East Lansing Rewind: The Chase Newman House

Sunday, March 1, 2015, 6:00 am
Ashley Griffin

The Newman house in a recent photo. (The ‘for rent’ signs refer to a legal rental on the property; the house is owner-occupied and not for rent.)

Where Hillcrest meets Oakhill Avenue, a grand green and white brick home has stood for the past 107 years. What most don’t know is that this home is one of the oldest in East Lansing and has deep Spartan roots. Professor Chase Newman built the home in 1908 to accommodate his family of five while he taught in the drafting and design department at Michigan State College. This “Dutch Colonial” home was named a Landmark Home of the Oakwood Historic District. With original touches still intact, such as original lead-paned windows, oak woodwork, and hand-chipped brick this is truly a piece of East Lansing history.

Currently, Marvin Brunner owns this home and has been living here for the past twelve years. He was gracious enough to share with me pieces of the house’s history and to take me on a tour. Mr. Brunner, who helped build the Mackinac Bridge and whose sons attended East Lansing High School, has done little to the home since buying it. While the inside has most of its original elements intact, the previous owner did change and update the home to add an apartment upstairs. The home has had only four owners; Professor Newman, his daughter Ruth Newman, Judy Merchant and Marvin Brunner.

Ruth Newman, a graduate of MSU and teacher at Central School, lived in the house her whole life until 1990. She changed absolutely nothing that her father had done from when he first built it. The home remained in their family estate until 1992, when it then went up for sale. Mr. Brunner looked into buying the home at the time, because it was never renovated it was too much work to take on. Everything from electrical wiring to changing the gas lamps needed to be changed. Mr. Brunner decided to finally buy it when it went back on the market in 2003.

Dr. Chase Newman and his wife spent a lot of time and research on the design plan of this home, which is part of the reason why it’s still in such good condition. They also placed many personal touches in the home that can still be seen today. The basement still has Ruth’s handprints, from when she was about five or six, imbedded into the cement floor. A stone fireplace in a small study off of the dining room, presumably where Dr. Newman had his office, holds rocks and bricks from various places Newman and his family had been. You can see where each brick or rock is from because he carefully labeled them, including one from Williams Hall which was only on campus for a year before burning down. Some of the walls still hold the original plaster within, which was made with horse hair to hold it all together.

Chase Newman was an important person in East Lansing; he developed the first street numbering system in 1911 and aided in the one that replaced it in 1920. He drew all of the city’s first maps, one of which is still hanging in the home. He sat on East Lansing’s first City Council and was one of the city’s first historians, as well as a charter member of the Peoples Church. Newman even rented out a room in his home to Ms. Myrtle Craig during her sophomore year at MSU (then Michigan Agricultural College); she became the first African American to graduate from MSU. The home holds a lot of history, and undoubtedly will be standing for at least another one hundred years.


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