Orchard Lake Village, MI

Orchard Lake Schools Topples Historic Victorian Lakefront Mansion, Empties Its Library - Angry Poles Fighting Back

Joseph Serwach

Without any formal announcement, Orchard Lake Schools demolished its 130-year-old historic Victorian Mansion.- Images courtesy Polskie Lobby.

Without warning, Orchard Lake Schools on Wednesday had contractors demolish the historic Orchard Lake Victorian mansion. Angry donors promised to sue.

“Our compatriots founded Orchard Lake — a Polish and Catholic enclave located in a picturesque place,” the Polskie Lobby announced Friday. “Today, anti-Polish regents — temporary administrators of this place eliminate from that very place both Polishness and Catholicism.”

“Countless requests, appeals, pressures, and attempts to stop decisions hostile to our heritage have not helped, and that is why Polonia goes to court for justice,” organizers added.

The Orchard Lake Regents also face lawsuits involving the OLS administration, Polish Mission, and St. Mary’s Prep. In May, the Orchard Lake Board of Regents voted16–13 to shutter the 137-year-old seminary. Lawsuits have sidelined the priests who have historically run OLS. The remained Regents have recently canceled the Polish Country Fair and removed the books from the Cardinal Maida Library, part of a “major change in status.”

The 137-year-old Orchard Lake Schools began in Detroit in 1885 as a Catholic Polish Seminary fed by subsidiary St. Mary’s Prep High School and St. Mary’s College.

Orchard Lake websites and social media made no announcement of the demolition. The 130-year-old home is registered on the National Register of Historic Places. The Victorian was also part of the Michigan Historic District.

The Victorian mansion sat on perhaps the most valuable acreage on the 115-acre campus, directly across from the property’s only lakefront dock accessing a lake now surrounded by multi-million dollar homes. The mansion was the final jewel in the crown of the Michigan Military Academy, which constructed the historically-valued heart of the campus between 1877 and the 1890s.

Colonel J. Sumner Rogers founded the academy (which preceded the seminary). The academy was dubbed “the second West Point.” Notable alums included Detroit Mayor John C. Lodge, Montgomery Ward Chairman Sewell Avery, and Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs.

The Victorian was built for Harry Lovejoy Rogers, the son of the founder and the school’s quartermaster, before beginning his military career during the Spanish-American War. The younger Rogers became an Army general in World War I. In 2015, the younger General Rogers was inducted into the Army Quartermaster Foundation’s Hall of Fame.

Sister Genowefa Potaczała, in a recent study, revealed, “The last building erected at the time of the military academy is a Victorian-style mansion built after 1892 for the son of Colonel Rogers.” Colonel Rogers died in 1901, and his school closed in 1908. The Polish Seminary purchased the property in 1909, establishing the Orchard Lake Schools Historic District in 1982.

The only official word about the mansion’s destruction came from John Radzilowski, the new director of Orchard Lake’s newly organized Polish Institute of Culture and Research. Radzilowki shared the news in a July 18 post on the Historical Detroit Area Architecture Facebook Group.

Radzilowski, appointed to his job in June, called the three-story Victorian a “Faculty Residence,” telling the group, “Alas, slated for demolition in late July 2022.”

“After the site was purchased by the Polish Seminary, it continued as faculty housing, Radzilowski wrote. “Later, it served as a convent for the Felician Sisters. By the 1990s, it was a staff residence.”

Most responses asked why Orchard Lake didn’t have plans for its historic buildings. Radzilowski responded, “The building is probably the least valued of the historic buildings here. The historical preservation studies that were done of the campus make very little mention of this structure.”

Late Thursday, Orchard Lake COO Todd Covert posted the following statement on the Institute's Facebook page:

"The Orchard Lake Schools Board of Regents voted on June 22, 2022, to remove the abandoned 'Victorian House' on the Orchard Lake Schools campus. Our leadership understands and empathizes with those saddened by the removal of the home; in an abstract world with unlimited funds, a different decision might have been made. In reality, the Board of Regents was faced with a building that had not been occupied in over 50 years along with a crumbling and unrepairable infrastructure. The safety of our community and the 700+ students who occupy the campus daily was at the forefront of our decision. The home had suffered from a damaged roof, partially collapsed interior floors, prolonged water damage, windows that did not work, animal infestation, and other significant structural issues that deemed the residence unhabitable."

The historic Orchard Lake Victorian was demolished by Orchard Lake Schools on Wednesday.Polskie Lobby

The historic Orchard Lake Victorian being demolished by Orchard Lake Schools.Polskie Lobby

The historic Orchard Lake Victorian was demolished by Orchard Lake Schools.- Polskie Lobby.

The historic Orchard Lake Victorian was demolished on Wednesday.- Image by Polskie Lobby.

The historic Orchard Lake Victorian on the shores of Orchard Lake is gone- Image by Polskie Lobby.

The historic Orchard Lake Victorian was part of the Orchard Lake Schools Historic District.- Image by Polskie Lobby.

The historic Orchard Lake Victorian was also home to the Felician Sisters.- Image by Polskie Lobby.

The historic Orchard Lake Victorian was difficult to demolish, but it's now gone.- Image by Polskie Lobby.

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