John Robson

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Robson House

Mayor John Robson Home 335 N. Walnut

In 1871 construction started on one of Lansing’s iconic homes. There are few people in Lansing today who remember the Robson residence since it was torn down about 80 years ago. Remember the site is Lost Lansing, so we seek out what was once present in Lansing to document what we have lost. The destruction of the Robson home seemed to set a precedent for historic preservation in Lansing, there was none. The home was torn down for no reason other then to use the stone in the construction of a garage and the lot that the house sat upon remained empty until 1965 when the Ferris Park Towers was built.

The residence was constructed in 1871-1872 for John Robson. The home was designed by Lansing architect Orville V. Fuller, a local architect that I mistakenly confused as being part of the local building firm of Fuller & Wheeler. The work of Orville Fuller will be examined at a later date on this site. The Robson home was two stories in height with a Mansard roof; the house faced Walnut Street and was 31 by 33 feet with an extension on the rear measuring 33 by 24 feet. The lot had a 99-foot frontage on Walnut Street and was 128 feet deep bordered on the north by Shiawassee Street. Local craftsmen were employed in the construction of the house; Longstreet & Lapham installed all the interior woodwork, Parker & Hilliard were responsible for the masonry and brick work, while the Hatch brother painted and did the graining work on the interior.[1]

The interior rooms on the first floor were a parlor, kitchen, pantry, bedroom and a bathroom with a large copper tub; the rooms were extremely large with high ceilings. There were seven bedrooms on the second floor as well as a bathroom that was supplied by water from a rooftop tank, John’s daughter Mrs. Antoinette R. Smith related that family members took turns pumping the water to the tank. Antoinette was married to Gurdon B. Smith (yes his name was Gurdon), President of Smith Floral and lived next to her father’s home at 415 W. Shiawassee. The area under the Mansard roof contained two large recreational rooms, it was said in 1873 that given the home’s location on high ground there was a magnificent view of the city, the Grand River and the countryside, which demonstrates just how much the city had expanded in latter years. Two other aspects of the home need to be mentioned the basement extended under the full footprint of the building and there was a winding staircase that extended from the front hall to the recreation rooms on the upper floor. The staircase was of walnut with a hand carved railing.

Robson, John 200

John Robson

So who was John Robson? He was born in Canada on August 25, 1833 to Thomas and Rachel (née Rix) Robson. In 1837 the family immigrated to the United States settling in Farmington Hills, Michigan where Thomas worked as a tailor. At the age of 20, John moved to Lansing and found employment with James I. Mead at his store in North Lansing where John worked as a clerk. Three years later James and Mead established a partnership and the dry goods store of Mead & Robson was formed. The business was located at the northwest corner of Grand River (Franklin) Avenue and Center Street. In 1862 the partnership was dissolved when Robson bought out Mead’s interest in the store and in 1867 he moved the business to the south end of Lansing where he ran a general store. Around 1887 John formed the Robson Carpet Company, which he managed until his death. He also started the Robson’s Brother Wholesale Grocery that he ran with his brothers Robert and Charles. Eventually Robert and Charles joined John in the carpet business located at 223 N. Washington. John was elected Mayor in 1871 and was instrumental in getting the first iron bridge built on Michigan Avenue over the Grand River. He also purchased the first steam fire engines for the city. He served as an alderman from 1873-1877 and was elected Mayor again in 1881. In 1901 he was elected to as a state senator when he defeated Frank L. Dodge, he served one term. In regards to his personal life, John married Miss Mary Ingersoll in 1858; the couple had three children Frank, Dwight and Antoinette. Mary passed away in 1874 a year later John married Miss Julia S. Farrand on October 12, 1875; the couple had six children; Hattie, Mary, Helen and Theodore T., Frank and A.M. Robson. On July 8, 1916 an automobile driven by Harold N. Mills struck John at the corner of Washington and Ottawa. At first John’s injuries were not thought to be life threatening but his condition deteriorated and John Robson passed away a week later on July 14, 1916. Harold Mills was not charged in the accident, witnesses testified that Harold was driving safely and that John seemed confused and walked in front of the vehicle.

In 1936 Joseph Gleason purchased the home from the family and decided to tear down the home and use the stone to build a four car garage at his home at 323 N. Walnut. So ends the saga of another Lost Lansing residence.

For further information see; LR 6/13/1873, LSJ 7/15/1916, LSJ 1,1,1934, LSJ 1/2/1934 and LSJ 6/13/1936

[1] “Graining is the practice of imitating wood grain on a non-wood surface in order to increase that surface’s aesthetic appeal. Graining was common in the 19th century, as people were keen on imitating hard, expensive woods by applying a superficial layer of paint onto soft, inexpensive woods.” Wikipedia Graining 10/5/2015

© Lost Lansing 2015