Dodge Mansion Once a Happy House

By Virginia Redfern.

Brides in white descending the winding stairs to the strains of Lohengrin, exchanging their marriage vows in the flower-banked music room... Happy children sliding down banisters, playing hide-and-seek in the cubbyhole window seat, camping out on the upstairs porch, frolicking by the riverbank... Senators and Supreme Court Justices and members of old Lansing Society, pulling up to the entrance to attend dinner parties, receptions and balls in the stately mansion on East North St.... These are some of the ghosts that haunt the now-empty Dodge mansion, first in Lansing, originally built in 1855 by James L. Turner, railroad pioneer and state legislator.

Occupied by four generations of the Turner-Dodge family, it was sold by the state to Great Lakes Bible College in 1959. And now it is once again on the block, being considered by the City as a possible location for Fine Arts and Model Cities projects.

It is described as "a happy house" by Marian Dodge Horn, Turner's granddaughter and Patricia McLean Pemberton, his great-granddaughter, both of whom grew up there. "I remember some frightening stories my grandmother (Mrs. Turner) told me," Mrs. Horn said, "about bears that used to come up to the door and Indians that crossed the trails on what once was their land." She told the story of Chief Okemos, who always camped on the riverbank although, as a friend, he was invited to stay at the house. "He liked his whisky," she said, "and my grandfather was a teetotaler. One day he took his bottle and threw it in the Grand River. The Chief never forgave him, he never came back."

Mrs. Horn said she liked to come home from school when she was a little girl and visit her grandmother's room where a fire was always burning brightly in the corner fireplace. "The maid brought in tea and cookies and Grandmother told me about the olden days and we'd sing hymns together."

"All family brides were married in the music room," Mrs. Horn said, "with a reception in the ballroom. Patty (Pemberton) and her brothers, Rod, Andy and Frank, were ribbon-bearers at mine. My father, (Frank Dodge) was a delightful man and very convivial. He invited guests home for dinner so often that my mother was accustomed to keeping supplies for an extra half dozen on hand. But the Christmas parties in the ballroom were the most exciting parties of all," Mrs. Horn recalls. "All the family came and my uncle played Santa Claus in red suit, whiskers and all. He distributed presents to the children and then we'd all sing Christmas carols and dance old-style cotillions and the Virginia Reel."

Mrs. Pemberton, who grew up in the house a generation later, remembers many dances and parties but she will never forget one nostalgic event in the ballroom. "It was a football party for my brother, Rod, who had been injured in a game and was paralyzed from the waist down. The team and the coaches put on the party and carried Rod upstairs on their shoulders into a ballroom all decked with red and white class colors. The whole class came and there were refreshments, music and dancing. Everybody gave him an autographed football and a watch." After years of surgery and therapy Rod now can walk with aid and is in the automotive service business with this brother Frank.

Mrs. Pemberton also recalls the impressive Knights Templar funeral for her grandfather, in the house. Other events she remembers were large benefit bridge parties given by her mother and grandmother in behalf of St. Anne's Guild of St. Paul's Episcopal Church.

"As children we loved to play on the riverbanks. There were ravines and wildflowers and big tree roots that made caves. We had picnics there in the summer and sledding parties in the winter. It was a glorious place to grow up."