Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Dodge House gardens subject of student’s research
|Renee Blackburn chose to explore the gardens outside of John Dodge House on east campus for a class project. They are no longer used and their current appearance does not reflect their historical significance. |
By Rebecca Wyatt Thomas, OU Web Writer
Prior to becoming a higher education institution in 1957, Oakland University was home to the Dodge/Wilson family. Many of the landmarks on campus represent this history but may be overlooked. Associate Professor Richard Stamps’ special topics anthropology class spent the winter 2006 semester finding these historic landmarks and researching them. Renee Blackburn chose the gardens outside of John Dodge House on east campus. They are no longer used and their current appearance does not reflect their historical significance.
Oakland University co-founder Matilda Dodge Wilson worked as a secretary for the Dodge Brothers Motor Car Company, where she met her first husband, John Dodge. The couple had three children, Francis, Daniel and Anna Margaret. The family lived in Grosse Pointe but had Meadow Brook Farm in Rochester, a working farm. While at the farm, they lived in what is now known as John Dodge House.
When Anna Margaret was just a few months old, John Dodge died of influenza. At the age of five, Anna Margaret died of an infection following the measles.
Shortly after the death of her daughter, Matilda married Alfred Wilson, a lumber broker. The couple decided to expand Meadow Brook Farm and build Meadow Brook Hall rather than complete a mansion in Grosse Pointe started by John Dodge. Based on the design of castles and manor houses in England, Detroit architectural firm Smith, Hinchman & Grylls designed and built the 110-room, Tudor-revival style home that is Meadow Brook Hall. The house was completed in 1929 and the Wilsons, along with their two adopted children Richard and Barbara, lived in the house for 38 years.
Blackburn decided to focus her research on the gardens surrounding John Dodge House. Gardens were really important to Matilda. Blackburn estimates the gardens were installed in 1936, around the time the pool was installed at the location.
The area is made of slate with limestone terraces and a fountain system that mimics a natural river valley.
“The fountain is possibly the most interesting part of the entire area. It starts near the pool and twists and turns down the edge of the property near Adams Road. It starts as a pool and then cascades down into a narrow valley made of the same limestone that was used to make the terraces,” Blackburn said. “The problem now is erosion. Erosion of the soil is causing the terraces to start to collapse and the entryway is tipping also. Plus, the limestone itself is eroding. It’s so interesting that no one knows the garden is there. It is bordered on two sides by Katke-Cousins Golf Course and on a third side by Adams Road.”
Blackburn said she didn’t know the garden existed before starting the project. She said that while members of the class chose many of the landmarks around John Dodge House, there are still a number of others remaining that she thinks would be interesting to explore.
“This was a great class. At first, we spent a lot of time in the classroom learning about different historic preservation issues and laws, but we also took a trip to Meadow Brook Hall and the archives in Kresge Library. Towards the end of the semester, we had the entire class session to do fieldwork and visit our site, talk to people who may have information or research it in the library,” Blackburn said. “At the end of the class, we all presented our work to the class and discussed ways we could teach the community about the John Dodge House area.”
Blackburn said the project took her quite a bit of time to complete. As part of the class, she had a paper due at the beginning of the class on the topic. Her’s was on early 20th century gardens. Then the work got more specific.
Now that she has learned so much about their history, Blackburn hopes that one day the gardens can be restored.
“The garden is overgrown and hasn’t been cared for in a long time. I wish there was a way to incorporate that into the Meadow Brook Garden Club or possibly even have it taken care of by the Rochester community or OU community,” Blackburn said.
This year marks Oakland University’s 50th anniversary. For more information, visit the 50th anniversary Web site.