Time Passages

The following is the text of an article in the Lansing State Journal of Friday, January 29, 1993. Upon request, the Secretary can provide a copy of the article with its accompanying drawings of the Turner house and the Turner-Dodge House.

Time Passages


Ambitious plan would restore Turner-Dodge

Lansing's crown jewel, the 1879 Capitol building, is gleaming again, right up to the tip of its majestic dome. So... there's no other historic restoration to fuss over and dream about, right?

Wrong. The Turner-Dodge House, a much older landmark and possibly Lansing's second-most important building, is badly in need of rescue. So says prominent architect Richard Frank, who led the painstaking $58.1 million restoration of the Capitol. He's putting finishing touches on a long-awaited master plan for Turner-Dodge to expertly preserve it and accurately restore it for the next century.

Many Lansingites don't know where the city-owned house is (100 E North St.), and, what's more, many don't care. They care even less that 2-by-4s currently shore up the grand sweep its front porch. We don't realize what we've got on 8-1/2 north-side acres, high on a river bluff near where the Capital City began, says Frank.

With a nucleus that dates to 1850, this house must have been one of the first major structures in the new state capital, which became a city in 1847, he says. It's one of the few that remain. "It was home for more than 100 years to seven generations of a family with profound influence on, not only local, but state history," says the expert from Saline. "It's culturally important and it's architecturally important." That architecture was changed greatly at the turn of the century, when it was enlarged and redesigned from Greek Revival to Classical Revival by architect Darius Moon. "That's OK," says Frank. "This is still one of the city's most important buildings."

It was built by big Jim Turner, a 6-foor-4 entrepreneur, railroad pioneer, state legislator and a founder of the Michigan Female College, now the Michigan School for [the] Blind. It was next owned by his son, James Turner, a state representative and Lansing mayor. It was expanded to 8,600 square feet by his daughter, Abby, and son-in-law, Frank Dodge, a lawyer, city alderman, state representative and United States Court commissioner. Its decline began in 1958 when it was sold to Great Lakes Bible College.

The Friends of Turner-Dodge booster group hopes fund-raising will not only preserve the house, but raise mid-Michigan's awareness and enjoyment of the unique city historical park. The master planning was funded through a $70,000 state cultural grant. It includes the building's first architectural analysis and the first historical documentation of the interior, right down to the paint colors. That's fitting for a house on the National Register of Historic Places.

The first $500,000 for recommended restoration work is expected to come from the city parks property tax earmarked for the house. It has to be approved by City Council first. That phase calls for:

Structural repairs to seal the stately building from the elements. Beginning of historically accurate landscaping with a garden arbor. A new sign and improved bus drop-off. Restoration and furnishing of the first-floor music room exactly as when the family lived in it around 1900-1920.

The brickwork, windows and foundation are in quite good shape. But if the public is to use the second and third floors, a new beam must go into the music room ceiling, Frank says. When two floors were added to the original wings in 1900, not enough support was installed. And the wood cornices on each story, part of the roof framing containing built-in rain gutters, must be replaced, Frank says.

What comes next is uncertain. The second, yet unfunded, restoration phase will cost about $700,000 for electrical and heating-cooling and fire protection systems, plus restoring and furnishing the interior. The final phase, still without a cost estimate, would some day include building a replica carriage house for educational programs and new parking lots to handle the crowds. "You have a very valuable resource here," Frank recently told the city Parks Board. "But if its not taken care of, before long it's going to be a very big problem."

Retiring Friends president Gerald Faverman, president of Public Sector Consultants, has pledged to rally the fund-raising needed to return Turner-Dodge to splendor. Why save the red-brick elephant? "This city has almost no vestiges of the past. This house is an important part of showing people what life was like... People need to be in touch with their roots," he says.

But this is not and never will be a musty museum. Since its purchase by the City in 1974 with a federal parks grant (for the price of the land; the house was a freebie), Susan Cantlon has nurtured its cultural and historical programs for the Lansing Parks Department. Nowhere else in the state is there a place where the public - especially children - can see, touch and learn about days gone by through many public activities. Most other historic houses are owned by historic societies, with don't-touch policies, Cantlon says.

Never fully furnished, except during annual Old-Fashioned Family Christmas celebrations, Turner-Dodge House nevertheless has hosted lots of laughter and learning under is 12-foor ceilings in the last two decades. It has been, until recently, leased for weddings and private parties, and will be again after renovation. It hosts annual sell-out Mystery Dinner Theater evenings and children's Easter parties. Children flock to the Summer History Camp where they discover everything from hoop-rolling and stilt-walking to hand-cranked ice cream and old-fashioned songs and crafts. Hundreds of Girl Scouts from all over the state troop through for one-day visits leading to their Heritage Badges.

Public interest in the house has been high since the first tours in the 70s when people lined up in the rain to come in and walk through the rubble, Cantlon says. "Today, we tell schoolchildren This is your house. We're just caretakers.' They grin from ear to ear."

The old mansion's friends hope enough citizens will care about preserving its future. Cantlon looks forward to the day she can point out of the same leaded glass windows Abby Turner Dodge looked out from onto manicured grounds and a river view of the gleaming Capitol dome. She'll help young people see what life was like when the big house on the hill, and Lansing, were young.