If you have driven past historic Gordon Hall at the intersection of Island Lake and Dexter Pinckney Roads in Dexter in the last month, you may have noticed that something is happening up there! Big equipment, lots of cars and trucks, and there is a big square brown area over the front porch. What is going on??
Gordon Hall is the home that was built by Samuel Dexter, the founder of Dexter, in 1843. The Dexter Area Historical Society (DAHS) began its exterior renovation in early April. The aluminum siding has been removed, and the wood clapboard underneath will be repaired and painted. In addition, the 1950’s era deck over the west porch has been removed and will be replaced with a porch roof that matches the one on the original building. When this work is complete the first week in June, Gordon Hall will look a lot closer to the way it did when Judge Dexter lived there, and the DAHS will have completed the first of many tasks needed to rehabilitate Dexter’s grand old house.
As you might imagine, taking off that aluminum siding was a little like unwrapping a present, as it provided a first opportunity to see how the original wood has fared over the years since it was covered up. It turns out the wood clapboard underneath is in remarkably good condition, with the large majority just needing to be cleaned and painted. And there were other nice surprises. There is some very elegant trim on the east and west gables under the roofline, and it is in great shape. We didn’t know what to expect under the aluminum on the northwest and southwest wings of the building, as these had been extensively modified by the University of Michigan in 1950, and it was possible there was no clapboard there at all. But the clapboard does exist, and in most places it is in good shape.
If you are familiar with old houses, you know that everything found won’t be good news, and this is true for Gordon Hall. There are some areas of significant rot. Fortunately they are not extensive, and even more fortunately, they have been discovered early enough to be able to repair them and make the necessary modifications so that they won’t recur. And then there is that large square of unpainted wood over the front porch that can be seen from the road. A check of the historic documentation confirmed that there was never a window there, so what does it represent? Our best guess is that the University put a big hole there in 1950 during the interior renovations to allow large beams to be brought into the attic. The modifications made at that time required extensive supplemental supports and framing up there, and it would not have been possible to bring the beams up the stairs on the inside.
The progress being made on the rehabilitation of Gordon Hall would not be possible without our community’s generous support. If you would like to donate toward this project, if you would like tovolunteer, or if you have questions, contact Caryl Burke at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also learn more at the DAHS website: www.dexterhistory.org and on the DAHS Facebook page:www.facebook.com/dexterhistory
This exterior renovation project is funded with a grant from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), under the Michigan Heritage Restoration Program. SHPO covers 60% of the total cost of the project and DAHS is paying the remaining 40%. The work is being done by Phoenix Contractors, Inc out of Ypsilanti, and is being overseen by HopkinsBurns Design Studio out of Ann Arbor. A group of able volunteers from DAHS (Neil Adams, Caryl Burke, Chet Hill, Bev Hill, and Jon Russell) is working with these great partners to manage the project and keep it on track.
A highlight of the 2016 Gordon Hall Days, June 11th & 12th, will be the Ann Arbor Model Railroad Club. Seventy years ago, a group of model railroaders got together to form the Ann Arbor Model Railroad Club. For 34 years the club moved all around Ann Arbor trying to find a permanent home. Finally in 1980 they read in the paper that the Dexter Youth Club wanted to sell the Dexter Depot. The Huron Valley Railroad Historical Society was formed as a 501(c)(3) organization in order to purchase the depot.
The club holds a huge flea market every year as their means of raising funds to be able to operate. These funds have permitted the organization to do extensive work on the depot to bring it back to its original glory. After all this hard work, the depot was designated a state historical site in 1986. One of the club's goals is to promote model railroading, and at the present time a layout in the depot recreates the railroad from Ann Arbor to Jackson.
This year the club will participate in Gordon Hall Days by bringing many items from the depot to Gordon Hall and showing them off to the public. These items will include an operating layout, photographs of days gone by, artifacts recovered over the years, and a switching layout where visitors can try their skills running trains. As an added attraction, the club will open and staff the Depot for visitors to come and see their permanent display during Gordon Hall Days. We will be open on Saturday, June 11th and Sunday, June 12th from 1-5 PM. The Depot is located on Broad Street at the railroad.
Pictured is the original Depot built in 1841 and one view of its replacement that was built in 1887. The pictures are part of the Flora Bostwick Smith Collection at the Dexter Area Museum.
As part of Gordon Hall Days, June 11th & 12th, we will have a special room inside Gordon Hall to show our collection of items from the 1941 Centennial Celebration of the Railroad’s coming to Dexter. Judge Samuel Dexter was a proponent of the Railroad and gave much of the land for the railroad to come through Dexter. We will have many pictures, a 1941 video, and artifacts from the Centennial celebration. An added feature will be the presence of some community members who were at the celebration. We have made contact with Robert Mast, Barbara Bradbury Wing, and Jack Blanchard so far, and we hope there will be others willing to share their memories. That’s young Jack Blanchard in the picture with his parents in 1941.
Do you know what a track pan is? No you can't fry eggs in it. How about a frog? I don't mean the kind you find in a pond. Where did the term "Highball" come from? Why are railroad tracks 4 foot 8 1/2 inches wide? Be sure to attend Railroad days at Gordon Hall June 11th and 12th to learn the answers to these and other questions. There will be examples of locomotive types that used to pull trains through Dexter. There will be a number of pictures that show what the area around the depot looked like many years ago. If you like model trains, there will be operating layouts for you to observe. There will also be people on hand to attempt to answer all your questions. Come and enjoy a great weekend, and take home a lot of memories. DON'T FORGET YOUR CAMERA!
An important part of Gordon Hall Days is the entertainment, and we would like to tell you about a group that has already agreed to perform for us. The Dexter Dulcimer players meet on Thursday mornings at the Senior Center. They will be playing some Railroad tunes on Saturday, June 11, 2016 at 11 AM in front of Gordon Hall. Then on Sunday, June 12, 2016 also at 11 AM the Dexter Dulcimers will be accompanying the old-time Hymn sing. You are invited to share some of the old-time Hymns with us.
There will be speakers and music both Saturday and Sunday to educate and entertain you. Look for our upcoming articles for more information about what else we have planned!
The Dexter Area Historical Society in connection with the Ann Arbor Model Railroad Club will present a special event on June 10, 11, and 12, 2016. Called “Gordon Hall Days”, we will be highlighting the Railroad which came to Dexter 175 years ago. On July 4, 1841, Judge Samuel W. Dexter and the residents of the Dexter welcomed the first trains to Dexter. In July of 1941, the Village of Dexter had a grand celebration to celebrate the Centennial of the Railroad and as part of that event, Gordon Hall was opened to the public.
Now seventy-five years later we are celebrating the Railroad again. At Gordon Hall we will have speakers, musical events, Historical displays, children’s activities and much more. The Ann Arbor Model Railroad Club will have displays in Gordon Hall as well as at the old depot.
In the next few weeks we will be letting you know about the special people and events we have planned for your enjoyment. We will be posting articles here and on our Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/dexterhistory/
Check back for new articles soon!