Davis, born in Paris, Ontario, in 1845, moved to Lansing while still young and made his fortune in the gravel business. Mayors during his tenure were paid a dollar a year. His home became a social hub and gathering place for Lansingâ€™s growing industrial aristocracy.
The estate at 1326 East Michigan Avenue is described in a listing from about 1940 as 246â€™ by 640â€™. By then the original seven acres had already been subdivided. Davis, a naturalist, maintained a menagerie including a herd of deer, otter, beaver, albino raccoons and other unnamed Michigan fauna. Besides the many gardens and ponds there were fruit orchards to attract birds as a sanctuary. Newspaper accounts disclose this private zoo was a destination on Sunday afternoons as carriages in the 1890s meandered the many trails of the verdantly maintained acreage.Inside the home were his sedentary collections. He had a large agglomeration of precious gems, antiques, rare books and taxidermies. His book collection contained a full set of elephant folio, first edition Audubonâ€™s Birds of America. Later published, smaller octavo editions currently sell for nearly $2 million.
It is the taxidermy collection for which he gains the most notoriety. Davis was recognized as one of the finest taxidermists in the nation. Most of the animals were preserved and stuffed by him. He did purchase a mounted bison head from Buffalo Bill Cody.
Upon his passing in 1924 Davisâ€™ daughter, Morelle Davis Brayton, returned to the home she was born in and lived there until her death in 1948. Morelle studied art in Germany, painted, modeled in clay and maintained the landscaping her father established until the 1930s. Her only sibling, Samuel, a patent attorney, survived her. The home did not.
Years of neglect undercut the infrastructure of the once opulent home. Morelle was probably what we would today identify as a hoarder. There were nearly 60 years of magazines and newspapers present when an assessment of the estate took place. Previously a miniature golf course had been developed on the front lawn, then a restaurant.
Samuel Davis sold the home and all the contents. Most all the treasurers were auctioned and the home razed. The prodigious collection of taxidermies made its way Paris Michigan. There is became part of a tourist trap known as WILDLIFE EXHIBITS, billed as the â€œworld largest display of Michigan wildlifeâ€. In promotional literature the story of Charles J. Davis resided preeminent. The destiny of the collection is unknown at this time.
Stebbins Real Estate Collection Listing Card (From CADL Special Collections)
Lansing State Journal (May 25, 1924)
Lansing State Journal (July 25, 1945)
Lansing State Journal (April 1, 1948)
Lansing State Journal (July 8, 1948)
Lansing State Journal (August 3, 1948)
WILDLIFE EXHIBITS: Michiganâ€™s Most Unusual (Promotional ephemera circa 1955)