All posts for the month April, 2015

Smith Block Smith Block 213 N. Washington Avenue

I thought it would be intriguing to examine the homes that were featured in the book Lansing Illustrated, 1889. The guide was a promotional tool created to market the advantages of doing business in Lansing. The guide featured many of the significant structures in the city, for example Plymouth Congregational Church and the Smith Block. Also highlighted were the homes of the up and coming citizens of the city and some established citizens. Those homes will be examined here as well as the lives of those who owned the homes. To save some time it is worthwhile to point out that of the twelve homes featured in the guide only two are still standing in 2014, the John F. Rouse and the Ulysses D. Ward residences. To answer the question just who designed these homes, well at this point in time that is unknown, if they were local architects the only two possibilities are Israel Gillett or James Appleyard.

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Cyrus S. Alsdorf residence 330-332 N. Capitol Avenue

Cyrus Alsdorf was born on November 14, 1825 near New Hurley, Ulster County, New York to Levi and Mary Ann (née Fowler) Alsdorf. On June 6, 1847 Cyrus married Miss Loretta Melcher; the couple had three children, two sons, Frank and Fred M., and one daughter Estella. In 1853 the couple moved to Pontiac, Michigan where Cyrus worked as a chair maker. In 1858 they came to Lansing where Cyrus found employment at the Reform School as foreman of the cane chair shop. In 1862 he enlisted with the 14th Michigan Infantry and served for two years as Leader of the Brigade Band, First Brigade, Second Division, Reserve Corps, Department of the Cumberland before being discharged due to infirmities at Nashville, Tennessee. After he recovered his health, Cyrus reenlisted in 1864 and served as a Musician in Band, Second Brigade, Forth Division, Twenty-Third Army Corps, he was later transferred to the band, First Brigade, Fourth Division.

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Cyrus S. Alsdorf 1825-1895

On June 15, 1865 Cyrus was mustered out of the army and retuned to Lansing, where he assumed his old job at the Reform School and eventually became the assistant superintendent of the institution. In 1872 he left the Reform School to open a Grocery and Druggist store with Theodore S. Holmes at 134 Washington. By 1882 Cyrus with his son, Fred had opened their own Druggist shop, C. Alsdorf & Son at 102 N. Washington. In February 1885 a fire occurred that destroyed the entire block, the firm quickly rented space in another building and were back in business the next day. In 1892 and 1893 Cyrus was elected Alderman for the Second Ward. Cyrus continued to work at the family business until 1894 when he retired leaving his son in control of the firm. On May 9, 1895 Cyrus Alsdorf passed away at his home.[1]

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Cyrus S. Alsdorf residence 330-332 N. Capitol Avenue

The above image is from the 1930s. Notice when compared to the etching of the Alsdorf residence it can be observed that the porch has remained the same with the ornate columns and spandrels (top-mounted row of vertical spindles). This was a wonderful of a large Queen Anne style home. The bump out window as well as the tower was clad in fish scale siding.

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Cyrus S. Alsdorf residence 330-332 N. Capitol Avenue

In can be observed in the above image the end of the porch which can also be seen in the etching, notice how the pediment and the scroll work on the porch had not changed at all over between the time the home was built and the 1940s the era of the above photograph. The striking eight sided tower is interesting, because it is not symmetrical, it is nor a true octagon, in that the sides are not equal length. But it works because it serves as a finish for the first and second floor stacked bay windows.

[1] SR 11/1/1894, SR 5/10/1895 and Past and Present of the City of Lansing and Ingham County; 221, for Loretta’s death see SR 11/25/1905.

© Lost Lansing 2015


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The only known image of 400 Townsend Street before the home’s moved to West Saginaw Street. Notice how high the home sits on its stone foundation and how the porch is in an L shape. (Image 1)

Little is known about Fred B. Piatt’s life. He was the son of Charles R. and Emma Jane (née Crandall) Piatt and born in Allegheny, New York, in 1851. On 14 Nov 1872 Piatt married Miss Estelle B. Foster in Windsor Township, Eaton County, Michigan, and the couple had three sons. His career parallels his brother’s Alamanzo Alton Piatt, which will be discussed later. After the death of Peter Ralston, Fred B. Piatt remained in Lansing until 1910 when he sold his home at 400 Townsend to William J. Mead and then moved to California. Frederick B. Piatt passed away in Los Angeles, California, on June 24, 1921. (LSJ 6/27/1921 and LCN 6/25/1921)

Image 2

The home of Fred B. Piatt originally located at 400 Townsend. The home was moved in 1949 to 205 W. Saginaw. The image is from the 1950s. (Image 2)

The residence that Edwyn A. Bowd designed for Fred Piatt was quite a departure from any house Bowd had previously designed. The extensive porch was an element Bowd had never used in a home previously and I am unaware of Bowd ever using it again. The porch resembled a style that Darius B. Moon had designed for the Turner Dodge residence, the Nice home, 1025 N. Washington and the Hick’s house at 901 N. Chestnut. The following description of the home is based upon a poor newspaper image of the house that appeared in the Lansing Journal on January 3, 1910 Image 1. When the home was located on Townsend the first floor sat about six feet above grade level, after it was moved to Saginaw Street the home sat one foot over the grade level which drastically changed Image 5. So bear with me on this description. In Image 5 the entrance faces Saginaw, while on Townsend the front door of the home faced Kalamazoo Street. Before the home was moved the original double story porch actually L around the house, you would enter the porch using the stairs on Townsend Street and follow the porch to the home’s entrance which faced Kalamazoo Street, see Image 6. What is also remarkable besides the fact that the porch was two stories was that the double porch that you see in Image 5 was actually three stories when the home was on Townsend. If you examine Image 2 and compare the third story paladin window to the ones present in Image 5 you can see a change, the paladin windows were original to the home. This points toward the third floor being used as a ballroom, the large center window undoubtedly open to permit access to the third floor porch. Why? Well it allowed for the cooling of the ballroom and permitted the gentlemen a place to smoke their cigars. When the home was on Townsend the porch sat on a massive boulder foundation.

Image 5

205 W. Saginaw. The image is from the 2012. (Image 5)

Now take a look at Image 5 and Image 2, notice the triangular bay windows that are present on the Saginaw Street side of the home, while on the Capitol Avenue side there are traditional canted bay windows. These were expensive additions to the home and so plentiful on the structure it almost makes one wonder if Fred Piatt was sending a message that he had money and was not afraid to spend it. The second floor façade is a bit more problematic; the placement of the windows does not seem symmetrical with those of the first floor. This may be because of the house being moved and the structure being reconfigured, the 1910 image is so poor that it does not allow one to view window placement Image 1. Finally there were three gables on the home not four, as one would expect. All of the gables were open in style and had paladin windows. Overall Bowd designed a striking and imposing residence for Fred Piatt.


Alamanzo Alton Piatt 1848-1923

Alamanzo Alton (Arnold) Piatt was born on December 8, 1848 to Charles R. and Emma Jane (née Crandall) Piatt in Allegheny, New York. Alamanzo spent his childhood in New York and Indiana; in 1873 he moved to Lansing with his brother Fred and established a factory on the corner of Lapeer Street and Grand Avenue to manufacture wood handles. Later the plant was moved to the old state capitol building; unfortunately the plant was destroyed by fire on December 16, 1882, the plant was insured for $8000. After the fire Alamanzo moved to Hudson, Michigan and opened a factory, which manufactured wagon and buggy spokes, the plant was destroyed by fire in 1888. Alamanzo them moved to Howell, Michigan and established a company to process hardwood for the manufacture of wagons, with his brother Fred and Edgar S. Porter. Alamanzo seemed to be dogged by bad luck, two fires at the plant resulted in his removal to Lansing where he established the Howell Manufacturing Company on the site of the old Capital Wagon Works. A short time later Alamanzo was awarded the contract to operate the electric generators for the Lansing Street Car Company. As a result of this he abandoned the spoke manufacturing business and established the Piatt Power & Heat Company at the rear of the Hotel Downey. The company received contracts to furnish heat to the Capitol and the Hotel Downey. Later the company purchased the dam at Moores River Park that had been constructed by Gottlieb Leadley. The old dam was replaced in 1908-1909 by a new concrete dam, which still stands today.[1]

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400 Townsend (Image 6)

On January 17, 1898 the Lansing City Council granted a franchise to A.A. Piatt, his heirs and assignees for 15 years the right to build a power plant, place poles and wires in alleys and public streets, build a boiler house and lay steam pipes to heat public houses and individual dwellings. Piatt pledged to use the electricity generated by the plant for power and heating only and not for lighting. Piatt had purchased flow rights on the Grand River and an option to build a dam. On February 1, 1906 the Piatt Power & Heat Company was reorganized as the Michigan Power Company, the bonds were sold by Devitt, Tremble & Company a Chicago. (SR 2/2/1906 and LJ 2/2/1906) Originally the top two officers of the Michigan Power Company were A.A. Piatt, President and F.B. Piatt, Vice President. By 1908 the company was being run from Chicago with D.O. Watson, President; Charles C. Carnahan, Vice President; Martin A. Devitt, Treasurer; and Sydney B. Tremble, Secretary. It is unknown if either of the Piatt brothers were on the Board of Directors in 1908. In 1906 the new company had raised $2,500,000 and had committed to spending $1,250,000 for a new dam at Moores River Park and a power house on at the east end of Ottawa Street. They were also committed to building a dam at Dimondale.

The new management of the company began to sell electricity for lighting in direct competition with the city owned power plant, contending that they did not need a new franchise because the old one was still in effect. The city brought suit and the case reached the Michigan Supreme Court, which ruled that the purchasing company made the investment based upon the act of 1905 and therefore could sell electricity to consumers. The Michigan Power Company however failed to pay the interest on their bondholder’s investments and a receiver placed the company in United State Bankruptcy Court. In order to keep the Michigan Power Company’s plant generating power, Judge Tuttle of the bankruptcy court, sold the plant to the city of Lansing subject to the payment of a $1,030,706.55. After the city gained control of the plant in 1919 discovered that the company had oversold it output and that the current could not provide the power it was contracted to supply. The result, the city of Lansing had to enlarge the plant. (Turner 162)

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A.A. Piatt’s home at 408 Townsend, the photograph is from the 1940s. (Image 7)

On May 21, 1879 Alamanzo married Miss Martha Lillian Ingersoll; they had four children, Maria, Howard, Robert and Lawrence. Martha would pass away on December 31, 1891.[2] Two years later Alamanzo married Elizabeth J. Clark on December 21, 1893 in Howell, Michigan; the couple would have one child Maurice. After the reorganization of Piatt Power & Heat Company to the Michigan Power Company, Alamanzo served as a city alderman, President of the Edward W. Sparrow Hospital Association and Chairman of the Ingham County Red Cross. After an illness, which confined Alamanzo to his bed for four months, Alamanzo Alton Piatt one of Lansing’s pioneer businessmen died at his home on Tuesday, February 6, 1923. Today he is almost all but forgotten by Lansing residents. (LSJ 2/6/1923 and LCN 2/7/1923)

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205 W. Saginaw                                                               211 W. Saginaw

The Piatt brother’s residences after their move in 1949 from Townsend Street to East Saginaw Street. Fred B. Piatt’s house was moved from 400 Townsend to 205 W. Saginaw and A.A. Piatt’s residence was moved from 408 Townsend to 211 W. Saginaw. (Image 8)

The home at 408 Townsend was a remarkable home and it was unfortunate that when it was moved to 211 W. Saginaw that it was turned so that the façade of the home did not face Saginaw Street. It is clear in Image 7 that the home contained several pleasing architectural elements. Let’s start at the top. The small dormer with the three columns on each side of the window is an element that was removed from the home after its move. If you look closely at Image 7 and Image 8 you can see that the windows on the side on the home on the third floor have been changed, however the recessed windows on the third floor façade were not changed. The beautiful bowed window on the second floor center is a fantastic feature of the home. Observe how the sashes of the windows on the first and second floor mimic each other, Image 7. One aspect that can be discerned in Image 7 is the curved window, which can be seen at the back of the first floor porch. Just who designed the home at 408 Townsend is unknown. It strongly resembled homes that both Earl Mead and Darius Moon designed. One architect that needs to be considered is Thomas E. White who was a partner of Mead for a time and went on to establish a solid reputation as an architect in Lansing after Mead departed for Harbor Springs.

To answer the questions, “Were these homes historical structures that need preservation?” The simple answer is yes. It was unfortunate that the homes were moved off their original site on Townsend. In reality the leveling of the 400 block of Townsend was as much of a loss to the city as the demise of the Olds, Lyons, Luce and Scott residences. In the 1950s the redevelopment of the 400 block of Townsend Street resulted in the city of Lansing not only losing the impressive homes of Piatt brothers, but also the homes of John D. Woodbury and Henry R. Pattengill. The move was also unfortunate because the 400 and 408 Townsend were shoehorned on a small lot facing West Saginaw resulting in the placement of the two homes in such a manner that was unflattering to the architect’s work. The destruction of 205 W. Saginaw is regrettable because it was one of the few examples that survived of local architect, Edwyn A. Bowd’s residential work. Bowd was well known for his commercial, governmental and school buildings, however he designed few residences. One that does survive is the Jenison residence at 403 Seymour. At this time the architect for the home at 408 Townsend (211 W. Saginaw) is unknown. It strongly resembles several residences, designed by Darius Moon and Earl Mead, both Lansing architects. It would have been a remarkable thing if Lansing Community College has restored 205 W. Saginaw to its original glory. The College would have had three of the best preserved structures by three different Lansing architects; the Rogers Carrier home designed by Darius Moon, the Hermann house designed by R. Arthur Bailey and the F.B. Piatt residence designed by Edwyn Bowd. Lansing has a lamentable habit of tearing down significant structures throughout its history, a tradition that will not change unless it is compelled to by its residents to stop. I leave you with this final thought, more people visit, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, Marshall, and Mackinac Island to view the wonderful historic structures that still exist, then visit _______ I will let you fill in the blank.

[1] The original dam at Moores River Park was built by Leadley to facilitate steamer travel from Lansing to Leadley’s Park. For the current dam see Electrical Review and Western Electrician, December 25, 1909, p 1235.

[2] Martha L. Ingersoll was the sister of Robert H. Ingersoll the creator of the Dollar Pocket Watch and founder of the R. H. Ingersoll & Brothers later known as the Ingersoll Watch Company. Alamanzo and Martha’s son, Robert Arnold Piatt was the South American Sales Manger for R. H. Ingersoll & Brothers, Robert died in New York on October 14, 1918, the day he was to marry Miss Helen Maria Caldwell, daughter of George B. Caldwell, President of the Sperry & Hutchinson Company, better known as S&H Green Stamps. (Printers’ Ink, Volume 105, Printers’ Ink Publishing Company, 1918, p 142.)

© Lost Lansing 2014