My Travel Philosophy

“The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” – Saint Augustine

Sunday, August 4, 2013

My New Hobby: Grand Old Houses

Jeff and I took a weekend trip to the U.P. as Scott was using the cottage for the weekend and I had always wanted to see the waterfalls.  It was a great weekend and we had a fun time -- and it started a new hobby for me.  When I went to England in 2010, I visited a lot of manor homes and mansions that are now open to the public.  When we went through Laurium, Michigan, I saw signs for a mansion tour so we found the home and did take a tour of Laurium Manor.  As a result, it dawned on me that we probably have a lot of really wonderful old homes, manors, and mansions in this country that are open to visitation by the public so that's now my new hobby.

Laurium Manor
From the brochure about the home:  "Copper mining on the Keweenaw Peninsula was in its hey day in 1908.  With the copper came wealth and opportunity.  Across the region large mansions sprang up as a testament to copper mine owners' success.  Thomas H. Hoatson, owner of the Calumet & Arizona Mining Co. completed the largest and most opulent of these mantions in the Village of Laurium.  Hoatson spared no expense in building this 13,000 sq. ft. 45 room home for himself, his wife Cornelia, and their 6 children. At a time when miners made 25 cents per hour, the Hoatson family built this house for $50,000."

It was really fun to walk through the house, which is now open to public tours and is also run as an historic hotel.  Some of the bedrooms were not open for viewing because they were occupied by guests.  I wish we had known that before heading out as it would have been fun to stay in one of the rooms and eat in the family dining room.  Next time!

Fireplace in the den
The mansion was wired for electrical lights in 1908 and still retains the original push button switches.  Heat was supplied by a hot water boiler that fed the radiators that are still in use today.  Each room had its own pneumatic thermostat that controlled the mushroom shaped valve on each radiator.  Thermometers were not common in 1908 so there are marks for freezing, temperate, summer heat, and blood heat.  The den is where the men would retire after a formal dinner to discuss business.  The women would go to the music parlor.  The Hoatson's did not reside in the mansion during the summer.  The fireplace is made of hand carved oak and glass tiles and may have been designed and built by Tiffany.  The thistle design in the tile surround is there because Captain Hoatson was of Scottish descent and the thistle is the symbol of Scotland.
Dining Room

The dining room was used for formal dining occasions.  In the middle of the room, there was a push button switch that could be activated with the touch of a foot.  This rang a bell in the kitchen to let the butler know that it was time to serve the next course of the meal.  The wall covering is elephant hide leather embossed and gilded.  The table can extend to seat 12 people and is currently used for guests each morning.

One of the guest bedrooms
The parlor contained a box grand piano, and has a vaulted dome ceiling.  The room is covered with canvas that is hand painted.  The Hoatson's owned the manor until 1949, when Maynard & Jane Hurlbert purchased it.  They owned it until 1979.  From 1979 to 1989 there were six different owners.  during this period some of the owners were antique dealers that stripped the home of its original fixtures and stained glass windows.  In 1989 the mansion was purchased by David and Julie Sprenger.

At the time the mansion was purchased by the Sprengers, it had been vacant for 10 years and was not in livable condition.  The heating and plumbing did not work, and almost all light fixtures and many windows were missing.  All furniture was gone.  Renovations were begun in 1989 and continue as furnishings are located that accurately represent the period.  There are now 10 guest bedrooms used as part of the hotel.

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