THE HOBO HAVEN YEARS and DR. R.E. BENSON

A Glimpse into 506 S Oakland's Colorful Past
In the bustling railroad town of St. Johns, Michigan, the grandeur of 506 S Oakland stood as a silent witness to the ebb and flow of life. After the departure of Ralph and Beullah Ballentine in 1940, the once elegant home fell into a state of disuse, its halls echoing with the memories of families past. Yet, amidst the whispers of bygone days, a new chapter unfolded—a chapter marked by the unexpected arrival of weary travelers seeking refuge from the elements.

Local lore speaks of the home's transformation into a sanctuary for the wandering souls who traversed the Grand Trunk Western line of the railroad. Dubbed "Hobo Haven" by the townsfolk, the property became a haven for these travelers, offering shelter and respite from their nomadic journey. One amusing anecdote from this time recalls the ill-fated attempt by a few adventurous souls to move a piano from the home's third-floor ballroom—a feat that ended in comedic disaster as the instrument became wedged in the narrow stairway, much to the amusement of onlookers.
Enter Dr. R. E. Benson, a native son of St. Johns whose connection to the town ran deep. Born in May of 1910, Dr. Benson was a graduate of St. Johns High School and a respected osteopathic physician. In 1945, he acquired 506 S Oakland, marking the beginning of a new era for the property. With a vision for revitalization, Dr. Benson subdivided the expansive grounds and transformed the mansion into multi-family residences, breathing new life into its storied halls.

Dr. Benson and his wife, Elizabeth Mary Kelly, embarked on a new chapter in their lives, making their home on the northwest corner of the property at the intersection of Wight and Park streets. In 1950, they bid farewell to 506 S Oakland, auctioning off the historic home to new owners. Little is known about Dr. Benson's life in St. Johns after his departure, but records indicate that he and Elizabeth eventually retired to Port Charlotte, Florida, where he passed away in 1996.

As we reflect on Dr. Benson's tenure at 506 S Oakland, we catch a fleeting glimpse of a decade filled with transition and transformation—a decade that paved the way for the next chapter in the home's rich history. Join us next month as we delve into the fascinating story of Tony and Agnus Kuntz and their time at 506.