Tuesday, June 30, 2009


I guess you could call this one of those things on my "bucket list" of things to do, in this town anyway. Voigt House is a Victorian mansion that was built in 1895-96, and turned into a museum when the last living owner passed away in 1971. For years, I had intended to visit this house, part of the Grand Rapids Public Museum, but somehow never made it.

Today, sadly, was the last day of tours for this stately mansion. Citing declining visitors over the past 3 years, the Museum board decided to close it for good, mainly due to budget constraints, a sign of the times. So I put it on my calendar and made a point to go, one last chance.

(picture from their website, showing the still unpaved driveway, probably back in the 1950s).

The Voigt House is in our Heritage Hill section of the City, originally built way up the hill from the river, obviously to avoid any flooding, but more likely because it was like the outskirts of town back then and that's where the wealthy built their homes. Carl Voigt came to this country from Germany and eventually found his way to Grand Rapids, where he was a business partner with another area notable from that era as well as owning a sawmill. He had several children from 2 different marriages (first wife died), and the Voigt passed away in 1971.

I must have picked a good time to go, right after the lunch crowd, because I was able to enter without waiting. By the time I left, there was a line all the way out to the street waiting to get in. They had you put on shoe covers to keep things clean and avoid damage to the carpet and flooring.

The first room off the entry way was a library.

Across the entry hallway was the parlor, where visitors were received. All the furniture, carpeting, and draperies are authentic, dating back to when the house was built in 1895.

From the parlor you entered another small room that looked like a game room, card room, or some sort of play area. Next was a downstairs bedroom, which in itself was unusual, where the Voigt's slept while the children were upstairs, but for practical purposes, as the owners became elderly and unable to use the steps, the upstairs was closed off and the downstairs bedroom was used. Again, authentic furniture, and the mattress was stuffed with pine needles. I wonder if those needles poked through as they became brittle with age??

Off the downstairs bedroom was a small bathroom. Note the original small tub and the beautiful marble countertop for the sink. Because the plumbing was updated in the 1960s (no city water or sewer until the '50s), there was a newer toilet and full sized clawfoot tub as well.

Then it was on to the kitchen. There was a call box in the kitchen connected to buttons in each of the upstairs and master bedroom and parlor room of the house. It would be lit with a color coded system indicating which person or room needed attention when the corresponding button was pushed. A precursor to the intercom system. Also note the stove, the sink and the sideboard. It was was explained how water was collected on the roof when it rained and then was used for whatever purpose it was needed, but even back then they drank bottled water, so no new concept there. Probably got it from the iceman.

There was also a butler's pantry with an "icebox" built into the wall. If you can see the wood, it was either all mahogany or golden oak that was used for flooring, baseboards, and window and door trims. Again, all authentic, and shows the durability of good wood.

Next was a small serving nook, where servants kept coffee and other items for meals in the dining room next door. (missed that picture because it was a small room and too many people in it at one time)

The dining room was done in golden oak, a tapestry wall covering, and a stenciled border. Note the dining table that could seat 20 people, and the stained glass window at one end of the room. Under that was a gas fireplace, built, we were told, on the same pattern of one of Thomas Jefferson's. (Hard to see fireplace from this pic. Note the guide in period dress.)

Also note the buffet and china cabinet. Signature furniture by the Berkey and Gay Furniture Company, which put Grand Rapids on the map as "furniture capital of the world" back then. Not so sure that title holds any more. There were also wall radiators with plate warming shelves on the top. Quite clever. Shows the human ingenuity and developing technology during those years.

From there, we were led upstairs. Note the wood staircase and the stained glass window at the top.

The upstairs was actually quite spacious, especially when I compare it to other houses built around the same time period. But, of course, these people were wealthy, and this was a mansion, so it shouldn't be surprising. One thing of note was the number of closets in the bedrooms and other rooms in the house. Back then, in Grand Rapids anyway, houses were taxed not by the value of the house but by how many rooms they had in their houses, and each closet was considered a room and taxed accordingly. Thus, only the wealthy had lots of closets. Probably why big dressers were the thing back then too.

Various bedrooms of the children of the house, a sewing room, another bathroom. I noticed no toilet in this one but the "water closet" was explained: it was actually in a closet! Lots of privacy there, but I'm not so sure I'd want to have to get up in the night with no lighting! And then me with the fussy nose had to wonder about "the smell" what with no ventilation. Ew. You just can't beat modern plumbing and electricity!

In the back of the upstairs was a section that could be closed off with smaller bedrooms that were sparsely furnished, which was the servants quarters. They had their own back staircase to the kitchen, and their bathroom was in the basement (which we didn't get to see).

And another stained glass window in the upstairs hallway.

This is the entry way to the side porch, leading to the back yard and carriage house.

I just love these old houses and the history surrounding them, and its really too bad today will be the last day for tours. Hopefully the house will be kept as some sort of historical landmark, and at some point in the future it will reopen for another generation to enjoy. Thanks for taking a walk back in time with me!


I Run for Fun said...

I love visitng old houses...and imagining the families that lived in them. My favorite room is the kitchen. Thanks for sharing...the pics are awesome. The stained glass is magnificient.

Black Knight said...

Thanks for the post. The pics are beautiful and they bring me to the past! In 1896 my grandpa was born and in that year the building was built. I like also to visit old houses, I find them very amazing.

Marlene said...

Glad you were able to check it out before they closed it down. That place looks incredible! My husband and I had our wedding ceremony & reception at an old mansion like that. I love the details!

Anne said...

I love old, historic houses too. I'm glad you got to see this one before it closed, and before the long line formed.

ShirleyPerly said...

Wow, I think someone ought to reference your blog if they want to see what they missed out on after the place closes. Sad about that, though.

And hopefully this visit mean you took a day off from working out :-)

Just_because_today said...

what a beauty - loved the stove! WEll, they got a lot of visitors this time, right? so maybe they will reopen, maybe people can write a petition and show interest but yes, the economy...
Glad you got to see it