Since September 2015, The Rathbun Agency has selected a different nonprofit each month as part of Quotes for a Cause. We partner with local organizations that are giving back right in our own community. At the end of each month, we present that months organization with a check for $1,000.
In January, we are partnering with The Friends of Durant Park. They are a neighborhood organization dedicated to increasing park use and preserving its history through local outreach and promotion of community events. Located just a few blocks from the agency, Durant Park is located on the corner of Capitol and Saginaw streets. The Friends of Durant Park have hired an architect to design a permanent stage within the park. The City of Lansing has approved the project and the organization is currently in the process of hiring contractors to begin work on the project.
The history of the park began in the late 1840s when the neighborhood was occupied by pioneer businessman and merchants who built spacious homes. Mortimer Cowles, a prominent businessman, began to purchase an entire block to build a grand home for his family. The house was built of brick in the "villa or souther style of architecture" with a cupola on the roof. In 1910, Mr. Cowles died and left the house to his two spinster daughters who were unable to maintain the property. It became overgrown and blighted.
The city attempted to buy the property in 1911, 1916 and 1917 for park use. The vote was defeated all three times. Citizens wanted city fund spent to imptoce the roads rather than acquiring land for urban parks. By 1920, William Crapo Durant had severed his relationship with General Motors, the company he founded, and was establishing factories throughout the United States to oversee and manufacture a diverse group of his own automobiles.
On a trip to inspect a new factory on Verlinden Avenue, Durant saw an opportunity to contribute to the city that welcomed his new manufacturing plant, the Durant Motor Car Company. Durant arranged to purchase the Cowles block for $100,000 cash. Soon after, he hired a well know Kalamazoo landscaper to clear and transform the urban park fro $50,000. His only request be that it was named Durant Park.
As a token of gratitude for the gift, the city paved West Saginaw street and ran roads and sewers to the new Verlinden plant where Durant and Star automobiles were being manufactured. Upon receiving the donation of the land from Durant, the city raised funds privately and constructed the Memorial Arch in the southeastern corner of Washington Avenue and Saginaw.