Michigan's Historic Governor's House

Michigan's Historic Governor's HouseYou may have seen a distinctive white house with red shutters as you drive by on Main Street. And you may have glanced at the Greek Revival porch and roof dormers peeking from behind the large tree in front. You may never have guessed this house was built for Michigan governors. Now the home of King’s Kids Educational Learning Center, the house at 2003 West Main Street originally was located in downtown Lansing on the southeast corner of South Capitol Avenue and West Allegan Street near the original, wood-framed Capitol building of that day. Not long after Lansing became the capital city of Michigan, state officials decided to build a residence for its governors. They built a small frame house in 1848, which was referred to as the “Governor’s Mansion.” However, no governor ever lived there.

Governor John B. Barry refused to live in the house. It was reported that Barry was unimpressed with the house by comparison with his more elaborate home in Three Rivers. Yet the house had been built for state purposes, and two early state auditor generals resided in the “mansion.” After the state Capitol building was erected in 1871, the house and land was sold to a wealthy Lansing lawyer named Barnes, who used it for a land office for the railroad. Barnes ran for governor in 1878, but lost, and again the house missed its chance to serve a governor.

The “mansion” continued to serve as the railroad’s home office until 1900. The house changed hands often during the late 1800’s. In 1905, Lansing architect Edwin Bowd bought the house and used it for his home and office. Edwin Bowd was a prolific architect who designed many buildings in Lansing and had several county courthouse commissions, including the Montcalm Co. Courthouse in Stanton, Michigan.

By the 1920’s, the house was out of place in the commercial setting of growing downtown Lansing. Bowd moved the house in 1923 to its present location and at that time the house underwent considerable remodeling. Bowd lived in the house until his death in 1940, after which his wife, and then his married daughter, made it their residence.

The house has passed through numerous owners over time, but has been amazingly well preserved. In 1988 a fire damaged the structure’s south side. In other notoriety, Edward Swans, who died in police custody in 1996, was arrested after trying to break into the daycare with a pickax.

The next time you drive down Main Street, look for the Governor’s Mansion, a house built for Michigan’s governors, one of Lansing’s oldest remaining houses, and a home with a history.

Carol Skillings

Thanks to Jim MacClean and Robin Benson for their assistance with this article.