Gordon Hall, a circa-1840s manse with a suspected tie to the Underground Railroad, is getting the once-over from a team of consultants preparing a historic building rehabilitation master plan. The Dexter Area Historical Society & Museum
(DAHSM) owned property sits on a 50-acre plot in Webster and Scio Townships but is visible from downtown Dexter, says Melissa Milton-Pung, a project manager with the Washtenaw County Department of Economic Development and Energy.
"I believe that there is a connection to the Underground Railroad - a lot of people do," Milton-Pung says. "It's just difficult to find documentation, obviously, for something that was so hidden during the time when it was active."
The work on the storied property is funded by a $14,752 grant from the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office along with a $10,000 grant from the Knight Foundation. Local architecture firm HopkinsBurns Design Studio won out over a dozen bidders to lead the project, which Milton-Pung expects will be completed this summer.
Katherine Dexter McCormick, an early supporter of birth control pill research and granddaughter of original owner Judge Samuel Dexter, for whom the village of Dexter is named, gifted the property to the University of Michigan in 1950. In 2000, the DAHSM purchased the 9,900-square-foot home from the university, which had divided it into four faculty apartments in the 1950s.
"In doing so...they gutted the entire interior, and so there is practically no original historic fabric left on the interior, and the exterior has been sided aluminum," explains Milton-Pung. "So there is a lot that needs to be done to assess the current condition of the property in terms of its historic integrity, but the property is not in disrepair."
The original central staircase and grand entry foyer were removed during the reconfiguration.
The team will have access to drawings done by U-M's first dean of architecture, Emile Lorch, (for whom Lorch Hall is named) and the Historic American Building Survey prior to its alteration, which Milton-Pung believes will be incorporated into the consultants' recommendations. Estimated rehab costs are unavailable but will be addressed in the plan.
Its purpose, she says, is to make recommendations for maintenance and restoration of the property for different possible uses. "There is some desire to have it as a house museum, and there is also some desire to make sure that we have it in a more active use so that people can continue to want to go there and not say, 'Oh, well, I've already been there.'" Gordon Hall has hosted weddings and other events, school trips, and it is also the site of a Civil War days commemorative event from June 10-12.
And the completed plan will be a mark of credibility behind future funding requests when it comes time to do the actual rehabilitation. Says Milton-Pung, "I have every confidence that major work will be taking place at the property over the next several years."Source: Melissa Milton-Pung, project manager with the Washtenaw County Department of Economic Development and EnergyWriter: Tanya Muzumdar