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The Welcome Center to the foundation stands near the site of the original Alleghany Schoolhouse. The name “Alleghany” may have come from settlers from New York who were reminded of the foothills of the Alleghany Mountains. The original school was built in 1875 and served generations of families in the neighborhood. The structure burned down and was replaced with another one-room building which operated as a school into the 1960s. A family then used it as a residence for several years.
This house was built in 1905 by Archie Gleason for his mother, Jane Hebron Gleason. When Archie traveled to Chicago for lumber to build the house he took the plans with him. The people at the Chicago lumber company were so impressed with the design, they asked to keep a copy of the plans. On April 12, 1982 Edward Lowe purchased the 80 acre property, at that time, belonging to Ben Gleason. Gench House
The Gench House was once the hub of a small family farm owned by Frederick Charles “Fritz” Gench (1927-2010). In 1986 Gench finally accepted Ed Lowe’s offer to buy the property. For a time in the 1990s, the foundation used one of the outbuildings as a plant nursery to supplement the landscaping department. Hay, harvested from the surrounding fields, was stored in the sturdy old barn.
Built in 1880 at a cost of $1,700, the building is constructed of wood entirely from this area. Its architectural style is called “Carpenters Gothic,” and its quiet intimacy lends itself to special programs, services and pondering. The Penn Church has been used for weddings, memorial services, a baptism and meetings of local community groups. As was his wish, Mr. Lowe’s memorial service was held in the church on October 9, 1995.
The history of the church dates back to the Quakers who settled in Cass County in the 1820s. Many were strong abolitionists, active in helping slaves escape along a major route of the Underground Railroad that went through Cass County. The Penn Friends Meeting House stood at the corner of Penn Road and Quaker Street in the village of Penn about two miles east of the foundation.
In 1855, Richmond Lake, who had come from New York with his family in 1843 to settle in Cass County, Michigan, bought the 40 acres which are currently known as the Anton Property. He and his family lived across the street at what is now called the Slipper Valley Homestead.
In 1873, Richmond’s second to the oldest child, James Madison Lake, who was born in New York in 1842, married Anna Tripp. They purchased the property from his father and took up housekeeping there. The property was known as the “Stone Abutment Farm.” They had one child, Grace, who was born in 1879, and died in 1894, two years after Anna died.
Built between 1843 and 1847, the Slipper Homestead is a restored farmhouse, decorated in the Lowe’s typical classic country style, while retaining some of the antiques and fixtures that were in the house when Ed Lowe took possession.
The property was originally owned by Richmond and Hannah Lake, who came to Cass County from New York in 1843. Richmond and Hannah Lake’s daughter, Hannah Rosetta Lake married Benjamin Franklin Slipper in 1875, which is where the Slipper House got its name. The Slipper’s raised six children in the house: Archie, Maud, Blanche, Glenn, Hannah Nevada, and Grace.
Yes, it looks like a barn; actually, it is (or was) a barn that served the Slipper family homestead. With the interior renovated and with architecturally harmonious additions, it served the modern-day functions of an executive office.
Preserved features include handhewn beams, the remnant of a shed roof, barnwood walls and doors, and animal-worn stanchion poles. The fireplace in the conference room was made from half of an industrial steam boiler; (the other half has become a barbecue grill at the Pavilion overlooking Sharkey Lake).
The renovation process began in 1977, and in the early 1980s, the Barn House became one of the Lowe’s primary residences: “Ed’s place (the Cabin) and my place,” as Darlene described it.
Transforming the old barn to a home was not a simple process. It involved removing the siding (which they retained to use various places on the inside), adding insulation, and the boards were replaced with poplar planks cut from trees on the property.
In early 1990, five railroad boxcars were purchased in Detroit from Grand Trunk. Each weighing about 20 tons, they were shipped to Cassopolis by rail, then brought the last few miles to Big Rock Valley by semi-truck. The cars were moved into a clearing in the woods at the Billieville Conference Center complex, arranged in a semi-circle, and set on railroad-track bases.
An addition was built on the side of each car to accommodate a large bathroom, entry, and utility area, and the main space of each car has been partitioned into a sitting room and two bedrooms. The interiors are tongue-and-groove paneled, and bunks, dressers, and closets are built-in, using wood harvested and milled on the property.
The buildings that are now part of Billieville were originally just pole barns out in the woods, used for storing antiques and equipment. To help fill the need for meeting facilities, it was decided to create a conference area in the peaceful surroundings of this wooded area of the farm. Ed Lowe, with his whimsical sense of fun, designed the facades as old storefronts modeled after a turn-of-the-century town. The name is for his wife, Darlene, whose middle name is Billie.
Reminiscent of a time gone by, the wooden caboose sits by itself not far away from the Tower of Tomorrow. It was one of Mr. Lowe’s favorite “pondering spots” overlooking the cabin ponds and provided the perfect combination of isolation and coziness to bring out the best in him. The shear oddity of it’s location is enough to make passerbys smile. It’s also hard to miss with its bright orange paint.
Although guests do not currently use the caboose for lodging, the foundation maintains this location as another way of honoring Ed’s creative process and his unique sense of style when he brought this out to be part of the Billieville complex.
Ed and Darlene’s Cabin was originally just the west section, basically the portion that was a combination living room/kitchen, small bedroom, and bathroom with a storage area beneath. A large addition was built in 1986 adding a sunny atrium (everything was glass except the floor) leading to Ed and Darlene’s bedroom and bathroom with a shower with a door that led onto the deck with two working bathtubs.
The oil cans and tools were Ed’s finds, usually at auctions and antique shops. The levels that used to hang on the wall now hang at the Tower of Tomorrow. The doghouse, wine cellar, and outhouse have been there for years.
The Tower of Tomorrow honors one of Ed Lowe’s dreams — to construct a high-rise building at BRV. Although not apparent from its entrance, the building resembles a tower when looking at its rear exterior from the bottom of the hill. The Tower provides nearly 11,000 square feet of meeting space. Opened in late 2010, this facility enables the foundation to host larger groups for its educational programs.
This building also has the distinction of being certified by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, which encourage good environmental practices and energy conservation.
Tower of Tomorrow