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Gracefully situated high on the bank of the Grand River, this Classical Revival-style mansion, built in 1858, was the home of prominent Lansing merchant James Turner (1820-1869). In 1899, Turner’s son-in-law Frank L. Dodge (1853-1929) bought and enlarged it. The three-story building, designed by Lansing architect Darius Moon, features stately wooden Ionic columns and a decorative cornice. Its interior, with its large classical doorways and several fireplaces, is adorned with beveled and leaded French windows. After remaining in the family for a century, the property was purchased by the Great Lakes Bible College in 1958. In 1974 the city of Lansing acquired it for a park. The site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.
James Turner, a Lansing pioneer, originally owned this property. A native of New York, Turner came to Lansing in 1847 from nearby Mason, where he was a merchant. He immediately opened a general store in the Seymour House, the first hotel in north Lansing. He was appointed deputy state treasurer in 1860 and elected to the state senate in 1866. Interested in education, he helped found the Misses Rogers’ Seminary, later called the Michigan Female College (1855-1869). He was also active in the construction of plank roads and railroads in the Lansing area. Frank L. Dodge married Turner’s daughter Abby in 1888 and purchased this house from Turner’s widow in 1899. Dodge, a Democrat, was elected to the state legislature in 1883 and 1885. He was city alderman for twelve years and was active on several civic boards.
The Turner-Dodge House is now a museum dedicated to Lansing’s early pioneers. The museum sits in the Classical Revival-styled Turner-Dodge Mansion, built in 1858 for James and Marion Turner, and later expanded by their daughter and her husband.
The family of Marion and James Turner came to Lansing in 1847 when it was called Michigan, Michigan. They helped create the City of Lansing and were involved in the politics, economics, education, and society of the tiny community that became our State Capitol. They are representative of the courageous pioneering spirit and the economic opportunity of early Michigan.
Chief Okemos Story
When I Was a Young Girl
by Marion Turner Reasoner
Lansing State Republican, November 30, 1899
Curator’s Note: Marion Turner, daughter of James and Marion Turner, was born in 1846 and died in 1918. She was five years older than her sister Abby. Chief Okemos died in 1858, so she could have been no more than 12 when this happened, and probably younger. The story probably happened while they still lived in their frame house on Turner Street, two blocks north of Franklin Street (now Grand River Street), because their new house at 100 E. North Street (the Turner-Dodge House) was not completed until 1858.
When I was a young girl Old Okemos, the chief of the Saginaw Chippewa, was a frequent visitor at our house. I remember that we looked upon him as a great chief and were much interested in hearing him talk of the terrible battles he had fought. We gazed upon the scars on his head and face with awe and decided he must have been one of the greatest warriors.
He always wore an immense knife in his belt that was of unceasing interest to the children. If we had pennies they always went for tobacco for the hero, and we were made happy by seeing the big knife taken out to cut off a slice. My father fearlessly corrected him for using “fire water” and the old chief would give a grunt of disapproval which would frighten us all.
As he grew older his visits became less frequent and he was almost blind. He came to us one night quite late in summer, he put his pony in a field near the house and mother prepared a bed for him on the floor by the kitchen fire. He was astir very early in the morning. A cousin (who was visiting me) and I hastily dressed and after filling our pockets with doughnuts, followed him out. We soon discovered that his pony was missing and as he was too blind to follow it, we took compassion on his helplessness and tracked the pony west on the plank road, then north, then east, finding it near Jones Lake. The old veteran seemed delighted with our success, kissed us both, then mounted and rode away, leaving us alone.
We were badly frightened, not knowing the way home. We wandered about for sometime and at last came to William Jones’ house, where we were given a bowl of mush and milk. After a time William yoked his oxen and took us home. We had been gone since 5 in the morning and such a welcome as we received – tears, shakings and caresses (not to mention what happened the next morning), all of which fixed the memory of Old Okemos indelibly upon my mind.