Daily Archives: March 11, 2012

Scott Turner’s Legacy: From Lansing to Iceland and Back Again


Grandson of the Turner-Dodge House namesake James Turner, Scott Turner oversaw mines in 29 countries and on three continents, was instrumental in creating the Fenner Arboretum and survived the Lusitania sinking. Born July 31, 1880 Scott was partially raised on the family owned Springdale Farm. In the late 19th century this nationally known farm bred champion cattle, sheep and horses including Clydesdales and Shetland ponies. Through his exploits in Michigan, Turner became a lifelong hunter, sportsman and adventurer.

Springdale Farm in 1889

He graduated from Lansing High School, received an undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan and then, in 1904, graduated from the Michigan School of Mines, now Michigan Tech. After working several short-term positions in the U.S., Africa and Europe, his first long-term job was in 1911 establishing a coal mine on Spitsbergen, an island in the Svalbard archipelago. Turner was in command of this mining community, nearly a thousand miles north of Iceland’s tip.

With the outbreak of World War 1 and scarce resources, the owners decided to sell the mine to Czar Nicholas II of Russia. Turner then boarded the ill-fated RMS Lusitania, en route to St. Petersburg. As the ship was sinking, he secured a seat on a lifeboat only to capsize and swim to another, making him one of 17 to survive. After recuperation he sailed to Bergen but was diverted off course by a Zeppelin bombing attack. He then traversed by train to St. Petersburg. By then the Czar had fled and no one had authority to make the final payment. Returning to Norway he secured a deal with the National Bank, Prime Minister and King Haakon VII of Norway to purchase the mine. After eight days of negotiations and transaction Turner left for a new job.

Turner returned to what was once Springdale Farm and purchased 163 acres. He was then appointed Chief of the U.S. Bureau of Mines by Herbert Hoover. Turner had not lived in Lansing for decades but stated in a 1952 Lansing State Journal article, “I confess to a soft spot in my heart for the old place.” For much of the mid-20th century Turner owned and operated his own engineering firm in New York but periodically returned to the farm and planted over 200,000 trees.

In November of 1952 Scott Turner sold the property to the City of Lansing with the stipulation it remain a park. In the late 1950s the newly appointed City Parks Director, Carl Fenner, began developing what we would now recognize as the Fenner Arboretum.

Scott passed on July, 30 1972, the day before his 92nd birthday. He lies next to his father and grandfather, near his wife and overlooking the old family farm. Turner’s words of wisdom include, “Study fact, analyze information, get advice. But the final decision on any next step is yours alone. Take it-and go ahead. Don’t look back or take time to be sorry.”

– David V., CADL’s Local History Librarian

Sources Consulted
Lansing State Journal Newspaper 07/23/1952
Lansing State Journal Newspaper 08/11/1966
Lansing State Journal Newspaper 02/09/1972
Lansing State Journal Newspaper 08/01/1972
1895 Standard atlas of Ingham County, Michigan
Lansing Illustrated 1889
Scott Turner: Distinguished Alumnus Award 1966 by Edna Yost
Images Courtesy of the Capital Area District Library Special Collections