Then & Now: Chelsea Retirement Community

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An early picture of the Greek Revival building with residents standing outside. Photo courtesy of CAHS.

From Chelsea Area Historical Society

Headlines in the June 7, 1905 edition of the Chelsea Standard read, “The Old People’s Home will be located in Chelsea, Michigan.” The article goes on to say that Frank P Glazier gave 18 acres in Chelsea with an additional gift of $5,000 and $1,000 for 10 years for a home for “Aged Methodists.” In some circumstances, those who were not Methodists could become residents.

The Greek Revival brick building and handsome cut-stone entrance gate were built on land that was once a horse racing track at the fairgrounds located furthest from downtown on West Middle Street. The building was occupied and dedicated on October 30, 1907. While waiting for completion, eleven of the life care residents temporarily moved into the three-story house on the corner of South and Garfield Streets owned by Harold Glazier. The house is now a rental property.

Looking east from the "home." Photo courtesy of CAHS.

The home was largely self-sufficient due to farming with horses as well as keeping its own cows and gardens for produce. Surplus food was donated by local farmers, and the Methodist Churches in the Detroit Conference gave further financial support.

In addition to a modest wage, all the employees had to live in the building and work for their room and board. There was no separate nursing facility--only a floating nurse for the entire “home.”

The dining room was in the basement, and meals were served family-style on long tables. But, for residents who were ill, food was delivered to them by staff pulling a rope of a “dumb waiter”. Dinner was not available on Sunday, because employees had the afternoon off. Instead, residents took lunch to their rooms for the evening meal.

Today, the Chelsea Retirement Community in Chelsea is the central campus for the United Methodist Retirement Communities throughout Michigan. Photo: Google Streetview.

A shared bathroom was located on each floor. There was a large, open in-ground cistern that was covered with a board, and anyone could pull buckets of water up by rope and take them to the large gas stove in the bathroom to heat as needed.

A big laundry room was in the basement with two people doing all the laundry. Clothes were dried by hanging them outside in good weather and in the basement in the winter. Linens--sheets, tablecloths and cloth napkins-- were ironed by putting them through “mangles.”

Church services were held in the large parlor until 1952 when the Colonial-style chapel was built that connected to the residence. Now, residents are able to take a bus to attend services at the Chelsea First Methodist Church on Park Street if they wish.

In 1990, the original building was taken down and the original footprint was replaced by Dancey House Apartments. 

The cornerstone of the original building now sits in the museum. Photo: Chuck Colby.

Today, 116 years after the decision was made to build “The Old People’s Home”, the Chelsea Retirement Community has been recognized as one of the finest senior living communities in Southeastern Michigan. The beautifully landscaped grounds on 58 acres include independent living, assisted living, memory care support, skilled nursing, and rehabilitative services.

A museum with artifacts that document its history is located in Dancy House. It is well worth a visit.

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