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.