The above image represents a "lost" piece of history - now discovered and housed within the Archives of Michigan! This blueprint - by famed Lansing architect Darius B. Moon - is to the residence of Ransom E. Olds, father of the Oldsmobile.
The Olds mansion blueprints had been missing for almost a century. Then, in October, 2002, Antonia and John Miernik attended the estate sale of Ms. Nicolette McElroy in Lansing. There, amongst "a stack of moldy books," they discovered the long-lost plans! The couple decided not to keep the blueprints. Antonia contacted Sue Cantlon, an East Lansing resident who was active in local historic preservation. Cantlon contacted Mark Harvey, State Archivist of Michigan. The Mierniks, by then living in Florida, worked through Cantlon to deliver the materials - free of charge - to the Archives of Michigan. (For further details, see Lawrence Cosentino's article "Phantom Moon over Lansing," published in the November 16, 2005 issue of Lansing's City Pulse newspaper. Click City Pulse to visit the City Pulse web site.)
Thanks to the Melnieks' selfless act, the blueprints now belonged to the people of Michigan. Unfortunately, the materials had deteriorated badly over the last century. Enter the Friends of Michigan History, who agreed to fund their restoration. Restoration work was done by Ann Flowers, a conservationist at the Bentley Historical Library on the University of Michigan campus. The historically valuable blueprints were then returned to the Archives of Michigan, where they will continue to be preserved and made accessible to the general public!
Ransom and Metta Olds' house, completed by 1904, was located in Lansing, at the corner of South Washington Avenue and Main Street. It was within easy walking distance of the Oldsmobile plant and the soon-to-be-constructed Reo Motors plant (Olds left Oldsmobile to form Reo that same year.). The Olds lived near several other prominent Lansingites. One notable neighbor was Eugene Cooley, a founder of the Lansing Gas Light Company and son of famous judge Thomas Cooley. The Olds residence was also close to the elaborate mansion built by Lansing attorney, entrepreneur and one-time mayor Orlando M. Barnes. (Archivist Mary Zimmeth wrote an article on the Barnes mansion for City Pulse. Click Barnes Mansion to read it.)
The Olds house was an L-shaped structure consisting of two and a half stories. Ransom Olds biographer George S. May described it as "typical of the homes of the well-to-do being constructed during the Victorian Era. The exterior walls were of buff-colored brick, trimmed with red sandstone. The hip roof was covered with green slate, and in the corners were towers; these were removed in 1952... The interior was impressive, with its paneled walls, its paneled or decorated ceilings, and its marquetry floors with three- and four- tone borders." (See George S. May's R. E. Olds: Auto Industry Pioneer. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977, pg. 205)
May notes that the interior included an "automobile room." More elaborate than modern day garages, this completely finished off and heated room took up one thousand feet of floor space. Features included a vehicle turntable, which enabled Olds to drive outside without backing up his car!
Despite such comforts, George May asserts that Olds' home was actually modest compared to those of other automotive industry heads. May points out, for example, that Henry Ford's house cost ten times as much as Olds'! May states that Olds' mansion cost $25,000. According to the web site "Inflation Calculator" (Click Inflation Calculator for this site.), this would be roughly equivalent to $514,000 in 2005 (Figures for 2006 and 2007 are not available.)
Ransom and Metta Olds' residence no longer stands. It was demolished in 1971 to make way for I-496, the highway that currently traverses the City of Lansing.
Lansing's R. E. Olds Transportation Museum spotlights Ransom Olds and the auto industry in Lansing. Click Olds Museum to access their web site.
Archives of Michigan staff write Lansing history articles for the City Pulse newspaper. Click City Pulse articles for a complete list of links.
Many people become interested in the history of their homes. The Archives of Michigan has created a Genealogy of a House presentation that interest such individuals. Click Genealogy of a House to access the presentation.
-Bob Garrett, Archivist
Click Archives of Michigan to visit the Archives of Michigan home page.
Click Archives Image of the Month to view archived image pages.
Archives of Michigan
Michigan Library and Historical Center
702 W. Kalamazoo Street
Lansing, MI 48913
Phone: (517) 373-1408
This page is the Archives Image of the Month page for January 2007.
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