Monday, August 31, 2015

Eaton County Courthouse Tour

The Historical Society of Greater Lansing and Courthouse Square are hosting a tour of the historic Eaton County Courthouse and Museum, Thursday, September 3. The tour is free and participants should meet at the front of the Courthouse at 100 West Lawrence, Charlotte. A tour of the grounds and exterior architecture begins at 6 p.m. and the building tour at 7 p.m.

The Courthouse was constructed from 1882-1885 and was used for county business until 1976 when it was replaced by a new courthouse and county facilities.

Valerie Marvin, President of the Historical Society of Greater Lansing, said the Courthouse tour will cover everything from the architectural style to topics such as construction materials, how rooms were arranged and the symbolism represented in the structure.

Following the Civil War many counties in the North chose to celebrate the victory by erecting new and impressive public buildings. County courthouses were not only practical buildings housing important government business, but also were designed to elicit respect for the law and government, Marvin said.

In addition to touring the various rooms which served the court and government offices, the tour will explore how the architect David W. Gibbs of Toledo, Ohio, designed the brick and iron structure for efficiency in heating and cooling. Gibbs most notable work was the Wyoming State House, designed not long after the courthouse opened.

Marvin said the building was almost destroyed by fire in 1894 when fire caused the dome to crash to the floor, but the three side structures were unscathed and the Courthouse was restored.

In addition to public space the Courthouse included nine private offices for judges and public officials such as the register of deeds, county clerk and supervisor. It also contained water closets which Marvin said likely were a great surprise especially to rural residents at that time.

The Courthouse also included wood floors, doors and trim work constructed of pine, walnut and butternut harvested from nearby forests.

In 1976 the Courthouse was repurposed as a museum and a venue for weddings, parties and banquets.
Marvin said, Public structures were built in this time period with intent of celebrating civilizations accomplishments.

The residents of Eaton County are to be commended for saving this glorious structure, she said.

The HSGL will also host a tour of the Ingham County Courthouse on Thursday, September 17.

Friday, August 14, 2015

A Walking Tour of Old West Circle on MSU's Campus

The Historical Society of Greater Lansing will join with Stephen Terry, author of the postcard book “Michigan Agricultural College: 1900-1925,” for their first-ever walking tour of MSU's West Circle at 10 a.m., Saturday, August 22. The tour is free and begins at Beaumont Tower. Attendees should park in the ramp adjacent to the Olin Health Center just off Grand River.

Terry said the area to be covered in the walk was called the College’s “sacred space” where most of the earliest buildings and activities took place.

The tour will cover both standing buildings and those that were lost to demolition or fire such as Engineering and Wells Hall which both burned.

Terry said it is important to discuss MSU’s earliest days from the perspective of its architecture.
“There are only 12 buildings on the current MSU campus that were erected before 1925,” he said.
Included in that are the original Library-Museum building which anchors part of the east end of the Circle.

The building, which was built in 1881 and was repurposed over time for uses such as the Administration Building, was a place where students in the 1960s could go for a $5 loan to tide them over. It is now called Linton Hall.

Other sites on the walk include the newer Museum building, Agricultural Hall and numerous building and sites on what once was called Laboratory Row including Eustace-Cole Hall, Old Botany, Cook Hall, Chittenden Hall, Marshall Hall and Morrill Hall which was torn down in 2013.

Terry said the construction of Morrill Hall in 1899-1900 was really the marker for the establishment of the first Women’s College on campus even though there was a women’s curriculum as early as 1896 and women first attended the College in 1870. He said it served both as living quarters and classroom space for teaching domestic arts among other classes.

One example of the varied history of the buildings on the Circle is Chittenden Hall which was originally built in 1901 at the cost of $15,000 to house the dairy program and in 1913 was renamed the Forestry Building. It was recently renovated and now houses the University’s graduate programs.

Terry also will discuss the area where Gilchrist Hall is now located which was once home to Faculty Row, a collection of faculty residences. Only Cowles House is now remaining and that only has fragments from the original structure.

The “sacred ground” was also the site of many memorable gatherings and student events including the 1907 visit of President Theodore Roosevelt.

The author also will point out numerous quirky items along the tour including a horse watering trough which was a Senior Class Gift of the class of 1907 and was near where President Roosevelt delivered a speech titled “A Man Who Works With His Hands.”

Valerie Marvin said that the walking tour is one way to learn about the earliest architecture on campus but also about what went on inside and around the beautiful buildings.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Walking Tour Highlight West Side Neighborhood's African American History

The Historical Society of Greater Lansing will conduct a walking tour of Lansing’s near west side 7 p.m., Thursday, August 6 focusing on sites reflecting African American life before desegregation.

Sites include the Lincoln School, the Dungey Subdivision, the Moon House, Union Missionary Baptist Church and I-496 and the neighborhoods representing the color-line.  

The Dungey Subdivision encompasses Huron, Kalamazoo, Hillsdale and Martin Luther King and is named after Andrew and Ray Dungey who developed the first subdivision by African Americans in 1915.

The Lincoln Elementary/Community Center was located at 1023 William Street (corner of William and Logan). The school was torn down in the mid-1960s. Students at the school were almost entirely African American.

The Darius Moon House at 213 Huron Street is being recognized because Moon employed African American tradespeople including William Allen, a mason, and William Prute, a carpenter.

The Union Missionary Church, 500 S. Martin Luther King, which dates to 1909 is one of several churches in the area which were predominately African American. The site on Martin Luther King is the church’s third building with the first two located at 1024 W. Hillsdale.

Also the significance of Lansing’s “Color-Line” will be explored. The line which stretched from Butler Street west to Westmoreland St.; south to the Grand River and north to W. St Joseph by construct became the neighborhood where African Americans were expected to live prior to desegregation in the 1960s.

The tour also will explore the impact that the construction of I-496 in the mid-1960s had on the predominately African American neighborhood including the displacement of hundreds of African American families.  Nearly 900 homes and commercial buildings were torn down for construction of I-496 which bisected Lansing’s African American neighborhoods.

"As we mark the 50th anniversary of the Civil Right movements, and the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, it's important for our community to reflect on the historical challenges faced by African-Americans in our own city. It's also a chance to remember a very vibrant community, where people lived, learned, laughed, and worshiped,” said Valerie Marvin, president of the Historical Society.

The tour will meet at the Union Missionary Baptist Church parking lot at 500 S. MLK. The parking lot is to the south of the church. The tour is free.  

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Vintage View of M-22 Book Event at East Lansing Public Library This Thursday!

After checking out the new book on touring Michigan’s scenic M-22 you’ll understand why you see all those M-22 stickers on cars.

Award winning authors M. Christine Byron and Thomas R. Wilson spent endless hours driving Michigan’s most scenic highway for their new coffee table book “Vintage Views Along Scenic M-22 Including Sleeping Bear Dunes.”

Byron and Wilson will bring their stories and new book to the East Lansing Public Library, 950 Abbot Rd, East Lansing, at 7 p.m., Thursday July 30 for a visual presentation of the scenic drive.
The book, through clever use of vintage postcards, advertising ephemera and photographs, illustrates a time when the highway first beckoned travelers to the scenic drive outlining Leelanau Peninsula.

The 248 page book will take you on a trip back in time when things were slower and less commercial, said Valerie Marvin, president of the Historical Society of Greater Lansing which is co-sponsoring the event along with the Friends of the East Lansing Public Library.

The event is free event and books will be available for purchase.

“The couple’s love of Michigan and its history is shown on every page of this amazing book,” Marvin said. The authors have used their vast postcard collection and travel ephemera as the inspiration for five books which include visual tours of the Sleeping Bear Dunes, Charlevoix and Petoskey, Leelanau County, M-22, the Straits of Mackinac and the West Michigan Pike.

Byron was previously the local history librarian for the Grand Rapids Public Library and Wilson is retired from Sears Roebuck and Company and is on the Grand Rapids Historical Commission. Their books have won three Michigan Notable Book Awards and the book on the West Michigan Pike won the 2012 State History Award.

The event is co-sponsored by the Historical Society of Greater Lansing and the Friends of the East Lansing Public Library.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Downtown Lansing Restaurant Tour

Downtown Lansing's Favorite Old Restaurants Walking Tour

The Historical Society of Greater Lansing is hosting a downtown Lansing walking tour featuring the “lost restaurants of Lansing” 10 a.m., Saturday July 25. The tour which will leave from Lansing City Hall is free and is being held in conjunction with the Capital Car Auto Show and the Taste of Downtown sponsored by Downtown Lansing Inc..

Walkers will explore locations of more than 12 area restaurants and discuss the history of those restaurants including the Plaza Room and Fielder’s Room in the Olds Hotel, Jim’s Tiffany Lounge, Dines, the Knight Cap, Brauer’s 1861 House, Tarpoff’s, Foo Ying, Estelle’s, Kewpees, Home Dairy and the Parthenon.

Valerie Marvin, president of the Historical Association of Greater Lansing said the tour will explore both the fine dining experiences and the more casual eateries that once graced downtown Lansing.
“These were the type of dining establishments where people celebrated anniversaries, birthdays and became engaged. Younger residents remember romantic pre-prom and hop dinners,” Marvin said.

She also said several of the restaurants are where legislators went to work out compromises and lobbyists entertained. Numerous clubs also held their monthly meetings in several of the restaurants.
Only two of the restaurants, the Knight Cap and Kewpies, are still serving diners today.

The tour will be conducted by Gary Koelsch, and is co-sponsored by the Historical Society of Greater Lansing and Downtown Lansing Inc.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Historic Houses in Downtown Lansing Walking Tour This Thursday, July 9

The Historical Society of Greater Lansing’s 3rd historical summer walking tour is set for 7 p.m., Thursday July 9 in a downtown neighborhood adjacent to the State Capitol and includes five homes on Capitol Ave, Genesee St. and Seymour St. The tour meets at the historic Carnegie Library at 210 W. Shiawassee Street.

Homes which will be discussed on the tour include the former homes of a Michigan Supreme Court Justice, a former president of MAC, an auto pioneer, and an early Lansing industrialist along with one of downtown’s first apartment buildings.

President of the Historical Society Valerie Marvin said the walking tour will cover both the historical and architectural aspects of the homes. Several of the homes have been converted to offices.

“Many of us drive by these homes every day not knowing of their importance in Lansing history,” Marvin said. "Yet they serve to remind us that downtown Lansing continues to involve, while remaining both a desirable place to live and work."

She said one example is the current Maurer-Foster building at 615 N. Capitol Ave which was originally the home of William Newbrough who was one of  the founders of the New Way Motor Co. The home was later sold to Auto Owners which used it for its first offices and later housed the city’s Community Foundation.

Another example is the original home of T. C. Abbot at 327 Seymour St. Abbot was one of the early presidents of Michigan Agricultural College and built the home for his retirement.

Also included is an early apartment building, designed in the Spanish Colonial Revival style.  "The Spanish Colonial Revival movement is really the first time that Midwestern America begins to look to Western America for design cues.  Suddenly, it was avant-garde to have a little bit of California in downtown Lansing!" Marvin said.

Houses on the tour also cover a range of architectural styles including Stick Style, Romanesque, Neo Classical and even Spanish Colonial Revival.

Cathy Babcock, the former head of the Lansing Art Gallery, will conduct the tour along with Valerie Marvin.

Marvin said the tours are an easy and informal way of learning about the city’s history while getting an overview of architectural styles.

Since the Common Ground Festival is held the same evening the tour will last only one hour giving participants plenty of time to arrive for the Festival’s events. Marvin said parking is relatively easy to find west of Seymour St.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Lansing Snapshots: From Sepia to Selfies

We need your photos. The Historical Society of Greater Lansing and the Library of Michigan are sponsoring “Lansing Snapshots: from Sepia to Selfies” which will cover 150 years of Lansing’s photographic history.

The concept of the exhibit is to show both iconic photographs, but also what are called vernacular photos or everyday photos of Lansing and its people, said Valerie Marvin, president of the Historical Society.

“We want to showcase photographs that will surprise you and that you haven’t seen before in addition to some photographs that have become icons like the 1975 flood photos”, she said.

Marvin said the Society is especially looking for photographs from all eras that include famous Lansing citizens such as R.E. Olds, Malcolm X, Earvin Johnson, and the Stratosphere Man. She also said the Society is searching for photographs of weather calamities such as floods and snowstorms along with celebrations ranging from family events to holiday events.

The exhibit which will be on display in the Library from September through December will feature photographs, including their context in the history of the photographic processes from daguerreotypes to selfies.  Also featured is a major exhibit on loan from the Clark Library at Central Michigan University which focuses on the history of photography as seen through its many photographic processes.

The exhibit will be broken down by a historical timeline, but will include images representing the MSU campus, lost Lansing, recreation, entertainment, sports and city and family celebrations.
One segment of the exhibit will include a look at Lansing’s professional photographers across time and their contributions to the history of Lansing.

Since it is important to include all aspects of Lansing society we are looking for photographs from African American, Hispanics, Asians and other racial and ethnic groups that represent their place in Lansing history, Marvin said.

The exhibit will also include rare photographic equipment and cameras on loan from area residents.
Original photographs and photographic equipment can be loaned or will be scanned for inclusion in the exhibit. All original photographs and photo equipment will be in locked cases.

So who out there has the best photograph of Lake Lansing amusement park or the long gone R.E. Olds Mansion, the Michigan Theatre, the original city hall, a family Christmas tradition or even early horse racing in Lansing?

To loan us a photo, e-mail or call 517-282-0671.

HSGL reserves the right to reject or accept photography on the basis of content and suitability to overall exhibit.  

Friday, June 19, 2015

Holling C. Holling June 25 Event Canceled!

We regret to inform you that our program scheduled for Thursday, June 25, at Lansing City Hall about author and illustrator Holling C. Holling has been canceled.  We hope to reschedule for sometime in the fall.

Please remember that our current exhibit, Lansing Goes to War, will close on June 30!  Stop by Lansing City Hall anytime Monday - Friday between 7:30 am and 5:30 pm to see the exhibit before it closes.

Monday, June 15, 2015

East Side Walking Tour This Thursday, June 18

Growing Eastward on Michigan Avenue Walking Tour
Thursday, June 18, 7:00 pm
Tour Starts at Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ, 125 S. Pennsylvania
Tour Free, Open to the Public

The Historical Society of Greater Lansing hosts the second of eight summer walking tours of Lansing 7 p.m., Thursday, June 18 on East Michigan Avenue. The tour starts at the Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ, 125 S. Pennsylvania Ave. where walkers will be able to go inside. Parking is available at the Church and the tour is free. The first 50 walkers will get a free treat from Fabiano’s candy store.

The summer’s second tour explores the history of Lansing’s movement east on Michigan Ave and includes several of the byway’s churches including Resurrection (walkers will have access to the Church,) Christ Lutheran Church, Sparrow Hospital and Fabiano’s. The tour will be led by John Folkers who served as minister of several area churches including East Lansing’ People’s Church. He is currently a tour guide at the State Capitol, an on-call chaplain for Sparrow Hospital and a member of the city of Lansing’s Board of Ethics.

Michigan Ave is perfect place to explore Lansing’s immigrant history from the Italians to the Irish to the more recent “lost boys of Sudan” Marvin said. Integral in that development, Marvin said, was the involvement of the various churches along the Avenue.

President of the Historical Society Valerie Marvin said the walking tours, in their third year, have proven to be a popular attraction during the summer and early fall months.

“There is no better way to learn about Lansing than to walk and talk,” she said.

“This year’s tours are all new and include visits to the Ingham and Eaton County Courthouses, a walk through Lansing’s African American West Side, the Historic Homes in Downtown Lansing and a tour that will explore some of Lansing’s Favorite Old Restaurants,” Marvin said.

She said the Society is also hosting a walking tour of MSU’s Historic West Circle Drive which will take walkers back in time to the days of MSC and MAC on the campus of Michigan State University. Stephen Terry who is author of the award-winning “Michigan Agricultural College Campus Life 1900-1925: A Postcard Tour will cohost the MSU tour.

All tours are free. For more information on the Historical Society go

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Lansing's Forgotten Novelist, John Herrmann

Thursday, June 11, 6:00 Meet the Author, 7:00 Lecture
Library of Michigan
702 W. Kalamazoo St.

John Herrmann may be both Lansing’s most notable and most forgotten author. That is about to change thanks to the dogged efforts of Alabama’s Troy University English Professor Sara Kosiba.
Kosiba said she ran across Herrmann’s name while doing research for her dissertation on Midwestern writers and was fascinated by Herrmann who was a member of the “lost generation” in Paris. What tugged at her the most was that he wrote a book, “What Happens,” that was banned in the United States in 1926 for obscenity, the same year Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” was published.
“The minute I saw “banned book” and read about his scandalous past I was hooked,” she said.

More about the scandals in a moment, but Herrmann who was born in 1900 was a scion of the wealthy John T. Herrmann family which had built a family tailoring business in downtown Lansing catering to politicians, including governors, and the state’s business elite. The likes of W. F. Kellogg sought out the bespoke suits from John Herrmann’s Sons. The company, the largest tailor in Michigan, employed 35 tailors; some travelling the state for trunk shows.

It’s likely John Herrmann, as one of the oldest grandsons, would have taken over the helm of the family business, but after graduating from Lansing High School in 1919 his lifelong wanderlust first took him to Washington D.C. for law school. While there he worked with his high school classmate Paul Mixter as a news correspondent which becomes part of the storyline in his first novel.

Herrmann would then move to the University of Michigan where he studied drama appearing as the lead in Pygmalion. A full page article in the Detroit Free Press showing Herrmann as Professor Higgins likely gave his family bragging rights back home in Lansing. He was then off to Germany in 1922 where he studied art for two years. His next leap was to Paris in 1924 where he would serendipitously meet another aspiring novelist Josephine Herbst while having a post-hangover coffee at the legendary Café du Dome. Herbst and Herrmann would become a couple, later marrying and then divorcing.

Herbst would be his entrance into the “lost generation” where he would meet and become friends with the likes of William Carlos Williams, Isadora Duncan, John dos Passos, Nathan Asch, Gertrude Stein and scores of other ex-patriots.

The affable, handsome six foot three Hermann would also meet up with the group’s alpha dog Ernest Hemingway and through their “up north” Michigan connection they would become close pals. Both the Hemingway and Herrmann families had cottages at Walloon Lake and Hermann’s younger brothers, the twins, Robert and Richard, were friends with Hemingway’s younger sister, Sunny.

Kosiba said most what was previously known about Herrmann was seen through the eyes of Josephine Herbst in her biography.

“Herrmann and his writing became an asterisk, a huge asterisk,” she said.

She said that is in part due to not being able to read his first book. His second books aren’t readily available either. That will soon change. Kosiba has championed the publication of “What Happens” by Hastings College’s small press in Nebraska and has written a new foreword for the book to put Hermann and his writing in context.

Kosiba said she stumbled across Herrmann while researching Midwestern writers and wanted to know “Who is this guy?”

She said much of what has been written about Herrmann is misinformation.

“Some of the core texts are a little bit off,” she said, citing one that has Herrmann only writing one novel and another which has him meeting Herbst in New York.

Even after the bitter disappointment of having his first book banned Herrmann penned two additional novels “Summer is Ended” and “The Salesman” in addition to becoming a formidable short story writer. His 1932 short story “The Big Short Trip” shared the prestigious Scribner’s Best Short Novel Award in 1932 with Thomas Wolfe.

Now back to the scandals. In 1930, Herbst and Herrmann, by then married, travelled to the Soviet Union to attend a proletariat writers’ conference. There they became radicalized about the plight of American farmers and began working for reforms back home.

Herrmann would become involved in the Communist Party and was recruited by another noted communist Hal Ware and although the jury is still out on the depth of Herrmann’s involvement he was named in several House Un-American Committee (HUAC) hearings especially one where prominent Communist Whittaker Chambers named him as the go between and courier for passing on state secrets to communists.

Despite these claims, Herrmann enlisted in the U.S. Coastguard serving through WW II, later moving to Mexico with his new wife Ruth Tate. There he would attend college studying drama and would meet up with a loose collection of “beat writers,” including William Burroughs.

Kosiba has yet to see extensive FBI interview records since they are unavailable, as yet, so she won’t definitively say what Herrmann’s role was during that time..

One characterization, Kosiba decries is that Herrmann was a deadbeat.

“That’s definitely not true whenever he and Josie needed money he would return to what he did best working as a travelling salesman selling seeds as a teenager to later in life selling books and jewelry,” Kosiba said.

However, Kosiba said that Herrmann lived what we describe now as “in the moment” working until he had enough money saved for his next venture. As an example, Herrmann worked in 1927 until he saved enough money to buy a sailboat which the couple christened Josy. They spent that summer sailing.

Kosiba has visited three major university archives putting together the life of Herrmann and has discovered numerous letters to and from Herrmann, mostly from other authors, from which she has started to piece together his life.

The letters include the friendly letters between Herrmann and Hemingway where they go back and forth bantering about writing and their friends.

Kosiba, who initially researched Herrmann and the Hemingway connection for a paper she delivered at the International Hemingway Society in 2012 in Petoskey is now planning on an extended biographical paper or a full- blown biography of Herrmann.

While in Lansing for the annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature this week Kosiba plans to spend time in Capital Area District Library’s Local History Collection pouring through newspapers.

She hopes to identify characters and places that Herrmann used in his novels.

“They were very autobiographical,” she said. Kosiba knows this since Herrmann would use actual Lansing characters in his novels without changing their names. In her archival research she discovered a letter from Paul Mixter chiding Herrmann for using his real name.

Another letter she discovered between Hemingway and Herrmann has Hemingway thanking Herrmann for sending him one of his suits.

“The suit is fine,” Hemingway wrote in his usual sparse prose.

Hemingway did write he had to have the pants altered, likely because Herrmann was six foot three while Hemingway stood at six foot.

One letter Kosiba hadn’t seen until recently was provided by Herrmann’s niece Susan Brewster of Okemos. The letter was from his later days in Mexico and sent from a hospital bed. After thanking Susan for sending presents for his son Juanito, Herrmann wrote “Please tell your old man (Richard, one of the twins) to speak to some of my old classmates at LHS and let them know I was ill or I would’ve written a humdinger of a letter on the occasion of the class reunion.”
“I bet the punch was spiked,” he wrote.

It’s good to have Herrmann home again and the Historical Society of Greater Lansing in cooperation with the Library of Michigan is hosting a book release party for What Happens, 6 p.m.- 9 p.m., Thursday June 11 at the Library of Michigan,  702 West Kalamazoo St. where Kosiba will speak on Herrmann and will discuss his Hemingway connection along with his life in Lansing. The event is free and books will be available for sale-- the first time in 89 years.