MICHIGAN HISTORY: The John C. Blanchard Mansion in Ionia
When was the last time you went cruisin’ through Ionia?
Chances are, if you did, you more than likely passed by this impressive old house on East Main Street. It can look creepy – it can look majestic – it can look historic – it can look incredible,,,and it fits all of those descriptions.
It’s the old John C. Blanchard House at 253 East Main Street in Ionia. It took two years to finish, from 1879 – 1881. The structure features and outside made of brown & pink sandstone; other features include tall windows, baroque trim, a winding staircase, Victorian parlor with a 12-foot ceiling, conservatory, and sandstone window hoods. Blanchard and his wife Harriet called their home “La Palistina” which means “little palace.”
Blanchard came to Michigan from New York in 1836 and ended up working in Detroit and Shiawassee County. It’s reported that he also ended up owning all of Bois Blanc Island up north in Lake Huron. He moved to Ionia in 1850 after becoming an attorney.
He was heavily involved in local politics, part of which was his presidency of Ionia Township.
Blanchard lived in his mansion until he passed away in 1905. The Ionia County Historical Society bought the mansion in 1974 and is now a museum. The old carriage house is still there, sitting behind the mansion.
The Historical Marker in the front lawn reads:
“John Celsus Blanchard (1822 - 1905) epitomized the American "self-made man." He left his home in Cayuga County, New York, at the age of fourteen for the western frontier. Blanchard worked as a laborer in Detroit, Livingston and Shiawassee Counties before walking sixty miles to the U.S. Land Office at Ionia. Using $50 of the $53 he had saved, he purchased forty acres of land in 1837. Two years later he began "reading the law" as a student in the law offices of Roof and Bell in Lyons. His appointment as Ionia County prosecuting attorney in 1850 began a distinguished public career. That year Blanchard and his wife, Harriet, moved to Ionia where they devoted themselves to civic affairs and became generous benefactors to churches and schools, including Albion College.”
“The brick wall of this substantial Italianate House are veneered with variegated sandstone selected by John Blanchard from the Ionia Sandstone Quarry, which he co-owned. The house stands where the Blanchard’s first Ionia home was located. In 1880 they moved that house to the back of the lot and began constructing this elegant residence, completed in 1881. The house looks much as it did when Blanchard’s lived here and retains many original interior features, such as brass chandeliers, faux marble fireplaces and walnut shutters. In 1974 the Ionia County Historical Society purchased the house. The Blanchard House is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.”
Some folks believe there is some sort of paranormal activity within the house, but that remains to be seen.