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'An amazing journey': Dorr family renovating historic schoolhouse into their dream home

Beyond the historic architecture and charm, the Rodriguez's have uncovered real artifacts, like newspapers, financial records and a deed from the 1800's.

DORR, Mich. — A family in Dorr is turning a historic schoolhouse into their dream home. They're only seven months into the renovation, but their passion for preserving the history continues to be a priority in the process. 

Tori and Jesse Rodriguez have always been drawn to historic buildings, but they never thought their journey would take them to where they are now. They say now they couldn't see their family of five settling down anywhere else. 

Last year, the couple saw an opportunity and wasted no time taking it.

"When we saw it go on the market, we were like 'we have to have this,'" Tori said, "because it's the history that you get to preserve, while also meshing that into the 21st century."

The 8,000-square-foot building was built in 1908, and completed in 1909, and was used as a school up until the 1950's. It then became boat storage, and eventually its last owner used it as an antique store and museum before selling it to the Rodriguez family. 

"We saw his vision, and we saw his love for the house, so we wanted to kind of capture that in the finished home," Tori said.

The building, which is on the national, state and local historic registry is now being transformed into a home for Tori and Jesse and their three boys, ages 6, 4 and 2. 

"One of our kids said he wanted his room to be volcano-themed and the other one said Pikachu, so I'm trying to figure out how to marry that with the history," laughed Jesse. 

The home sits on one acre of land and is surrounded by farmland, so their boys have plenty of room to play and explore.

"All three of them are are all in," Tori added, "they have loved finding stuff in the house." 

Jesse and Tori own their own construction business called Better Home Improvements, so they are no strangers to big projects. 

"We are basically doing this project DIY-style, but I am a licensed builder so we can make sure everything is up to code," said Jesse.

Beyond the historic architecture and charm, the pair has uncovered real artifacts, like county financial books from 1890 and a hand-written deed from 1849 that showed a piece of land being sold for just $200. 

"And that is just the tip of the iceberg of things we have found," Tori said. "We bought the building and when we walked in, there were just so many fun treasures."

The most interesting find, according to Tori and Jesse, is what they call the "newspaper wall." On the basement level behind large cabinets, they found a large piece of wall that is covered in hundreds of old newspapers. 

"There's newspapers dating from the 1950's all the way back to the 1890's," Jesse said. "We've even found ones about JFK and World War II Nazis."

Jesse said his plan is to eventually build a large display case to put in their home that will show off all of the old pieces of history they've discovered during construction.

"It's also been really fun to uncover the different construction methods in the house," Jesse said. 

One of the most unexpected methods? The whole schoolhouse is filled to the brim with packing peanuts that were likely used as insulation. 

Tori and Jesse are from other parts of West Michigan, Hudsonville/Jension and Byron Center, but said they have felt right at home in Dorr since they started this journey seven months ago. 

"The people are so kind," Tori said. "They welcomed us right away, and they've been so supportive."

The two said they hope this will also be a great gathering place for their families.

"We love hosting, so now we have a lot of space to have everybody come over," said Jesse.

"We are passionate about people," Tori added.

The couple says they couldn't ask for anything more as they continue making this historic space the perfect home for their little family.

"Taking a year to redo this house is challenge and it's a sacrifice," Jesse said, "but it's definitely going to be worth it."

The Rodriguez's said their goal is to be able to move in by the spring, so they project will have taken a year to finish. They also said once the home is complete, they plan to open it up and offer tours to the community, as well as host community events during holidays like the Fourth of July, as the parade goes right past the schoolhouse.

You can follow their journey online at SchoolHouse of 1909 on Facebook and Instagram.


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