James & Marion Turner
In 1838, Marion Munroe was returning home, on horseback, to Clinton County from visiting friends in Mason. She and a sister went along an Indian Trail by the Grand River. They stopped for lunch in the woods just about where the Turner-Dodge House now stands. Marion loved the spot and the fine view and said that when she was married she might one day make her home there. The dream was fulfilled and early histories say "there is no more pleasant a site for a home in Ingham County, overlooking, as it does, a long sweep of beautiful river and a broad scope of cultivated country in all direction." Even after she sold the house to her daughter and son-in-law, she lived there until her death in 1912.
The story began with one last glance at the tiny village of Mason, when Marion Turner climbed into the wagon. Leaving Mason in 1847 for the new town called Michigan, Michigan, later renamed Lansing, would not be easy, but this wasn't the first time she or her husband, James, had pioneered a new land.
Marion was 18 when her father, Jesse Munroe, moved his family from New York to carve out a homestead from the forests and swamps of the Michigan Territory in Clinton County. The story of their travels is told elsewhere on this website.
James was just 14 when his family immigrated from Cazenovia, New York, to Washtenaw County, Michigan. After his father's death in 1836, James began clerking at the store of a former Cazenovia neighbor residing in Jacksonburgh (Jackson). In exchange for James' services, the owner provided room, board and tuition in the village school.
James Turner soon earned a reputation for honesty. He was as likely to point out a product's shortcomings as its virtues, and in 1840, James was sent with H. H. Smith to open a store in the growing village of Mason. Their business prospered and the two eventually bought the store.
On October 1, 1843, James married Marion Munroe, a young school teacher. Four years later, news of Michigan's state capital moving from Detroit to Michigan prompted them to throw their lot in with the future of the new capital city, twelve miles north of Mason.
James' older brother, Richard, helped construct a home for them on Turner Street, two blocks north of Franklin Street, now Grand River Avenue. James and Marion Turner are best known for their second home, completed in 1858 at 100 East North Street. At the turn of the century, the Turners' daughter and son-in-law, Abigail and Frank Dodge, greatly enlarged the house and changed its style, but careful inspection reveals the outline of the older Greek Revival home.
James Turner's first business in Lansing was a mercantile store at the corner of Center Street and Franklin in a hotel called the Seymour House. He also speculated in real estate and, as an agent for James Seymour, bought and sold land all over Ingham County and beyond. With partners, he build a foundry near the dam where Clark Hill law firm is now located.
He knew that transportation was the key to transforming Lansing into a major city, and in 1855 he contract for construction of the plank road from Lansing to Howell was let to Turner, Smith and Seymour. As treasurer and manager of the company, Turner secured the capital needed to complete the road. In 1864, he initiated a rail line from Jackson, serving as treasurer and land commissioner for the Jackson, Lansing, and Saginaw Railroad until his death.
Turner was active in politics, a supporter of abolition and associated with the Whigs who helped found the Republican Party which was formed in Jackson, Michigan in 1854 to oppose slavery. James Turner was on the convention nominating committee. Turner's financial ability earned him an appointment in 1860 as Deputy State Treasurer. From 1867-1868 he served as a Senator from the 21st district (Clinton and Ingham counties), figuring prominently in railroad legislation as a member of the finance committee. Ten years later his son, James M. Turner, served a term as a member of the House of Representatives.
Turner was reported to be a friend to all, including Chief Okemos, the leader of an Indian tribe living in the area. He was also entrusted with financial investments for several groups and societies, including the Society of Shakers.
Turner was a staunch supporter of education, both religious and secular. In 1850, he became superintendent of the Sabbath School for the Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1851, he was elected to the newly formed Lansing Board of Education. He was a generous supporter of the Michigan Female College, opened in 1855 by Misses Abigail and Delia Rogers, later the home of the Michigan School for the Blind.
Turner's death of typhoid on October 12, 1869, was a loss to the whole community. Marion continued to participate in Central Methodist Church, where in 1890 she gave a stained-glass window as a memorial to James. She also continued her work in the county and state Pioneer Societies, and her house was the social center of Lansing. Later a stain glass window was dedicated to Marion Turner at the Central Methodist Church, now the Temple Club on Grand River in Old Town at Grand River.
Even after she sold the house to Abigail and Frank, it remained her home until her death in 1912. "Grandma Marion's room," added to the second floor during the renovation, became a favorite place for her grandchildren to spend the afternoon sipping tea and listening to exciting tales of pioneer days.
With thanks to Ron Turner, Jacquie Sewell, Rick Cantwell, Joan Sheldon, and Linda Peckham.
A Self-Made Man, James Turner
Articles about the Turner Family