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Historical St. Clair Riverfront Estate now for sale

Photo courtesy of the Hart Family A photograph from 1888 with several members of the Hart family on the porch of the house that’s still standing today.

Renovated mansion on the river dates to 1858 

By Barb Pert Templeton

It’s been over 150 years since Captain John Clarke had a very large and stately home constructed in East China Township for his daughter, Emiline Sarah Clarke, upon her marriage in December 1858 to prominent local farmer William Hart.

Despite the passing of decades and generations of the Clarke/Hart families, the impressive historic gem, that includes 170 feet of frontage on the St. Clair River, remains standing today. Located at 4071 River Road, the home is situated on 2.5 manicured acres and continues to reflect the charm and character of days gone by.

In fact, the spacious 3,534-foot estate, complete with four bedrooms, three bathrooms, plus a new boardwalk and dock, is currently seeking a new owner. The home is listed with Realty Executives Home Towne with a price tag of $1.375 million dollars.

Photo courtesy of Realty Executives Home Towne – Agent Lori Sheridan
A current photo of the front of the riverfront estate off River Road in East China Township that’s been updated and renovated and is currently for sale with a $1.375 million dollar price tag. 

The exterior of the home is impressive with features like a brick paver patio and walkways around the estate which provide a park-like setting surrounded with a variety of mature trees and a meandering circular drive leading to the house. 

Inside, the house boosts nautical brass nameplates adorning the doors, while wood beams and coffered ceilings enhance a classic vibe. There’s also a large primary suite featuring vaulted ceilings and beams and a cozy fireplace.

The remainder of the home includes a living room, dining room, family room and kitchen and there are special features including walk in closets, a large pantry and some hardwood floors.

Recent upgrades to the home include a new roof, furnace, AC, and sprinkler system. 

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia – Book: General History of the State of Michigan
John Clarke (July 29, 1797 – February 3, 1876), was an American businessman, farmer, and politician had the home at 4071 River Road in East China Township built for his daughter upon her marriage in 1858.

The property also offers a guest house, “Gulle Cottage” complete with a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and laundry room. There’s also a new 35×50 pole barn that will provide space for a boat and recreation vehicles and there’s an additional building attached to the barn with a lounge area, kitchen and bathroom for additional convenience. 

A brief history of the home

According to the book “Michigan Place Names,” China was first settled when Samuel Ward and William Gallagher built a dam in a grist mill here in 1825. On March 17, 1834 China became an organized township, named China by Capt. John Clarke, one of the area’s first settlers. He was born in Bath, Maine in 1797 and died in East China in 1876.

Capt. Clarke’s nostalgia for a town in Maine called “China” was apparently the reason for his choice of a name,

A lengthy obituary for Clarke appeared in the Times Herald Newspaper on Feb. 5, 1876 and shared his many accomplishments, most related to politics as he was elected to both the Michigan House and Michigan Senate and was noted as a being a personal friend of President Andrew Jackson. He was also a delegate representing St. Clair County at the State Convention, hosted in Detroit in 1835, that worked to frame a state constitution. 

Photo courtesy of Realty Executives Home Towne – Agent Lori Sheridan
The old estate off River Road sits on property adjacent to the St. Clair River with maturing trees and an impressive circular driveway leading to the house. 

He also spent 56 years as a member of the Masons. Clarke served the organizations up to its highest levels in the state and at one point held the third highest ranking in the organization in the United States.

The obituary noted that Clarke was survived by three daughters and also stated that “he was in comfortable circumstances at the time of his death and leaves considerable property.”
An interesting historic document, a letter written by Helen Clarke, daughter of Capt. John Clarke, describes life in China, Michigan in 1850:
“China is a small town on the St. Clair River, almost 16 miles from Lake St. Clair. It was called China after a town in Maine. There are some very good gardens and houses there, one hotel, two school houses, two steam sawmills, and a number of groceries. There is no church, but the meetings are usually held in the schoolhouse. The inhabitants are generally very industrious. They are a tall and large-footed race. The soil is good and the principal productions are wheat, oats, and corn. They do not raise tea there, although you can always procure plenty of it in the groceries or stores. Steamboats stop almost every day on their way to and from Buffalo…There are three Chinese attending school at Newport (Marine City). China is my home and, of course, I think it is the best place in the world.”
The estate remained in the family’s possession via the Harts great-granddaughter, the late Mary Bostwick McQueary, until 1971.

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