In 1841-43, on a hill west of the village of Dexter, Judge Samuel W. Dexter built a large, soundly constructed mansion of twenty-two rooms, in the Greek revival style. In 1950 this beautiful old house and the surrounding seventy acres were given to the University by Mrs. Katherine Dexter McCormick, of Chicago, granddaughter of Judge Dexter. The Regents' Proceedings for December, 1950, records:
The Regents accepted, with grateful thanks to the donor, the property known as Gordon Hall, and the surrounding seventy acres, together with $86,000 from Mrs. Katherine Dexter McCormick (Mrs. Stanley McCormick), of Chicago, the daughter of the late Judge Samuel William Dexter… It is estimated that alterations and improvements may cost $60,000 and that a four-car garage will cost in the neighborhood of $5,000.
(R.P., 1948-51, p. 1140.)
The house had had many uses. For years it had been used as a church; at one time, it served as many as four or five denominations, each holding services at scheduled hours. It had also housed Dexter's first post office, Judge Dexter carrying the mail on horseback to and from Ann Arbor. A unique feature of the building was a four-story tower; one story had housed each of Judge Dexter's four daughters. This tower, not a part of the original structure, was removed. The house was then rehabilitated and remodeled into four apartments for faculty members. Each apartment included two bedrooms, a bath, living room, and kitchenette. Authorization was given by the Regents in February, 1951, for a cost contract in a maximum amount of $79,253 to the Kurtz Construction Company of Ann Arbor. Preliminary work was begun in March, 1951, and the building was occupied in September of the same year.
The historical significance of the house is increased by the fact that Judge Dexter was prominent in the state's early history. He was Washtenaw's first circuit judge and one of the first Regents of the University. He was a publisher of the first newspaper in Washtenaw County, called the Emigrant, and served as minister without pay in many Unitarian churches. He was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts, in 1792, and came to Michigan in 1824, buying from the government considerable acreage in Scio Township, a few miles west of Ann Arbor. Part of this property became the village of Dexter.
Certain county, state, and national historical societies opposed the conversion of the mansion into apartments because of its historical importance and the fact that it is a prime example of Greek revival architecture and advocated, instead, that the house be made into a museum. President Ruthven emphasized, however, that the home was being remodeled to serve as faculty housing at the request of Mrs. McCormick and that "the exterior of the main section of the house would be preserved in keeping Page 1637with its place as one of Washtenaw County's historical spots."
Most experts believed, however, that Gordon Hall's artistic merit was even more important than its historic value. Its exceptional grace and symmetry for years had won it mention by picture and description in many studies of American architecture. Because of its architectural and historical importance, drawings and photographs of the building were made for permanent record in the Library of Congress.