How We Saved Turner Dodge House

With a Little Help from the Federal Government

The following is the text of an article by Geneva Kebler Wiskemann in the Among Friends newsletter of March 1998. Upon request, the Secretary can provide a copy of the article with its photo of the southeast corner of the House and the garden pergola erected in the late 1970s.

Where We Were

Through the years many individuals and organizations have contributed to the survival of the Turner-Dodge House. The building deteriorated after the family sale and the departure of the Great Lakes Bible College. Preservation minded people were already at work when the City of Lansing purchased the land. In August, 1972, the Michigan Secretary of State's Division of History filed the nomination to the National Register of Historic Places maintained by the United States Department of Interior, National Park Service.

By the Bicentennial the Historical Society of Greater Lansing's Arts Fete events, meetings, and tours brought fresh attention to the house and the surrounding area. Preservation Update, a Society publication created by Jack Thompson and Geneva Kebler Wiskemann, highlighted the House among twenty-three sites included in the February 1978 issue. The Lansing Jaycees had leased the building and were supervising the renovation and use under the guidance of Donald B. Hartwick and others. Philip H. Dorland was the Parks and Recreation Department supervisor. Workers in the United States Department of Agriculture sponsored Green Thumb program were removing layers of paint from the oak and fruitwood trim, fireplace mantels and tin ceilings. Re-wiring, exterior lighting and masonry care of the envelope topped the City's agenda for the House. A gazebo, parking area, walking trail, play area and lawn furniture around the ornamental purple Beech tree were scheduled for completion.

Nearby the North Lansing Community Association urged, and the City Council authorized, use of professional preservation services for a facade restoration program in the North Lansing historical commercial district. In late 1977 bids were let for Phase I implementation by $225,000 from the Community Development program. Funding of Phase II depended on a multi-thousand dollar grant from the History Division the following year. Turner-Dodge House was the western anchor.

Among Friends Article

The Article below is by Elizabeth Homer, from a 1998 issue of Among Friends, the newsletter of the Friends of Turner-Dodge:

Harry Emmons remembers the beginning of the public life of the Turner-Dodge Mansion, although at first it looked like it might have been the end of Turner-Dodge. He served on the citizen's commission that was working to obtain an Open Space grant from the Housing and Urban Development agency (HUD) at the beginning of the 1970s. At first the committee planned to demolish all the buildings on the Turner-Dodge property to make an open space, one of the objectives of the Model Cities Program. But Harry decided to take a trip over to look at the house and found that the building was structurally sound - and savable. This changed the direction that the committee would take.

Stephanie Whitbeck, now president of the Historic District Commission, also remembers. Her husband, Bill, was the regional director of HUD at the time of the Model Cities program. Bill now serves on the Michigan Court of Appeals, but 30 years ago he was hired as a trainee by another future judge, Glenn Allen Jr., who was then the State Budget Director in the Romney administration. When Governor Romney went to Washington to become the Director of HUD, Bill went too. And came back to Michigan as HUD Regional Director to oversee the Model Cities Program which included the purpose of preserving and developing open space in urban areas and required cities to identify and preserve historic structures.

Jacqueline Warr remembers too. In August of 1972, Jacquie, then Director of Lansing's Model Cities City Demonstration Agency, informed the Council that the Turner-Dodge Mansion and Dodge Open Space project would be included in the HUD application with a federal share of $117,000 and a local matching share for a total of $235,000. The Great Lakes Bible College, located on the property, was about to move to a new location after 14 years there.

"...It is hoped that the Turner-Dodge mansion will again become a vital part of Lansing's future.," said the grant application, "The area along the riverbank will be improved to allow public access to the banks. A tot area is proposed for the area north of the former carriage house. This structure could be used for a day care center or a full range of arts and crafts for all age groups. The building could also serve as the recreational program headquarters...The proposed uses for the building and site would definitely be a plus for all residents of the Model Cities area which includes the largest share of Lansing's minority population of all categories."

The other three projects in the grant were improvements to the Holmes Street School area, the Kingsley Court area, and High Street school which included expansion of playgrounds and recreational areas and the demolition of homes and relocation of families to make open spaces. The Turner-Dodge House, which was already recognized on the National Historic Register, was included because "the building coverage is less than 5%."

The Turner-Dodge House is filled with the memories of the many Lansing citizens who have helped to develop and nurture it as a public treasure. The Open Space project was a cooperative effort of the Park Board, The Board of Education, The City Planning Department, The Model Cities Policy Board and the newly created Waterfront Development Board. Needless to say, there was great citizen and local government involvement, a partnership which continues to this day, successfully catalyzed by a federal government HUD program over 25 years ago.

- E.Homer