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Lansing’s earliest hotel, the Benton House, was built in 1847 on the Northwest corner of Washington and Main St. This hotel was also the first brick structure in Lansing and a favorite gathering sport for state legislators. As newer and more centrally located hotels were built the Benton House closed, and was turned into a private school in the 1860s.
Excerpt from the Michigan State Gazetteer for 1863.
“The Benton House is one of the best conducted hotels in Michigan, and is managed in a style not inferior to that of the best hotels in the country.”
—Hudson, Martin, proprietor of Benton House, upper town.
From Past and Present of the City of Lansing, Albert E. Cowles, 1905
“The Benton House, a large brick hotel, on the northwest corner of Washington Avenue and Main Street, where the palatial residence of Ransom E. Olds was erected in 1903, was commenced in 1847, and completed in 1848. It was the best hotel in the village, and, winters, (in) was filled with many of the great men of the State; State officers, Senators, Representatives, candidates for United States Senator, lobbyists and politicians, and it was the scene of many exciting senatorial campaigns, and very many jovial occasions, and amusing incidents; one of which the writer remembers to have been told: Wm. Hinman was the proprietor.
“A stuttering character, but a prominent and intelligent gentleman, in the State, known as “Old Salt Williams,” was a guest. One morning, when he was at breakfast, he sent for Mr. Hinman, and, when he came and asked what was wanted, said, “M-M-Mister Hin-Hinman yu-yu-your cow n-needs shingling, the-there is wa-wa-ter in the m-m-milk.””
In the 1870s, the building returned to its use as a hotel, called the Everett House. In 1902 the building was razed and the R.E. Olds residence was constructed on the site. The R.E. Olds residence was demolished in 1971 to make way for I-496, the highway that currently traverses the City of Lansing.
From “Pioneer History of Ingham County”, 1923.
Walk Through Woods From Benton House to Capitol in 1840 Has Romance
Sarah Thomas was 17 and in love.
Maybe she did not quite admit it to herself, but let us imagine her skipping out the back door of her father’s house, which used to stand down where East Main and River Streets now intersect, and taking to the wildflower-bordered footpath that ran through the woods from the old Benton House to the new State Capitol.
They called it Washington Avenue, deep mud though it was.
That Sarah was in love that day in the spring woods is now historically proven; but that she came out in the clearing to meet quite by accident the young sergeant-at-arms at the new Capitol, as he should leave the task of keeping a majority lot of Democrats and a handful of Whigs in order, and return to the Benton House, is something we will have to imagine. Lovers in the woods about Lansing in the spring of 1840 were, we may well guess, not different than lovers in the parks will be in the spring of 1921.
Edward Randolph Merrifield, history now relates, was in love, too, that spring day. Some years later he was to lose his job in the Auditor General’s office because of party reasons and with a young wife and a small boy, Robert Thomas Merrifield, on his hands, he was to be very distressed in mind and not know which way to turn. What the Republican Party would do to his love dream a few years later he could not suspect-the party had not arisen.
“Oh, phsaw! Why need those old-timers have worried?” said someone to whom this little story was related just before the typewriter began relating it to the linotype.
“Looking back to their time, a worry seems so incongruous those pioneer folks were in the hands of a kind Providence.”
So, in the woods of Michigan in ‘40, they recklessly loved and married and then worried and their worries changed to good fortune quite magically and life went on about as today. The young clerk by losing his job got into merchandising and made a fortune here.
But we must get back to our love story we just picked up on the edge of the woods. Love story, yes; but the young people were not admitting the fact, not even to themselves-oh, mercy no! The game had only begun. Still there were some things young Edward Randolph Merrifield, hero of the Mexican War and then sergeant-at-arms of the house, wanted to say and yet appear very casual in the saying.
“Clerk Hovey told me today that Speaker Leander Chapman had told him that the Legislature is going to adjourn in a day or two – April 2 is the day set. More than MO bills have been made law and only seven more are likely to get through,” he asserted by way of leading up to his news.
“Oh, that is too bad -I suppose you will be going back to the store of Jacob Sumner. I hear the girls over at Utica, in Macomb County, are very attractive,” replied Sarah. That is we can guess she did.
“Huh! – Girls in Utica – why they are that homely I was always glad when they kept their faces far back in their sun bonnets. I had a tough time driving old Sumner through the woods from Macomb County for the Legislature last winter, but now I am glad that I came,” continued Edward.
“Why are you glad you came?” This from Sarah. Then there ensued a panic in her heart for fear he would tell. Probably he was on the point of telling the truth, but he explained as follows:
“Well, you see, I have got a job in the Auditor General’s office. Auditor General John J. Adam is going to take me in. He is sure John Swiggles, Jr., is to succeed him–the politicians have been fixing it up the last few days-and I will stand all right with him, too, and so remain here.”
By this time the young folks, let us guess again, had reached the Benton House. They paused and looked down the hill toward the wooden bridge across the Grand on the Jackson road. The old stage, with six mud-bespattered horses, straining under the long lash wielded from the driver’s sent, were just coming up the hill.
It was a warm day in March and seemingly the whole hotel full of men swarmed out to get the papers and the news.
“My, how pa and Mr. Bush did drive to get this tavern ready for the opening of the Legislature-everyone said they couldn’t do it, but they did,” continued Sarah in the way of safe conversation, “Ann Cochran, who came over here with her brother Henry, from Woodhull, to do the cooking, told ma the other day that if it were not for so much cheap whiskey helping out as filling that they never could fill all these men with food. How Ann does hate the black waiters pa and Mr; Bush hired from a lake boat at Detroit to come up here during the session.”
By this time the spring-enchanted pair had turned down East Main Street, and, because of instinct they did not realize, they paused at the little new jewelry store. (It stood where the house at 112 East Main Street now stands, occupied until recently by Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Kilbourne). So they stopped at the little pioneer jewelry store where the sight of plain gold rings set Sarah off saying:
“Have you heard that Sarah Bush and Will Hinman are going to be married soon? I am going to stand up with Miss Bush and Secretary of State George W. Peck is to attend Will. There is to be big doings at the Benton House. Will Hinman is going to run the Benton House for Mr. Bush.” Edward Randolph Merrifield, Mexican War hero, took a conversational plunge.
“ ‘Member the night I met you?” began Edward not exactly knowing where he was going conversationally, but feeling he must be on the way.
“No; when was it?” evaded Sarah, knowing full well when it was.
“Don’t you remember how after I took Jacob Sumner’s horse back to Utica I came back here by way of Detroit and the new railroad that runs to Jackson? From there I came here by stage. The night I arrived I was awful homesick and I wished I had not come.
“I was moping around that night, and Rep. Thomas-your father-I didn’t know it then-came along and he said, ‘Say, young feller, come in here and meet some of the girls and shake a foot.’ He would not take ‘no’ for an answer. I went with him inside the door and stopped there-and then-and then-1 saw you * * * “
“Yes, I was there with my sister, Eugenia, and her beau,” admitted Sarah by way of helping out the story, just a trifle. Perhaps she thought it well for Edward to get into conversational high gear while they were yet in comparative solitude.
“Your father asked me if there was any girl there I would especially like to meet, I looked again, and I told him that girl right over there-and it was you.” Here Edward Randolph Merrifield must have paused to take a long breath.
“How your father laughed. ‘Come right over; that is my girl,’ he said.”
Maybe this was not quite the way of it; but there is some such picture of the long ago; the time when halting conversations and deep sighs and hand holdings and heart flutters began in Lansing.
Yes, it must be some such picture, for today, in her 89th year, Mrs. Sarah Merrifield, at her home, 301 Seymour Street, giggles like a girl when she tells the old story. Probably she remembers still how the tongue of Edward Randolph Merrifield was loosened and how he told why, of all the girls present that night at the pioneer ball, he wanted to know only her. Anyway, the story, in one way or another, was told.
On Dec. 11, 1851, there was a marriage at the home of Rep. John Thomas, Assessor. “Bill” Hinman’s grandparents were there, and his newly married parents were there and probably a lot of those Torrent Engine Company firemen. Anyway, whoever were present as guests, Sarah was married to Edward and they lived happily ever after.