The Man & His Invention
Born in Wisconsin on March 18, 1862, Dorr Eugene Felt left his home at age 14 to work in a machine shop where he honed his mechanical skills. In 1882 he moved to Chicago to secure employment and advance his keen interest in machine design. He had 50 cents in his pocket. In 1886, Felt invented the first office processing machine, the Comptometer, which was able to perform quickly and accurately four math functions. Dramatically increasing bookkeeping skills and speed, the Comptometer was an instant success and made Dorr Felt a millionaire.
Dorr was attracted to the pristine beauty of the West Michigan coastline, then known as “the Midwest Riviera,” and in 1919 purchased several hundred acres on Lake Michigan in the rolling dunes between Holland and Saugatuck, naming his estate “Shore Acres Farm.” Felt began construction of the “Big House” in 1925 for his wife, Agnes. This summer home would be large enough to accommodate his married daughters and their families. Completed in 1928, the 12,000+ square foot mansion consists of 25 rooms, including a third-floor ballroom. Unfortunately, Agnes died in August of 1928, six weeks after the family moved in, and Dorr died a year and a half later in 1930. The family kept the home until 1949, but after WWII and the advent of more sophisticated calculators, the family sold the business to Victor Electronics, and the Felt descendants decided to sell Shore Acres Farm. In 1949, they held a large auction, selling off many of the items original to the mansion and grounds.
The Seminary Years
The St. Augustine Seminary, a Catholic prep school for young men, bought the mansion and grounds in 1949. Outgrowing the carriage house, which they used for classrooms, and the mansion which they used for housing, the Seminary built a school on the ridge west of the mansion. After moving into the school, in the mid 1960s, a group of cloistered nuns lived in the mansion.
The Prison Years
In the late 1970s, the State of Michigan purchased the property to use as a prison. Only a portion of the mansion was used during these years as offices for the State Police, and for WEMET, a drug enforcement agency. The State owned the grounds until the early 1990s when Laketown Township bought the land for one dollar, with the stipulation that the mansion be used for the public, not sold or used for private enterprise.
The Restoration Project
Today, volunteers from Laketown Township and surrounding communities are restoring the mansion and grounds to their 1920’s splendor. It is the vision of the Township and volunteers to return the structure and grounds to their original splendor so the public can appreciate its beauty, while learning more about our local history, and the era when great effort was put to the task of building fine homes. The restoration is a unique community project, in some ways as impressive as the mansion itself, involving many individual, student, group, and corporate volunteers. Our goal is to restore the Georgian mansion and surrounding grounds, using a target year of 1929 as our target year for restoration — the year the estate was most complete under the ownership and operation of Dorr Felt himself.