Holly — The existence of a 3,200-square-foot house on a quiet street in Holly is entrenched with The Greatest Show on Earth. Housing six bedrooms, seven fireplaces, five bathrooms, two kitchens and an estimated 20 to 30 doorways, the home at 212 College Street is mammoth and impossible to miss.
Considering who built the home, the grandeur should come as no surprise. James Anthony Bailey, of the famed Barnum and Bailey Circus, built the home in 1903 for his brother Edward McGinnis. After one tour through the house, it is evident that the home has the flair of showmanship that circuses are renowned for.
Hand-carved lion heads bare their teeth from one of the fireplaces. An 8-foot by 6-foot solid wood door dwarfs those who pass it by. A mural of an unnamed small town covers an entire wall in a room comprised of red velvet wallpaper. Stained-glass windows with original copper fixtures populate the home. These are just a few of the details that pop out in a house that seemingly has an unending amount of doors and rooms.
“I’m looking forward to selling it but I love showing it,” said Realtor Lori Goldsmith. “Everyone wants to see it. Showing it can become somewhat of a three-ring circus.”
Current owner Helen Bates bought the house with her husband Gordon in 1961 and lived in the house for 51 years. Prior to their purchase, the house had been fitted into several apartments. Bates said her husband was a realtor and described him as a ‘house nut,’ and had to own the house when he first came upon it in the mid ‘50s.
“It’s the only house I’ve ever been in that has that style of interior detail and artisan work. You can’t find anything like that anymore,” said Bates, who worked as a kindergarten and first-grade teacher at Holly Elementary School, located less than a half mile away. “We used to do lots of entertaining, parties and things like that. Gordon lit every fireplace and turned on every light in the house. He liked it very, very much.”
Given that the house — dubbed as the ‘McGinnis Mansion’ — was built by a ringleader of one of the most famous circuses, wild rumors and speculation led to legends that Bates had to confront over the years. There was speculation that circus animals stayed in the house during the off-season of the carnival. The immaculate carvings within the house are said to have been crafted by the circus workers themselves, whom people believed stayed at the house and practiced there during the winter.
While the rumors have enhanced the perception of the house, Bates said none of the rumors have been substantiated.
“I don’t know of any place they could have put the animals,” Bates said. “A teacher once told her students about an elephant buried in my yard. I asked her, ‘Why would you say that? People are going to try to dig up my yard, looking for elephants.’”
Still, Bates has fond memories of the home. She never has made a big deal of the house but does have difficulty describing the home to other people. However, Bates can no longer maintain the home due to age and has decided to sell. “It would make an amazing bed and breakfast. It has the bathrooms,” Goldsmith said. “It has the charm and a history.”
For $299,900, the allure of the circus and a piece of history can be all yours. For those interested in purchasing the house, Goldsmith can be contacted at (810)-249-4079.
More about James Anthony Bailey and Holly
• James Bailey was born July 4, 1847 in Detroit. Orphaned at an early age, Bailey traveled with other circuses starting when he was a teenager. Bailey’s circus was first called Cooper and Bailey Circus until 1881, when Bailey teamed up with P.T. Barnum.
• Helen Bates, owner of the McGinnis Mansion, said it was built next to the railroad since Edward McGinnis had a career associated with railroads. According to lore, the circus regularly came through Holly due to its access via the railroad.