GRADUATE THEOLOGICAL FOUNDATION
The Dodge House
415 Lincoln Way East
“Recovering the Past. Anticipating the Future”
The following is a brief history of the Dodge House (built 1889) and how that history has now become an integral part of the Graduate Theological Foundation (established 1962) as that institution makes ready for the next step in its continued work in ministry education (2008). Articles for this story have been provided by The Heritage Center of Mishawaka Public Library and are, for the most part, taken from periodic articles published in the South Bend Tribune over the past thirty-five years. Much information has been originally provided by Travis Childs of the Northern Indiana Center for History. Where possible, bibliographic credit is given at the end of this story.
Though experiencing various occupancies during the past one hundred and nearly twenty years, the Dodge House retains its old-world charm. The house, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, was built by Lucius K. Robinson as an elegant single-family dwelling and a focal point of graceful entertaining. Lucius and Sarah Robinson came to Mishawaka in 1875. Lucius served as a Union officer in the Civil War and took part in many major battles including Shiloh and the siege of Corinth. Upon returning to civilian life, he learned the trade of barrel-making and owned shops in Bristol and Mishawaka. He became a very successful businessman. Lucius and Sarah were typical of the early settlers and industrious citizens of Mishawaka. While they lived elegantly, they sought privacy in their lives. They were active members of the Methodist church in Mishawaka and were highly respected. Lucius employed many local citizens and helped Mishawaka grow and thrive.
In 1879, the Robinson family bought property at 415 Lincoln Way East from the Milburn family. In 1889, Lucius Robinson built the home that would eventually become known as the Dodge House. The home is an example of the houses built by industrialists, bankers and merchants of the period between 1860 and 1900. This was the segment of society that ran the country during that period, particularly in the Midwest. Many were self-made people who lived in smaller cities. They enjoyed life to the fullest and took their politics very seriously. The Robinsons occupied the home for 17 years. Eventually, they built another home along the river in Mishawaka for their retirement years.
In 1896, the Robinsons sold the home to Hattie Dodge, widow of Wallace H. Dodge, the wealthy founder of the Dodge Manufacturing Company. It was later listed on the National Register of Historic Places. While commonly referred to as the Wallace Dodge House, the Mishawaka businessman never lived there. He died Sept. l, 1894, about two years before Hattie Dodge bought the house from its builder. The house remained in the Dodge family until 1926. It was the flagship home for Dodge executives who also took up residence along what is now Lincoln Way East. Hattie Dodge was an outgoing woman who lived a much more socially oriented life than the Robinsons. She entertained often at the Dodge House, and her name was constantly reported in the local newspaper. In the graceful dining and sitting rooms of the Dodge House, refreshments were served to many distinguished visitors from throughout the Midwest and as far away as New York. Because of her social entertaining, appearances were extremely important to Hattie. Their importance encouraged her to make additions to the original home. Fireplaces were added in various rooms, along with elaborate fittings, such as chandeliers and other smaller light fixtures. A two-story addition to the rear of the house was added. All was done in elegant good taste and did not disturb the quiet charm of the original dwelling.
When Hattie Dodge died in 1922, Mr. Adolph Claeys purchased the home from the Dodge Estate. Eventually, the house was abandoned, and there was talk of razing the structure to provide parking for the nearby Presbyterian church. The governing body of the First Presbyterian Church signed an option in 1973 to purchase the home on a land contract from Adolph Claeys’ daughter, Miss Evelyn Claeys. Gary Gabrich of the Troyer Group, a local architectural firm, spoke in defense of saving the house from being leveled for the proposed parking lot. “It’s sound; it was built to last.” he argued, speaking as an architectural consultant. “And today you cannot reproduce some of the interior of that house,” he continued. “Such as the parquet hardwood floors, fireplace ornamentation, ornate woodwork, chandeliers.” He pronounced the reception room “one of the loveliest I’ve ever seen. It has hand-painted murals and the plasterwork and painting are preserved in a fine state. … walking inside the house is a real awakening. It’s as much a showpiece of its architectural period as the Beiger mansion is of its time period.” The renovation team said they believed the home also is important because “it’s a memorial to Dodge and to his achievement. It honors the event of the founding of the Dodge Corp.” Church members voted unanimously to keep the historic home, and it was saved.
From the outside of the home, the architectural style is an example of Industrial Romanticism, following the Queen Anne style of the day. The house has several interesting period features, such as gables, bay windows, ornamental frieze work and a patterned masonry chimney. Its irregular massing and the use of gables and a nondescript tower are excellent illustrations of features of this very American style. It has the bay windows and a veranda across the front and side. The gingerbread typical of the Queen Anne style is restrained on the Dodge House but some scroll work is found under the eaves and some small colored glass panes around the edge of the semi circulate window arrangement on the third floor in the front gable. The gables have a slight Dutch-inspired shape, and the overall roof is intricate containing hips with dormers as well as the gables. On the outside of the widow casings on the top and around the upper sides is ornate metal work. The window beside the front door and window in the door are of intricately leaded glass. Gracious oak stairs lead to the upper floors. The handsome parquetry of the wood floors are in excellent repair though they were once covered with carpet which, happily, served to protect them through the years of careless misuse. The attractive tiles around the five distinctive fireplaces are in good condition as are the mirrors over the mantels. The front parlor is in excellent condition with elaborate plaster work, ceiling paintings, leaded glass in a window to the front, the fireplace, the parquet floor, and the elaborate crystal chandeliers.
The Dodge House was granted a reprieve from its gradual dilapidation in 1976 when an architectural firm purchased the building for use as its corporate headquarters. The firm took steps to renovate the historic house and restore it to its former elegance. Restored to its rightful distinctiveness in the community and enduring usefulness in an ever-changing neighborhood, Dodge House remains part of Mishawaka’s heritage. The home had been converted into apartments years before, and the upstairs was unattended for many years. Most of the subsequent renovation work done by the architects was done by the architects themselves. “Doing the work embodied a lot of what we believe in,” said the renovators. “It certainly is a building of significant architectural character.” At least several layers of paint covered the old spindles and mantel that decorate the original fireplace in the dining room. All the oak pieces were stripped of their painted cocoon and refinished to their original splendor. With every turn there was a new surprise. The architects-turned-house-renovators pulled back the old carpeting on the first floor to reveal a beautiful parquet floor of oak, cherry and walnut, each rectangular piece painstakingly put in place. The renovators believe the floors were left bare when the house first opened and were carpeted sometime later. But the biggest surprise was in the attic where workers found a treasure of antique muskets, medallions, books and clothes, some dating from the Dodge era and much of it belonging to the Claeys family of Claeys Candy fame. “It was amazing some of the stuff we found,” they explained. Several of the brass lamps used in the house were found packed away in a corner of the attic. Originally equipped for natural gas, the light fixtures were inverted to accommodate light bulbs. Two Italian tile fireplaces, believed to have been purchased from a Sears Roebuck and co. catalog, were installed sometime in the early 1900s. While cleaning a ceiling light fixture, workers discovered the name “Tiffany” inscribed on it. Later investigation revealed it was an authentic Tiffany lamp. When high Victorian came into vogue, Mrs. Dodge had one room redecorated in the “gingerbread” fashion of the time to surround her guests in the latest of luxuries. Four authentic, un-retouched frescos grace the ceiling as well. In the attic were stored several oak pieces that the architects recognized from old photographs to be the original oak staircase that had connected the first and second floor before the house was gutted to make apartments in the late 1920s. The earlier inhabitants had saved it all. Putting it back together required a special touch. Two Amish carpenters worked more than six weeks to re-install the staircase, relying much on the pencil marks on the underside of the wood from the original carpenters. “The labor to do this would be prohibitive unless you were wealthy,” they explained. But the home, which stands as a symbol of wealth of 100 years ago, has become even farther out of reach for the present generation. “You don’t see this much any more even in the wealthy homes,” the architects were quick to point out. The kitchen in the rear of the home was equipped with the modern conveniences of the time. A buzzer sounded to alert servants that someone was at the door. An arrow on a dial, still on the kitchen wall, pointed to the door at which the caller was waiting. The Mishawaka Historic Review Board has designated the Dodge House at 415 Lincoln Way East as a single site historical district in addition to its listing on the National Register of Historic Places. In the late 1990s and due to continual growth of the company, the Troyer Group moved out and the Dodge House saw various ups and downs in its uses and occupancies, finally being left vacant for several years. But, in 2008, the Graduate Theological Foundation, an educational research institution founded in New England in 1962 but now housed in The Tower Building in South Bend, bought the Dodge House as its administrative office building. The intent has been to restore completely the residence to its origin elegance and to that end a major financial investment has occurred since purchasing it from the Troyer Group. The building has been completely refurbished both inside and out under Schoberg and Schoberg as the general contractors. The three bathrooms have been completely reconstituted as has the kitchen. All of the parquet floors have been refurbished and restored to their original brilliance, having been re-carpeted during the past several years, and the house has been repainted throughout in keeping with Queen Anne standards of beauty. The fireplaces have been upgraded with all tile work reaffixed and the chandeliers have been refurbished and reestablished to create an atmosphere of warmth and regality akin to their intended appearance. The original landscaping style has been recaptured by the removal of large uncharacteristic trees lining the buildings splendid window-covered exterior. The windows have all been re-glazed and the house and porch repainted as well as all deteriorated shingle shakes on the tower replaced. The walkway approaching the house has been laid with cobble bricks and the National Register plaque refurbished.
A spokesperson for the Graduate Theological Foundation expressed the institution’s deep commitment to the perpetual maintenance of this historic building and their dedication to preserving its genuine authenticity.
- Travis Childs of the Northern Indiana Center for History at www.centerforhistory.org.
- (Old-World Elegance … Dodge House a reminder of Mishawaka’s historic heritage by June McKinlay Bourdon in the Through the Years: People and Events series in the South Bend Tribune, Sunday, July 13, 2003).
- (Article in the Enterprise-Record published in Mishawaka, March 30, 1978 with no byline)
- (abridged article “Firm Preserves Character of Dodge home” in South Bend Tribune, Sunday, August 28, 1983, by John Fabris, Tribune Staff Writer).
- (Newspaper article entitled “Church, heritage group in demolition dispute” without date or source.)
- (undated newspaper article titled “Dodge house finds new life as site of ‘dream office’: Restoration done by The Troyer Group” written by Chris Bowman, Tribune Staff Writers c. 1990).
- (article by Marilyn Hughes, Tribune Staff Writer, on 2/12/94 entitled “Old Dodge House has OK for site protection” in the South Bend Tribune).
- (article entitled “Dodge House ADA changes approved” in the South Bend Tribune, Friday, November 4, 1994 by Marilyn Hughes, Tribune Staff Writer).
- (Article titled “Charm of the Dodge House endures” by June McKinlay Bourdon in January 1, 1995, South Bend Tribune, Sunday edition).
- (article titled “Dodge home open to assortment of uses” by Will Hacker, Tribune Staff Writer, Mishawaka Edition, south Bend Tribune, Monday, July 14, 1997).
- (article by Edward Wallis, Dodge Historian, in November 2002 entitled, “Dodge House Still Stands as Testimony to Heritage”)
- (article titled “The Paper Mansion - A Store Full of Charm” published 12/5/02 in unnamed paper).