One of the most well known houses in all of Saginaw has to be the “Cat Lady’s House” on Washington Ave. near the railroad tracks just south of Downtown Saginaw. Before Rosemary and her pet leopard Chichu lived there, the house was built by one of Saginaw’s prominent lumber barons.
English immigrant Charles Lee came to East Saginaw in 1862 after establishing a successful saw mill and brick works during the “building boom” in Detroit. He purchased two sawmills and 200 acres of pine lands in the Saginaw Valley for $40,000, an enormous sum of money at the time. He was also a director at the East Savings Bank and a major stockholder in the Saginaw, Tuscola and Huron Railroad. The red brick queen Ann house was built by Lee in the 1870’s. His house was the only lumber barons house built along the Saginaw River. The woodwork inside was supplied by his own sawmills. He was married 3 times (his first two wives died) and had eight children seven of which were present when he died in the house in 1899.
After Lee’s death the house was purchased by Dr Michael D. Ryan. Arriving in Saginaw in 1893 he became the first resident physician at St Mary’s Hospital and he was a staff physician for 55 years, the most seniority of any staff physician in the hospitals history. Soon after working for St Mary’s, he would walk to lumber camps and sell the hospital’s $5 insurance plans that would provide medical treatment for one year. Dr Ryan was one of the last “ horse and buggy” doctors traveling to outlying lumber camps in the Saginaw Valley. During the great fire of 1893 Dr. Ryan joined in the bucket brigade on the roof of St Mary’s Hospital dousing embers from the fire saving the hospital from the treacherous flames. He was a charter member of the Michigan State Medical Society and received a presidential citation for his work with the county draft board in WWI and WWII.
Dr Ryan’s daughter Rosemary married Roy DeGesero and they lived in the house raising their family in the same house she grew up in. When the Saginaw Daily News building was demolished in 1960 some of the terracotta lions were given to her, and prominently displayed on the front porch. Currently they are at the Castle Museum. Rosemary was and eccentric and interesting person, she loved the theater and often helped out at Pit and Balcony. She was known for her love of cats and had several of them and was known by those who did not know her name as “the cat lady”.
Sadly Rosemary died in 2012 a A few years after moving to New Jersey to live with her daughter. The house went up for sale at that time and the City of Saginaw purchased the property and is the current owner.
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