She stood a few steps up on the massive staircase overlooking the foyer, about 60 people forming a semicircle inside the entrance to the Felt Mansion, 6597 138th Ave.
“My name is Patty Meyer,” she said into the microphone headset so the visitors overflowing in the adjoining rooms could hear. “If you don’t know that by now, you’re probably in the wrong place.”
The crowd laughed, but Meyer wasn’t entirely joking as she introduced herself for her last public guided tour on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023, before she retires by the end of the month after 22 years of restoration work.
From the beginning
The operations director of the Felt Estate in Laketown Township has been omnipresent at the 25-room mansion since she initiated the restoration. She was there when, by pure luck on June 21, 2001, she discovered the more than 12,000-square-foot building crumbling, abandoned, a shadow of its earlier grandeur.
Some people called it a piece of junk and thought it should be demolished.
“I thought it was the most beautiful building in the world,” she said about seeing it for the first time. “I still do.”
She was there to convince Laketown Township officials to let her lead the restoration of the estate built in 1925 by Dorr Felt, innovator and inventor of the Comptometer, an early adding machine that made him a very rich man.
She was there to rescue the floors, put the original hearth mantel back in its rightful place, clear the debris, wash away the vandalism, bring back the mural to the dining room, collect the photos, the papers, keep the history alive and see the estate a thriving wedding and event destination that brings a thousand visitors each summer weekend to the premier destination in the dunes along Lake Michigan.
Meyer thanked the many people, including family and friends, who were there along with her to make the mansion restoration a success.
“It’s fun to be a dreamer when you have people who love you,” she said.
New Operations Director Elizabeth McEwen starts Sept. 18.
“People say she has big footprints to fill,” Meyer said. “I say not at all.”
Meyer was in the perfect person for the first 22 years and brought the mansion from zero to 1,000. Now, the new person can bring it from 1,000 to 5,000.
“Beth will bring it to 5,000. She’s the perfect person,” Meyer said.
“It’s not about me. It’s not about the house. It’s about community.”
Meyer has been doing the tours since the beginning of the restoration – they had to use flashlights in the early days because the mansion still didn’t have electricity hooked back up.
“I’m so grateful for her vision,” said Constance Lochridge, a great-granddaughter of Dorr and Agnes Felt, who, with another family descendant attended the tour. Lochridge presented Meyer with framed family photos.
In the more than 2-hour tour on Sunday, Meyer related her stories of the restoration and answered questions from the audience.
“The No. 1 question is: Is it haunted?” she told the group while standing in the bedroom of Agnes Felt, Dorr Felt’s wife who passed away in 1928.
At first, the thought never crossed her mind, but as she spent more time in the mansion, she experienced eerie occurrences that “are still in my file of inexplicable stuff.”
The mansion sponsors “Hauntings & History Nights at the Felt Estate” Oct. 27-29.
For more information, visit the mansion website.
And the best question she has been asked over 22 years at the estate?
“That is: What have you learned along the way?”
The lesson was not about restoring a building, she said. “The most important thing is about restoring one another,” learning from mistakes and about forgiveness.
“I hope you’re a little more restored than when you came,” she said to the audience.
Participants enjoyed drinks, cake and ice cream as well as prizes.
The grand prize of a free overnight stay in the mansion went to Angie and Doug Brookhouse of Muskegon.