That year, the city was pushing hard for a decrease in the number of rental units. Home Owning is City's Slogan was splashed across newspapers. The city partnered with developers to boost the percentage of home ownership to all-time highs. Owner-occupied homes represented nearly 80 percent of the housing stock. (Current figures are about 50 percent.)
The home-ownership movement put a moratorium on rental properties. Any new residents coming to the city faced one option — buying a home. The movement centered on creating a sense of community and place for the family. The same edition of the State Journal quotes an anonymous person as saying: Chief among the considerations that should present themselves to the average family is the influence of home on children. The spirit of pride in the home and family, one of the strongest elements in character building, is fostered and enhanced only when there is a real home, a permanent home, one that children can regard as 'our home.'
To promote home ownership, city leaders even arranged with school superintendent J.W. Sexton to have children at all 18 Lansing schools write individual essays entitled, Why you should own your own home. Cash prizes were awarded for the best essays, and the finalists were published in the State Journal.
Both the Espanore and Westmoreland subdivisions make up a portion of today's Westside Neighborhood. These subdivisions, platted in 1916, have maintained much of their original character and charm. Despite the lack of a historic district designation, owners have understood the importance such a neighborhood has for both Lansing's future and its past.
The land had been a farm for decades before its owner sold it to Standard Realty and the Dyer-Jenison-Barry Land Co. All that remained was an old cattle barn, according to author Birt Darling in his history of Lansing, City in the Forest. This new development became a pseudo-suburb — new homes built on former farmland, yet within walking distance of the Capitol.
The neighborhood's original inhabitants seemed to have a grasp on history. One of the first occupants, George N. Fuller, helped create the state's Michigan Historic Commission, which later became the Archives of Michigan. Fuller and his wife lived in their Genesee Street home most of their lives. But after they died, the home fell into disrepair to the point of being condemned by the city. But Fuller's grandchildren intervened and saved the home. The historical significance of the home was too important to let go, George Smith, Fuller's grandson, said in an interview.
The neighborhood has its share of myths. One of the longest standing questions is that of the home on Osborn Road known as the Governor's Mansion. It seems the story got legs from Darling's book. In it, Darling wrote about the property near the Verlinden Plant, including a reference to the Osborn Mansion at 1715 Osborn Road. But a search of property records, city directories and fire insurance atlases shows no supporting evidence for the mystery mansion — nor does that address even exist.
Gov. Chase Osborn served from 1911 to 1912. During that time, he lived at 615 S. Grand Ave. His neighbor at 616 S. Grand was Dr. Samuel Osborn (no known relation). After losing his bid for re-election, Gov. Osborn hastened back to his beloved Sault Ste. Marie. According to biographies and city directory records, he kept his permanent residence in the Sault. So where did this governor's mansion come from?
A quick trip to the register of deeds solves the mystery of the property. Gov. Osborn purchased part of the farmland near Verdlinden in 1911. Once subdivided in 1916, Gov. Osborn began selling lots, and deeded the mystery mansion lot to his oldest daughter, Ethel Osborn Ferguson.
In 1919, Ethel Ferguson sold the vacant lot to investors, who in turn sold it to Dr. Osborn. Dr. Osborn sold the vacant lot to John Lilley, a production manager for Oldsmobile. The home was first listed in the 1920 city directory. Lilley stayed until 1937. After a few changes in ownership, the present owner bought the house in 1955.
The Gov. Osborn myth even drifted to the house next door. A local real estate company claims in a current sales listing that Gov. Osborn gave the neighboring house as a gift to his adopted daughter. But the promotions people got their Osborns confused; it was Samuel Osborn, not the governor, who owned the lots next door. He built a house there and lived on the property for decades.
(As an interesting aside, Michigan's governors had to fend for themselves when it came to housing. The state did not provide an official residence until 1969, when Gov. William Milliken moved into the Howard and Letha Sober residence on Oxford Drive. Even this move was controversial, as Sober, a known gambler, sold the home for $1 but charged hundreds of thousands of dollars for the furnishings and extensive art collection.)
All homes have a story, not just the ones in the Espanore and Westmoreland subdivisions; Lansing has just guarded these homes and their stories better than others. Visit the Archives of Michigan or the Forest Parke Memorial Library in the Lansing Public Library to learn more about the history of your home.
(Mark Harvey is the state archivist at the Archives of Michigan.)