma Tau Gamma fraternity since 1974

The fieldstone walls that once buttressed a terraced garden can still be seen from Lake Street. 

In 1866, the Shelden-Columbian Mining Co. built a stamp mill behind the house standing here today. Constructed on the hill that rises up from the Portage Canal, the mill separated copper from copper-bearing rock. It was fairly small and produced only a few hundred tons of copper before closing in 1870. By the 1880s, the mill’s equipment had been sold and the building dismantled. It is believed that remnants of the mill’s foundation lie behind the current dwelling.

One of the grandest and most prominent houses on the street, 1020 College Avenue was likely built around 1888 for J.B. Sturgis and his family. Sturgis was a prominent stockbroker, cashier of the Houghton National Bank, and secretary and treasurer of the Peninsula Electric Light and Power Company. In 1900, R.M. Edwards and his family purchased the home. Edwards graduated from the Columbia School of Mines in New York City before moving to Houghton to become a professor at the College of Mines. In 1889, he became a mining engineer for the Tamarack Mining Company and worked there for the next 10 years. Edwards was then appointed superintendent of the Isle Royale Copper Company in 1900. Around 1910, a carriage house, carriage way and terraced garden were added behind the house. Although the garden is abandoned today, the six terraces of fieldstone walls can still be seen.

Over the years, the house changed hands many times and fell into disrepair. Michigan Tech’s Gamma Chi chapter of Sigma Tau Gamma Fraternity has occupied the “big blue house on College Avenue” since the chapter’s inception in 1974. Among the “Fun Facts” the fraternity claims is the "Presidential Room," so named “because President Theodore Roosevelt stayed at the house when he was touring the mining communities of Michigan. . . [he] left the house in a rage after the owner at the time, Richard M. Edwards drunkenly fell into one of the house’s four fireplaces.”

The Sigma Tau Gamma brothers “are continually working on projects to improve the appearance, energy efficiency, and structural integrity of the house – all while respecting the original design.”

Sources: Historic Houghton Walking Tour (c. 2000); Keweenaw Time Traveler; Michigan Tech University Archives and Historical Collections;  R.L. Polk & Co.’s Houghton County Directory (1907-1908, 1916-1917). R.L. Polk & Co., Publishers.; Scarlett, S.F. (2021). Company Suburbs. University of Tennessee Press.; Sigma Tau Gamma; U.S. Census records.; Image: Vernacular Architecture Forum. (2024). 1020 College Ave. North of the Northwoods: From Mines to Motels on Michigan’s Lake Superior (pp. 58–58). photograph.

Queen Anne and Classical Revival