It’s time to write a new chapter for a Brookfield building that has been central to the township’s history.
The question for Betty Obermiyer Detelich is: who will write that next chapter? She is putting her pen away and has not been able to find a new author.
The so-called Obermiyer home on the square in Brookfield Center – it’s across Warren Sharon Road from Lane Funeral Home – has been in Detelich’s family for 90 years. She put it up for sale, with some regret. At 77, she no longer wants the work of maintaining it after losing her partner, her brother Mickey Obermiyer, three years ago.
Detelich’s son and her brother’s sons are too busy with their own lives to worry about the old building, said her husband, Joe.
Ambrose Hart built the building around 1827, according to records at the Brookfield Township Historical Society. He ran it as a store and a boardinghouse, a flavor it retains today.
Hart was president of the county anti-slavery society and used the building as a stop on the Underground Railroad, harboring escaping slaves. Slaves staying there would walk out a tunnel that started in the basement to head to their next destination, usually Hartford, but sometimes also Vienna or into Pennsylvania, with Canada as the ultimate destination, said Joe Detelich.
The basement still holds the tunnel entrance, and Joe Detelich showed where a trap door was once placed for people to slip from upstairs into the tunnel.
“Some say that ran all the way to Yankee Run Creek,” Joe Detelich said of the tunnel, which has been filled in. “I don’t know about that.”
The Deteliches found shackles, which they assumed came from escaped slaves, in the house, and have donated them to the Brookfield Township Historical Society.
In other notable developments, the building housed a post office from the 1870s to the 1890s, and William Eakin ran it as a motel into the early part of the 20th century.
In the 1920s, Mike and Julia Obermiyer bought the building from Alexander and Claudia McIntosh, and Julia ran a grocery store on the north end. Julia Obermiyer – Betty Detelich’s grandmother — loved flowers and had much of the yard planted with them.
Her son, Betty Detelich’s father, also named Mike, bought out his siblings’ ownership shares after his mother died. For about 15 of those years, seamstress Mary Obermiyer Roman had a bridal shop in the building.
Betty Detelich and Mickey Obermiyer inherited the building about 30 years ago, after their father died.
“All my siblings have lived here,” Betty Detelich said. “All my aunts and uncles lived here.”
Growing up, Betty Detelich and her cousins spent a lot of time at the building visiting her grandparents. They frequently stayed overnight and helped out in the store.
“We would stack the shelves for grandma,” she said. “She would make us wipe down the merchandise.”
At Christmastime, the whole family would gather at the store to see Santa Claus come across the green in Brookfield Center and deliver goodies.
“We all got an orange with a dollar wrapped around it,” Betty Detelich said.
The Deteliches lived in one of the apartments from about 1963 to 1973, after Joe got out of the Air Force.
“I loved it,” Betty Detelich said of living there, even though they had to get water from a hand pump.
“We sat on the front porch all the time,” she said.
Her father made one concession after Betty complained. He replaced the coal furnace.
“We would have to go down in the middle of the night and shovel coal into the furnace,” she said.
As it stands now, the building, which has public water and sanitary sewer service, is broken into three, six-room apartments. Part of what was the store and the Obermiyer living quarters is used for storage, and a large attic also is unused.
A detached, three-car garage sits out back.
Betty Detelich and Mickey Obermiyer did a lot of work on the building over the years, but it retains some of the original flavor, from the bark-encrusted support beams in the basement to an original front door and window in one of the apartments. The store section still has the tin roof installed years and years ago, and the old mantels remain on the fireplaces, although cozy, winter fires are a thing of the past.
Renters love the place for the old-timey feel. One tenant stayed 21 years.
“Once they’re here, they don’t want to leave,” Betty Detelich said.
It might be argued that the building would be worth more if it would be dismantled and its pieces sold. People who have walked through have asked to buy the beams, the tin, and the wallboards. But, Betty Detelich will only sell the building intact.
If they were young again, the Deteliches could imagine turning the place into a restaurant, decorating it with antiques from mixed periods, Joe Detelich said. But, they were busy with other things when they would have had the energy for such an undertaking.
“I can’t do it,” Betty Detelich said.
The building, which is priced at $170,000, has drawn a few offers, but Betty Detelich – who consults with her sister-in-law, her son and her nephews – has turned them down because they all were on land contract.
“I want the money up front,” she said.
She also wants some recognition for the work she and her brother have put into the building.
“I’m not going to give it away,” she said.
Because the building is in an historic district, there are some restrictions on what work an owner can do on it – but only to the exterior, the Deteliches said, noting there could be state funding available to help.
“You can do anything inside,” she said.
Interested? Call the Deteliches at 330-448-1536.