Bill Darr and his wife, Deb Czajka Measner are the new owners of one of the architectural gems of Eaton Rapids, the fieldstone house on River Street known as “The Storybook House.” Built in 1918 by Merton and Maggie Bromeling, the house has five bedrooms, a front turret, a third-floor ballroom, a clay tile roof, Czechoslovakian crystal chandeliers, hand-painted murals throughout the house, and a ton of charm.
Last September while house hunting, they decided to check out the house in Eaton Rapids that they’d seen online. It was love at first sight. “We have to make this happen,” Measner said as she took in the wonders of the place.
“I’ve always dreamed of having a historic home,” Measner admitted, “but never expected to get this kind of property with it.”
They like that the house is so true to its original state. Only two rooms have been significantly updated. The 93 exterior windows, some curved, some leaded, some beveled, are their favorite parts of the house. “The windows lend so much character,” Darr said. There are another 17 interior windows, which are somewhat confusing as they are in unusual places like bathrooms and closets.
“I was so entranced with the town, too. It immediately felt like home,” Measner said.
“We just can’t get over how friendly the people are here,” Darr added. “I know more of my neighbors in the two months that we’ve been here than in the 18 years before.” They moved here from the Chicago area.
Measner made a discovery when tearing off some loose wallpaper in one of the many bathrooms, revealing more of the original murals. Due to condition issues, it’s hard to make it out, but appears to be fancy goldfish and lily pads. Measner is looking into getting the mural restored.
The house is full of Eaton Rapids history. The Bromelings started the Bromeling-Pettit Hardware store here in 1886. They also owned the local Ford dealership, selling Model Ts.
The three-tiered garden next to the house, which Darr is readying for plants, gives a subtle clue about the Bromeling family. There are two landscaping blocks that honor the Bromeling’s foster daughter, Brigid. One is a silhouette of a girl with a watering can, another is of a horse; Brigid was an expert equestrian as a young woman. In 1944 Brigid became Sister Mary St. Brigid, a Catholic nun. As a nun, she worked in a leper colony in Hawaii at one time. She passed away in 2020 at 103 years old.
A family room in the house was added to the back in the 1930s. The kitchen was updated in the 1970s.
So far, Darr has not seen any evidence of “spirits” in the house. Measner, however, was on the basement landing one day and heard an unexplained sneeze downstairs.
In 1956 the home was purchased by Mr. and Mrs. C. J. Sumner to use as the Storybook House, a nursing home. In 1969 they were forced to close it when the state fire marshal required them to add a sprinkler system, which was cost prohibitive. In 1970 it was converted back into a private home.
The April 1958 Lansing State Journal confirms one of the rumors about the house; it’s true that a car ended up in the river after rolling down the hill behind the house. Mr. Sumner assumed the brake was released when he slammed the car door. It ended up almost 80 feet down the river.
The most recent owner, Mike Grahek and his late wife Jean, lived in the house for almost 40 years.