All posts for the month May, 2017


Orlando Mack Barnes

Orlando Mack Barnes was born in Ira, New York on November 21, 1824 to John and Anna (née Abbott) Barnes. The family moved west in 1837 and settled in Aurelius Township, Michigan, where his father cleared the land and developed a farm and served as the Township Supervisor. John Barnes assisted in the development of Aurelius Township and developed his farm in Section 23 and 26 of the township.  As a young man Orlando had a love for books and education, there is an apocryphal story of young Orlando seeking out a teacher in Delta Township, Michigan who had a background in Latin to teach him the finer points of the language. After graduating from Vevay schools Orlando attended the University of Michigan in 1846 where he studied Literature, graduating in 1850 He opted to study law and did so under a prominent Jackson attorney. Upon his acceptance to the bar in 1851 he settled in Mason, Michigan to practice law. With the death of William W. Upton then County Prosecuting Attorney in 1852, Barnes was appointed to the position and was elected to the position and served until 1856. Elected to the State Legislature 1862, Orlando was instrumental in the creation of the Jackson, Lansing & Saginaw Railroad Company.

By 1871 Orlando stopped the active practice law and became the Secretary of the Jackson, Lansing & Saginaw Railroad Company, where he served as Land Commissioner for the railroad. It seems the railroad did not forget its old friends. Barnes had an active political career; he was elected Mayor of Lansing 1877, where he served one term, in 1878 he ran for Governor as a Democrat, but lost to Charles Croswell, in 1891 he was appointed by Governor Winans to the State Prison Board. In the business world Barnes was President of the Lansing National Bank and the State Savings Bank and one of the organizers of the Lansing Wagon Works and Lansing Wheelbarrow Works. On June 23, 1852 Barnes married Miss Amanda W. Fleming; the couple had four children Orlando Fleming, Sue Wade (d 1859), Mariette Amanda and Edward A. Barnes.

Barnes led a confortable and cultured life in Lansing, he amassed a large library, traveled to Europe several times, was a member of several clubs and published The Authorship of Shakespeare. That all changed in 1893. It seems his son, Orlando Fleming, who had overextended himself in his investments and was caught in the financial panic of 1893.[1] Barnes signed notes and mortgaged properties to cover the promissory notes his son had issued. Barnes never recovered from this financial setback.[2] Orlando Mack Barnes one of the pioneers of Ingham County passed away at his home on November 11, 1899.


What a loss?


The End`

So which brings us to the question, why was the Barnes Mansion torn down? After the settlement of Orlando M. Barnes’ estate the home remained with the family until the death of Orlando’s wife, Amanda Fleming Barnes on October 25, 1921. One wonders what Amanda Barnes’ life was like in a home with no electricity? She lived there for more then 20 years, which makes one, question the assertion that the home was never wired for electricity. It is hard to believe that she depended on gas lighting for all of those years. The residence was sold to Richard H. Scott on July 22, 1922. Scott maintained the property and the gardens but the home remained empty. In 1944 Scott deeded the property to General Motors. A fact that is amazing because Scott served as President of the REO Motor Company from 1914 to 1934. The property was transferred to the City of Lansing in 1946 as part of a land swap where the city reassigned a city park at the south end of Townsend Street to General Motors.[3] The city hoped to make the Barnes property the site of the Michigan Governors Mansion, and why not the home had a fantastic view looking straight down Capitol Avenue, and it was part of the Bartholomew City Plan. This was not a new idea, in 1922 the home was proposed as to be remodeled as the Governor’s residence, just why it was not considered is unknown. (LSJ 8/19/1922) It was the hope of the city after the home was evaluated by state appointed architects that the residence becomes the site of the Michigan Governor’s residence. But the city didn’t reckon that the principals involved in the review were to be the Michigan Society of Architects and Emile Lorch the former Director of the College of Architecture at the University of Michigan.

In the paper Reconversion of the Barnes Mansion for use as a Governor’s Residence, 1948, the team consisting of Lorch and Michigan Society of Architects surveyed the Banes Mansion for possible conversion into a residence for the Governor. The findings by the group were critical of the idea of remodeling the residence for the above purpose. The major problems with the home were;

  • Some exterior stone was in poor condition and needed to be replaced.
  • The roof had failed and water had penetrated into the interior structure.
  • The windows and sills were completely rotted.
  • The heating system had been removed.
  • The structure had never been wired for electricity.
  • The plumbing was antiquated.

The oddest criticism was that because of the high ceilings there would be 25% more wall space to decorate.

The Society of Michigan Architects concurred with Emile Lorch’s finding that the structure was not worth preserving and the recommendation that the home be torn down but the property kept with the as the site of a new governor’s home. [4]

Based upon the finings of the committee the property was not accepted by the State of Michigan and reverted to the city. In 1957 the city of Lansing made the decision to tear down the home, due to vandalism and its deteriorated condition. (LSJ 3/24/1957) In reality there was little that could be done to save the home at this point in its life. The building has sat empty for more then 30 years and during the Second World War was stripped of most of its metal; especially it’s plumbing and heating system. It would have taken a remarkable effort by either the state or the city to restore the home. But the renovated home would need to have served a specific purpose. As Lorch correctly observed the structure was unsuitable for anything but a family home and as such it was doomed.

The Barnes’ home was a fantastic structure that was condemned not because of its style of architecture, but by history itself. The home was occupied until 1925, then the structure passed into the hands of Richard Scott, but the stock market crash in 1929, followed by the Great Depression and the Second World War essentially prevented anyone purchasing or renovating the structure for 20 years. When you consider that after World War II the focus of development in the United States was towards expansion into the suburbs it is understandable why there was no attempt to repurpose the structure. One area that needs to be explored further and outside the scope of this writer’s expertise is the architectural design background of Emile Lorch. Considered the Dean of Michigan architecture Lorch, was part of the New School of architecture along with Sullivan and Wright, which may have had an influenced his view of the Barnes’ Mansion.  In his opinion the Barnes’ Mansion was an outdated style of architecture best ignored and replaced with and modern structure with simpler lines, much like the current residence of the Michigan governor. Was he correct? Well that is a subjective question. Keep in mind Lorch had his architectural presumptions.  If the Barnes’ Mansion existed today in the same state it was in during the 1940s it undoubtedly would have been saved as one of America’s best example of Victorian/Eastlake architecture in the United States and would be on the Nation Register of Historic Places. But that was not the case. Was it a mistake to tear down the home? The answer is yes, remember hindsight is 20/20, it is always easy to know what to do after something has occurred, but never easy to know what is correct when you make a decision. Consider the words of Lansing historian James P. Edmonds in 1948 “Lansing has never been very keen about preserving its old landmarks either public or private”. Undoubtedly this was a case of the lack of vision on the part of the city of Lansing. It is odd how nothing changes. Lansing has no sense of its past.

[1] The Panic of 1893 resulted in 43% unemployment in Michigan along with numerous bank failures. Historians note this fact concerning the Panic of 1893 in a dispassionate manner. But it was far worse, people were starving, in Detroit Mayor Hazen S. Pingree established urban vegetable gardens to help support the unemployed.

[2] At the time of his death Barnes’ estate was discovered to be $200,000 in debt, his son Edward navigated the estate through litigation and creditors. The financial ruin of the Barnes family fortunes is a complex and messy affair; see Cases Decided in the Supreme Court of Michigan… Volume 123, p 119. The note holders received different settlements, the Central Michigan Bank received 70¢ on the dollar, the Jeptha Wade Estate 25¢ on the dollar, while Thomas Marshall received just 5¢ on the dollar for the value of the note. The reason for the breakdown was that there were three mortgages on the Barnes property holdings. Mrs. Amanda Barnes secured the family home, three other city lots and the entire Block 197, which was on the west side of South Washington just after crossing the bridge.  See the LJ 2/7/1901 and the SR 2/7/1901. Oddly enough if Barnes had not written the notes to cover his son Orlando Fleming’s bad investments then the family fortune would have survived and his son would have bore the brunt of the financial burden. But that was not the type of man Barnes was.

[3] This may have been Scott Field Park, which may have been the site of Michigan Agricultural College’s first competitive football game versus Lansing High School.

[4] It is well worth reviewing Barnes’ Castle 1877-1957, which covers at history of the home, Lorch’s findings and more importantly the correspondence between Lansing architect Kenneth Black and Lorch.

Ok I promise the last part is next. Who knew it would be this long!

© Lost Lansing 2017