By Bob Garrett
The image represents a â€œlostâ€ piece of history â€“ now discovered and housed within the Archives of Michigan. This blueprint â€“ by famed Lansing architect Darius B. Moon â€“ is to the residence of Ransom E. Olds, father of the Oldsmobile.
The Olds mansion blueprints had been missing for almost a century. Then, in October, 2002, Antonia and John Miernik attended the estate sale of Ms. Nicolette McElroy in Lansing. There, amongst â€œa stack of moldy books,â€ they discovered the long-lost plans! The couple decided not to keep the blueprints. Antonia contacted Sue Cantlon, an East Lansing resident who was active in local historic preservation. Cantlon contacted Mark Harvey, State Archivist of Michigan. The Mierniks, by then living in Florida, worked through Cantlon to deliver the materials â€“ free of charge â€“ to the Archives of Michigan. (For further details, see Lawrence Cosentinoâ€™s article â€œPhantom Moon over Lansing,â€ published in the November 16, 2005 issue of Lansingâ€™s City Pulse newspaper.)
Thanks to the Melnieksâ€™ selfless act, the blueprints now belonged to the people of Michigan. Unfortunately, the materials had deteriorated badly over the last century. Enter the Friends of Michigan History, who agreed to fund their restoration. Restoration work was done by Ann Flowers, a conservationist at the Bentley Historical Library on the University of Michigan campus. The historically valuable blueprints were then returned to the Archives of Michigan, where they will continue to be preserved and made accessible to the general public. Now, they can also be viewed online at Seeking Michigan. To view them, click Olds Mansion Blueprints at Seeking Michigan.
Ransom and Metta Oldsâ€™ house, completed by 1904, was located in Lansing, at the corner of South Washington Avenue and Main Street. It was within easy walking distance of the Oldsmobile plant and the soon-to-be-constructed Reo Motors plant (Olds left Oldsmobile to form Reo that same year.). The Olds lived near several other prominent Lansingites. One notable neighbor was Eugene Cooley, a founder of the Lansing Gas Light Company and son of famous judge Thomas Cooley. The Olds residence was also close to the elaborate mansion built by Lansing attorney, entrepreneur and one-time mayor Orlando M. Barnes.
The Olds house was a two-and-a-half-story L-shaped structure. Ransom Olds biographer George S. May described it as â€œtypical of the homes of the well-to-do being constructed during the Victorian Era. The exterior walls were of buff-colored brick, trimmed with red sandstone. The hip roof was covered with green slate, and in the corners were towers; these were removed in 1952â€¦ The interior was impressive, with its paneled walls, its paneled or decorated ceilings, and its marquetry floors with three- and four- tone borders.â€ (See George S. Mayâ€™s R. E. Olds: Auto Industry Pioneer. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977, pg. 205)
May notes that the interior included an â€œautomobile room.â€ More elaborate than modern day garages, this completely finished off and heated room took up one thousand feet of floor space. Features included a vehicle turntable, which enabled Olds to drive outside without backing up his car.
Despite such comforts, George May asserts that Oldsâ€™ home was actually modest compared to those of other automotive industry heads. May points out, for example, that Henry Fordâ€™s house cost ten times as much as Oldsâ€™. May states that Oldsâ€™ mansion cost $25,000. According to the website Inflation Calculator, this would be roughly equivalent to $589,308 in 2009 (Figures for 2010 are not yet available.).
Ransom and Metta Oldsâ€™ residence no longer stands. It was located at the corner of South Washington and Main Streets and was demolished in 1971 to make way for I-496, the highway that currently traverses the City of Lansing.
Lansingâ€™s R. E. Olds Transportation Museum spotlights Ransom Olds and the auto industry in Lansing. Click Olds Museum to access their web site.
Many people become interested in the history of their homes. The Archives of Michigan has created a Genealogy of a House presentation that interest such individuals. Click Genealogy of a House to access the presentation.
On this installment of Lost Lansing, we bring you history from Seeking Michigan, written by Bob Garrett of the Archives of Michigan.
Bob Garrett has worked as an archivist for the Archives of Michigan since 2000. He is a regular contributor and moderator for the Seeking Michigan blog . His personal interests include American history (especially the Civil War and the 19th century west), film, and 1950s and 1960s rock nâ€™ roll music