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Cooley Gardens belongs to the City of Lansing and is located just south of Lansing’s central business district at Capitol Avenue and Main Street. Cooley Gardens is an eclectic garden, typical of formal estate gardens in the early part of the 20th century. It is composed of garden rooms enclosed by shrubbery, each with a different theme of planting. Within a formal structure the plantings have the informal exuberance of an English cottage garden: roses tumbling together with perennials spilling out of their beds and stately hedges providing a sense of order. The garden includes expansive open spaces where concerts and weddings are held that contrast with small intimate areas where the visitor intimately experiences the plantings.
Women’s Hall of Fame
It’s hard to imagine today when driving east on West Malcolm X Street (formerly West Main Street) between Townsend Street and Washington Avenue that it was once one of the grandest neighborhoods in town, and home to some of Lansing’s early movers and shakers, including R.E. Olds, Orlando Barnes, and Eugene Cooley (founder of the city’s first gas works and son of Thomas M. Cooley).
The only home left in its original setting is the Cooley-Haze house, at 213 W. Malcolm X, and home to the Michigan Women’s Historical Center and Hall of Fame.
Built in 1903 for Frank Cooley (Eugene’s brother), and later home to Dr. Harry B. Haze, the home included five bedrooms plus maid’s quarters, and a heated sunroom and finished attic, both with fireplaces.
Governor G. Mennen Williams was its most famous tenant, renting the home in 1950 for $285 per month until it was listed for sale that year with an asking price of $30,000.
It was the headquarters of the Michigan Baptist Convention from 1955-1977. In 1978 the city of Lansing gained ownership from General Motors.
In 1979, the Michigan Women’s Studies Association (MWSA) proposed the house’s use as a women’s historical center, and brokered a deal with the city to lease it in exchange for renovating and maintaining it. The renovation was completed and the Michigan Women’s Historical Center opened in 1987.
The Michigan Women’s Studies Association (MWSA), an academic professional organization, was founded in 1973 on the campus of Michigan State University to change what is thought and taught about women, particularly Michigan women, in schools, colleges, and universities. As an extension of that mission, the organization decided to establish a museum dedicated to women’s history: the first of its kind in the nation.
To house the museum, MWSA acquired a lease on the city-owned Cooley-Haze House in 1980 on the condition that the building be brought up to code. By 1986, $180,000 had been raised in building funds and work was begun on the renovation.
The Michigan Women’s Historical Center and Hall of Fame was dedicated and opened to the public on June 10, 1987, the anniversary date of Michigan’s ratification of the Women’s Suffrage Amendment. Since the opening, the Historical Center has encouraged Lansing’s efforts to restore Cooley Gardens, and is now surrounded by a beautiful garden and picnic area.
The Michigan Women’s Historical Center and Hall of Fame displays cultural and historical exhibits on the accomplishments of Michigan women and maintains a library of materials on this subject. The Center is also home to the Belen Gallery in which the work of Michigan women artists is shown. Its Friends group serves as a source of volunteers and as a fundraising organization, its primary benefit being the “Picnic on the Lawn” in June.
Every October, an MWSA benefit honors new inductees to the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame. Between eight and twelve women, past and present, are welcomed into the Hall each year. Plaques honoring those women are displayed in the Historical Center’s Hall of Fame Gallery. Past honorees include former Lieutenant Governor Connie Binsfeld, Grace Lee Boggs, Betty Ford, Aretha Franklin, Gwen Frostic, Former Governor Jennifer Granholm, Rosa Parks, Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, Helen Thomas, Lily Tomlin, and Mother Waddles.
In addition to overseeing the museum, the Michigan Women’s Studies Association periodically sponsors an academic conference to bring more visibility to women’s roles in history and current issues in women’s studies. MWSA has also published an anthology, Historic Women of Michigan; an educational resource packet called “How the Suffragists Changed Michigan”; and Michigan Women: Firsts and Founders, Volumes I and II, as well as several smaller publications.
The Barnes Castle
To the east of the Cooley-Haze House is a parking lot which is the site of one of the many mansions that lined Main Street (now Malcolm X Street) in the early 1900’s.
Railroad tycoon Orlando M. Barnes built what was arguably Lansing’s finest mansion in 1875-76. The Barnes Castle, as it was known, was a premier example of Victorian architecture. Located at the south end of Capitol Avenue at 137 West Main Street, and overlooking the Grand River, the castle boasted 26 rooms, 11 halls and landings, six stairways and nine fireplaces.
Designed by L.D. Grosvenor, it cost $40,000 to build. It was home to the Barnes family, and son Orlando F. Barnes, who, like his father, would serve as Lansing mayor, maintained the home until the 1920s. Eventually, the city of Lansing acquired the castle. It was torn down in 1957 to build the parking lot.
Scott Sunken Garden
To the east of the parking lot is the former home of Mr. and Mrs. Orien A. Jenison, a prominent Lansing family in the early twentieth century. It was originally located at 915 Townsend Street (just south of Cooley Garden). The City of Lansing took ownership of the house in 1952 and named it “Scott Park Art and Garden Center” where it was available to clubs whose purposes are cultural in nature. It was moved to this location in 1978 as part of a land transaction with Oldsmobile.
This site formerly was the home of Richard Scott, who purchased a stately white home in 1907 that was built in 1905. The Scott mansion was one of several grand homes in the area, and featured four 30-foot columns at its entrance, a porte cochere (a covered driveway next to the home), a third floor ballroom, wide verandas surrounding two-thirds of the home, and a three-car converted carriage house complete with metal turntable to allow one to turn a car around inside the garage before exiting.
To the east of the Scott mansion was the home of Judge Edward Cahill. Edward Cahill (1843-1922) was a justice of the Michigan Supreme Court in 1890. Cahill was appointed to the Michigan Supreme Court to replace Thomas R. Sherwood. Cahill lost his subsequent election to the Court. Richard Scott purchased the Cahill home, had it razed, then built the sunken garden that remains today on the foundation of that home.
The garden was built in 1930 by Richard Scott, who had come to Lansing to join R.E. Olds in his experiments with the gasoline-driven engine. He would become general manager and president of the REO Motor Car Co. before retiring in 1934.
Scott Woods park, near Mount Hope Avenue and Aurelius Roads, the Barnes mansion property at the foot of Capitol Avenue, and other property along the north and west bank of the Grand River were all gifts from Scott to the city of Lansing.
Scott died in 1944, and his widow lived there until 1965. That same year, she decided to have the home razed to keep it from falling into disrepair as so many other old homes had.