Historic Preservation Notes +
Reynolds Hall is slated to be demolished. In 1949, Starr Commonwealth students lost the opportunity to live in Reynolds Hall. If the school board and local Jackson officials have their way, no one will ever live in Reynolds Hall and it will simply be added to trash heap of other historically and architecturally significant buildings already gone. Perhaps the greatest insult is that Reynolds Hall may be replaced by a Home Depot.
H I S T O R Y
As he had done the first Christmas at Gladsome in 1913 and at Reynolds Cottage in 1927, Wiley Reynolds stepped into Commonwealth history with another generous offer. According to Starr’s later account, while he was cruising off the Florida coast in the Reynolds yacht in the early winter of 1944, his host turned to him and said “Mr. Starr, would you like to have the use of my house that I live in back in Jackson?”
When he saw how Mrs. Reynolds “nearly jumped out of her deck chair,” Starr realizedthat her husband’s proposal was news to her. Clearly it was not time to hesitate. “Yes,” Starr replied, “I should like very much to have it.” As he well knew, the Reynolds home was a luxurious sixteen-room mansion ideally located next to the prestigious Jackson High School.
One glance at his wife persuaded Reynolds that he had ventured far enough into the subject for the time being. “When we get home, we’ll look into the matter” was all he said to Starr. What his wife said to him later is not on record.
Again Starr did not hesitate. “I would do two things with it,” he replied. “One, I would use it as ahalfway house for boys who need to leave the structured life of the Commonwealth but may not be quite ready for the freedoms of choice in the outside world.Two, I would like to use it as a kind of honor house for boys with real academicpromise, maybe with serious professional ambitions, possibly with unusual talents in the arts or sciences.”
Starr’s response delighted both Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds, and on January 17, 1945, the Jackson Citizen Patriot carried the following item: The Starr Commonwealth for Boys at Albion leasedthe Wiley R. Reynolds home, 522 Wildwood Avenue, and will establish there a residence to be named Alumni Hall for Commonwealth boys who have completed theeleventh grade and who desire to continue their high school and college education.” For Uncle Floyd and his boys it was a remarkable bargain. For a token one dollar bill, the Commonwealth received full use of a handsome, two-story house with nine bedrooms, five baths, a paneled drawing room, a solarium, a study, and generous dining facilities. The grounds were equally spacious with six gardens and a greenhouse. After extensive modifications over the summer and a name change to Reynolds Hall, the newresidence opened its doors that September to eleven carefully selected young men. Major Frank N. Henderson, formerly the commandant of the Western Military School at Alton, Illinois, was placed in charge. Mrs. Henderson was appointed matron.
From the outset, both of Uncle Floyd’s objectives were well fulfilled. the Starr Commonwealth News for the next several years carried frequent items about the involvement of “the Jackson boys” in a variety of activities ranging from athletics through part-time jobs to church programs.One boy even worked for the police photographer who lived across the street, “we have to be good,” he declared.
To cite a familiar truism, nothing is as constant as change. After first transforming the Reynolds family home into a model “center for continuing education,” in 1948 Starr converted the former servants’ apartment and garage into a second living facility. Named Henderson Hall after the boys who wished to widen their horizons and learn to adapt themselves to the complexities of a larger community.” As part of theongoing experiment in off-campus living, the new group ranged in age from thirteen to eighteen. Those enrollees at the junior high school level also found their new brick home most convenient, for the West Intermediate School lay but a few blocks from the former Reynolds estate.
The thirty boys who resided each term in Jackson left thirty places on the Albion campus for additional students. Starr was delighted. Few aspects of his role as final arbiter distressed him as much as having to reject and ever growing number of youngsterswhom he was convinced that he could redirect into becoming contributive citizens – if he had the chance.
That era of high hopes was brief indeed. Late in 1947, even as Starr was busily refurbishing Henderson Hall, the Union School Board ofJackson won its suit by right of eminent domain to take over the entire Reynoldscomplex in order that it might annex the property for the expansion of the Jackson Junior College. When Starr appealed the decision to the State Supreme Court, the case went into futile litigation.Despite a spirited defense by the Commonwealth and its many sympathizers, the AlbionEvening Recorder for September 4, 1948, included this item: “While conceding laudable purposes of the Starr Commonwealth, a charitableinstitution for caring for homeless boys, the State Supreme Court held that it had no grounds to halt Jackson Circuit Court proceedings on the condemnation actions.” As a final blow, in December 1948, Wiley Reynoldssuccumbed to a hear attack while cruising off Palm Beach near his Florida estate. The close of the 1949 Spring term was also the close of “the Jackson connection.”
Source: Keith Fennimore. Faith Made Visible: The History of Floyd Starr and His School. Albion, Michigan: Starr Commonwealth. 1988.