Charles Neal Ellis, the owner of a local lumber business, built the Queen Anne house at 114 North Normal Street between the years 1885 and 1896. Ellis and his wife, Julia Chapman Ellis, raised their three daughters, Bessie, Bethlea, and Bertha, in the house.
The house remained in the Ellis family, but had several tenants beginning in 1912. Don Nafe purchased the home in 1963 from Cora Ellis Wilber. He rented out the second floor to students, teachers, or families. Eventually members of his extended family lived on the second floor. Their help allowed him to live in the house until ten weeks before his death at age 103. The house had been vacant for two years when Rachel Cuschieri-Murray and Bryant Murray bought it in October 2002.
Very much a work in progress, the house is under renovation. Wallpaper detectives Rachel and Bryant have been “piecing together“ its history based on the different wallpaper styles they’ve discovered in layers on their walls.
A stunning new paint job has transformed the house’s formerly bland white exterior. Inside in the front room is the original woodburning stove. Also original are the floors and a wonderful cupboard that takes up an entire wall of the kitchen. The kitchen cupboard is Rachel’s favorite feature of the house. The Murrays have replaced the windows but kept the trim. They speculate that the upstairs may have been a maid’s quarters.
Rachel and Bryant’s passion for bringing their nineteenth-century house back to life is a perfect example of what the annual Historic Home Tour in Ypsilanti is all about.