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Signing a contract on Feb. 13, 2020: Dexter Area Historical Society President Bev Hill and Steve Brouwer of A.R. Brouwer stand at the table and behind them from left to right are: Jessica Green Quijano of HopkinsBurns Design Studio, Neil Adams and Caryl Burke of the area historical society and Allison Bishop of A.R. Brouwer.

| 2 min read | by Lonnie Huhman, lhuhman@thesuntimesnews.com |

From 1841 to 1950 and now to 2020, the history of Gordon Hall in Dexter is seeing the home of the community’s founder starting down a new path to go back in time.

The first step was taken on Feb. 13, when the Dexter Area Historical Society, who owns and operates Gordon Hall, signed a contract with local construction firm, A. R. Brouwer, to see renovation work begin very soon at Gordon Hall.  

Beverly Hill, president of the Dexter Area Historical Society, said the plan has always been motivated by preserving history. As part of the restoration planning, the historical society has looked for help from the HopkinsBurns Design Studio, who specialize in historic preservation projects.

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From fundraising to hosting events at Gordon Hall to getting some big help from an anonymous donor, Dexter area historians have been aiming to get the home to a place that looks more like 1841 than 1950, and is more user -friendly to visitors wanting to see a piece of Dexter’s history.

The Dexter Area Historical Society is a nonprofit organization that supports the preservation of the history of the Dexter area. It owns and operates two properties: the Dexter Area Museum and Gordon Hall. 

Neil Adams, who is part of the area historical society’s board of directors, said they will start at Gordon Hall by adding three bathrooms to the ground floor, creating a room on the second level and replacing the back porch with a replica of the original.  

Jessica Green Quijano of HopkinsBurns said DAHS’s objective is to maintain the historic integrity of the site, building and all of its character-defining features, while at the same time conducting a thorough rehabilitation of the building’s interior to reconstruct historic room configurations and architectural features that were previously removed by past property owners.

Quijano said in 1951, the University of Michigan took ownership of the property and completely gutted the historic interior, converting the historic residence into four apartments, each with its own kitchen and bathroom.

“DAHS’s present-day plans for this historic house museum will incorporate modern updates into the work to allow for the on-going evolution of the property in a manner that ensures its future social and economic vitality while respecting its historic integrity,” Quijano said. “Work shall be executed sensitively and in a manner that gives the highest priority to retaining and preserving existing historic materials and components.”  

The historical society puts on events at Gordon Hall throughout the year to raise funds for the rehabilitation of the building. The building can also be rented for weddings and other events. 

The most recent Christmas at the Mansion event saw over 600 people visit.

Caryl Burke, vice president for the historical society, said since taking over ownership in 2006 from the University of Michigan they have done a lot of little things at the historical home, such as addressing some of the exterior of the building by taking off the siding, but this new phase will be bigger.

Another thing the area historical society has done since was pay off the cost of the home ($1.5 million) in 2014.

Hill said they wouldn’t be at this new moment if it wasn’t for the continuing community support and volunteer help they’ve received over the years.

“We truly appreciate all of the help and support from the community,” Hill said inside the offices of A.R. Brouwer in Dexter after signing the contract with Steve Brouwer.

“We couldn’t do this without all of their help,” she said.

“We have a great team of volunteers who work hard,” Burke said.

Important moments for Gordon Hall have been marked over time.

Here are a few from the area historical society’s webpage:

1841-1843 – Judge Dexter built his home west of the Village on an estate of 1,700 acres on a rise of ground where a beautiful view of Dexter is seen. The home was named Gordon Hall in honor of his mother Catherine Gordon Dexter.

1950 – Gordon Hall was given to the University of Michigan by Katherine McCormick.

Early 1951 – Despite the pleas of many noted preservationists from across the country, the home was divided into four large apartments and rented to university faculty and staff. Forty acres of the 70 acre site was leased for farming.

1958 – Gordon Hall was placed on the state Register of Historic Places.

1972 – Gordon Hall was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

2006 Mar 15 – Dexter Area Historical Society and Museum assumed ownership.

And now Feb. 13, 2020…

The historical society said the work will begin soon and it’s expected to be done by this spring when it opens to the public.

This work is just phase one of a larger project and the historical society aims to continue the restoration process with help from such upcoming events as Gordon Hall Days on June 26-27, where George Bedard and the Kingpins lend some musical help, and the fundraising dinner in partnership with St. Joseph Mercy Hospital Chelsea on Sept. 12.

For more information on Gordon Hall, go to www.dexterhistory.org or call 734-426-2519.

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