FARMINGTON — It was slightly overcast during an Aug. 24 afternoon tea at the Governor Warner Mansion, but the roughly 50 women — with a couple of men — brought the sunshine with them.
Under a yellow and gray tent in the mansion’s backyard, 33805 Grand River Ave., droves of women dolled up in their Sunday best from decades past started in at the bottom of their three-tiered food stands, working their way up, munching on crustless sandwiches and frou-frou cupcakes and tartlets, served with tea on white linen tablecloths.
Servers and docents, also sporting period outfits, milled about them as stories were swapped about times past and discussions swirled about where to buy the latest fascinator, all in anticipation of the main attraction: Dolley Payne Todd Madison, wife of U.S. President James Madison.
Farmington resident Joan McGlincy, who portrayed Dolley Madison during the popular event, discussed Madison’s life from Quaker to first lady during the country’s early years.
As a mansion favorite, this event marked McGlincy’s third year visiting — she was Mary Todd Lincoln one year, and Eleanor Roosevelt another.
“She is very popular. People love her,” mansion docent Jean Schornick said before the event started inside the mansion.
“I haven’t figured out why yet,” McGlincy said nearby with a wry smile.
“I can tell you why,” Schornick said. “This woman is a very likable woman.”
The tea, like countless other mansion events, helps financially sustain the venue, which is in a desperate state of disrepair, Schornick said.
“The tea is important because the mansion is in need of a lot of renovations. It was built in 1867,” Schornick said.
With estimates of repairs from $70,000 to $150,000, the mansion needs a fresh coat of paint, renovations to an addition, which is pulling away from the house — “you can see sunlight coming through gaps” — and funds for general maintenance and upkeep.
Tea events typically raise $400, other events raise about a couple hundred dollars more.
“We’re just worried that the house is falling apart,” Schornick said. “But we can’t do it alone. There is no way a handful of volunteers here can raise enough money to do the repairs here and do them right.”
She said, ideally, a grant or a “big, fat check” would be great for the mansion.
“But we understand there are other things in the community that need help, too and we are a small community, and I know that it is hard for people to be tapped on the shoulder all the time,” she said. “But we feel that this house is quite special.”
Schornick said she also wants the community to know that the mansion is theirs, too, even if it is not open.
“They are welcome to sit on the porch like the Warners would,” she said. “They can bring a book, their coffee, sit outside. We have a picnic table in the garden if they want to bring lunch.”
She added that she is proud of her mansion, too.
“We feel very honored to have this house,” she said. “We just don’t want it to fall apart.”
Farmington Hills resident Deborah Oye, dressed from head to toe in bright yellow, accented with bright red lipstick and pearls, said she attended the tea to support the mansion. Oye, who also helps support historical building preservation, said she understands how valuable repairs are for the mansion.
“It is just so beautiful here,” she said looking around at the gardens on the mansion’s grounds.
For more information on the next event, a Sept. 11 Porch Party, call City Clerk Sue Halberstadt at (248) 473-7275 or go to http://www.ci.farmington.mi.us/.