Rachel Greco and Nick King/Lansing State Journal
EATON RAPIDS – When Pam and Chris Sturgill first noticed the red brick mansion at the corner of South Main and West Plain streets, they fell in love with the structure, not the fact it’s said to be haunted by the ghost of Dr. Francis Blanchard, who plunged to his death down the building’s elevator shaft in 1919.
Though they don’t mind that either.
The Springport couple drove past the former hospital for years, admired its imposing presence countless times. This spring they bought it for $143,000.
They plan to spend the next several years restoring the century-and-a-half-old structure.
Eventually, they intend to open the house as a historical bed and breakfast that welcomes the living.
As well as any ghosts that may live there.
“I like old things,” Pam Sturgill said. “History interests me, and this place deserves better.”
Known to most as “the old Stimson Hospital,” the roughly 5,000-square-foot Victorian-style house was a 20-bed hospital for nearly 40 years, under more than one name.
More than 3,000 people were born there from 1918 to 1957, and thousands more were treated and healed.
It’s also the place where, in 1919, Blanchard stepped from the third floor into an open elevator shaft and plunged to his death after finishing a surgery. He was unaware the shaft was empty. He fell 12 feet.
The hospital closed in the 1950’s due to disrepair, leading to the formation of what is now Eaton Rapids Medical Center. It’s been subdivided into apartments since at least the 1970s.
Today if you Google the Eaton Rapids’ landmark, you’ll read more about the strange noises, voices and happenings at the property than you will about its legacy as the community’s first local hospital.
Its new owners, the Sturgills, are equally interested in both.
A haunted reputation
Very little scares Pam and Chris Sturgill.
Over the years the self-described hobby ghost hunters have visited houses believed to be haunted throughout the Midwest. The couple even stayed the night in a few of them, recording ghostly voices and sudden sounds together with recorders and other equipment they own.
When they first noticed Eaton Rapids historic hospital, they didn’t know anything about strange happenings. They fell in love with the building.
The building stands out as you pass by on South Main Street on your way to downtown Eaton Rapids, said Chris Sturgill, who retired from a 35-year career in information technology.
“You can tell it’s from a different era,” he said.
“It was actually for sale when we first saw it,” Pam Sturgill said. “But we were in no position to actually consider purchasing a second property.”
The Sturgills had a long-term plan, though. Pam Sturgill didn’t want to to stay in her job with a local manufacturer until retirement, and the couple was saving money in the hopes of doing something they loved.
They didn’t research the building’s history, or its paranormal reputation, until last year. The stories they found, of noises that come from the basement at all hours of the day and night, objects that move, the ghost of Dr. Blanchard appearing to renters and electronic equipment that malfunctioned for no reason, didn’t dissuade them.
It intrigued them.
“It’s a very colorful history,” Pam Sturgill said. “It’s the local haunted house.”
But when the Sturgills got their first look inside the massive, three-story house they didn’t sense any negative energy. They eventually plan to conduct their own investigation, but, for now, they see a structurally-sound building that still contains features more than a century old, including decorative tin trim on the outside, portions of the Italian Villa-style porch that used to wrap around most of the house and green-and-white tile throughout the interior that existed when it was still a hospital.
Even the infamous elevator shaft is still there.
If there are ghosts, the couple plan to run their bed and breakfast in harmony with them. Chris Sturgill said they’ll welcome fans of the paranormal and ghost hunting groups to the property. They won’t even mind any midnight investigations their guests want to conduct.
“We all want to know what happens after we die,” Pam Sturgill said.
A ‘community jewel’
Local historian Deb Malewski, a trustee with the Eaton County Historical Commission, said the Stimson Hospital is a “community jewel.” Its haunted reputation is simply part of its legacy now, and the Sturgills’ plans to restore it are positive for the community, she said.
“I’m glad that they are taking this step,” she said Wednesday. “I think everyone will be happy about it.”
The Sturgills said they’ve been working since this summer to renovate two of the home’s apartments that were in disrepair.
“We view this place as a business venture,” Pam Sturgill said. “A bed and breakfast appealed to us, and that was our intention from the beginning.”
The Sturgills say eventually temporary walls that have been in place for decades will come down. It’s possible they could finish the renovation work in five years, he said, but not without the community’s support.
The couple wants to see any photos residents have of the landmark’s exterior or interior. They also would like to hear their ghost stories.
“The whole idea is to have a period-accurate bed and breakfast,” Chris Sturgill said. “We think it will be a nice way to retire.”