March 5, 2011

The Buchanan House Part I: 1750-1895 -- The Land

The Buchanan House
1242 Bagley Street, Detroit
(Renovation in progress!)

The next house to be profiled was built by the upper-middle-class Irish family in 1896. It is now owned by my brother and myself as a rental property, and the renovation is ongoing. The following is the history of the land on which the house was built.

Dominique Labrosse

The first owner of the ribbon farm on which the Buchanan house stands was Dominique Jourdain dit Labrosse. Although he was probably granted the land by the government of New France, Silas Farmer wrote that "no evidence of the kind was presented to the Commissioners of Claims" when Labrosse applied for a land patent from the new United States government.

Dominique Labrosse was born in Montreal, Quebec in 1730. He was the son of master sculptor and wood carver Paul Jourdain dit Labrosse. Dominique Labrosse settled in Detroit where he married Jeannette Cardinal, also from Montreal, in 1755.

On July 21, 1808, the United States government issued a land patent to Labrosse for his farm on the Detroit River. It was designated Private Claim No. 246. Like the Cicotte Farm, it was 3 arpents (French acres) wide and 40 arpents deep.

Henry Berthelet

In December of 1808, Dominique and Jeanette Labrosse entered into a contract with Henry and Josette Berthelet to purchase the farm. The purchase was made on the condition that the Berthelets would provide for the Labrosses, who were childless and in their seventies by that time, for the rest of their lives. Jeanette died in 1814, followed by Dominique in 1816.

Portrait of Henry Berthelet by Robert Scott Duncanson
Courtesy of the Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library

Henry Berthelet was born in Detroit on April 29, 1776 and married Josette Bouchette in what is now Windsor, Ontario on November 9, 1802. They lived on the Labrosse farm for over twenty-five years, and some land records refer to it as the Berthelet farm. Henry Berthelet died in 1846, and Josette in 1855.

Charles C. Trowbridge

Charles Christopher Trowbridge (1800-1883)

Born in Albany, New York in 1800, moved to Detroit in 1819. Trowbridge became a wealthy banker and joined with other investors to purchase the Labrosse Farm in March of 1835 for $13,000. This was at the beginning of a boom in speculative land sales in the soon-to-be State of Michigan.

In July of 1835, the segment of the Labrosse Farm between the Detroit River and Michigan Avenue was platted by city surveyor John Mullett. Labrosse Street was named after the previous owner of the farm. Baker Street was named for Colonel Daniel Baker, owner of the Baker Farm, immediately to the west of the Labrosse Farm.

Subdivision of the Labrosse Farm south of the Chicago Road
Recorded in Liber 13, Page 85 of Wayne County Records

The Buchanan house would later be erected on lot 8 of block 57. This parcel is one of the triangular lots that resulted from the streets of Corktown, which are parallel to Fort Street, meeting Michigan avenue at an angle of approximately 27°.

Robert Allen Forsyth

Born in Detroit in 1774. Forsyth and Charles Trowbridge were both members of the Cass Expedition that explored the Michigan Territory in 1820. He purchased lots 7 and 8 of block 57 of the Labrosse Farm from Trowbridge on November 10, 1835.

In February of 1849, the City of Detroit annexed three of the ribbon farms (Forsyth, Labrosse, and Baker) that until then had been part of Springwells Township. This brought the area of the city proper to a total of 5.85 square miles.

Forsyth sold the parcels of land that same year, and died just three months later.

George B. Russel

George B. Russel (1816-1903)

Born in Pennsylvania in 1816 and obtained a PhD in medicine at age twenty. He came to Detroit in 1839 and became a very successful doctor and businessman, investing hugely in real estate and industrial infrastructure. He purchased lots 7 and 8 on July 20, 1849 and sold them three years later.

Arthur John Robertson, Esquire

Born in Inches, County Inverness, Scotland in 1803. Robertson was a wealthy real estate speculator who came to own a vast amount of land in Canada and the U.S. after his Canadian wife died in 1836. He purchased the lots in question on August 9, 1851 and sold them less than a year later.

Flavius J. B. Crane

Flavius J. B. Crane (1812-1886)
Courtesy of the Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library

Born in Canandaigua, New York in 1812 and moved to Detroit in 1851. Crane was a real estate agent and made a fortune off the land boom. He bought the property on April 6, 1852 and sold it about a year later. He moved to Denver, Colorado in 1872, where he spent the rest of his life.

William Cole

Born in Johnstown, New York, 1809 and moved to Detroit in 1832. Cole owned a sail making business at the corner of Woodward and Atwater. He purchased the two lots on Baker Street on October 3, 1853. He lived around the block from the property, at 358 Michigan Avenue, where PJ's Lager House now stands. Cole built a rental home on lot 8 at 20 Baker Street--but it was not the same home that stands on the spot today. Only a few of the renters of that home have been identified:

  • Joseph Kennedy, carpenter, 1855-1856
  • Francis Riley, forger at Detroit Locomotive Works, 1856
  • John Donovan, drayman, 1857
  • Henry Fowler, accountant, 1857

Cole moved to Saginaw around the same time he sold the property in 1860. He lived there until his death in 1892.

The Buchanan Family

The Buchanan family's stained glass window at
Most Holy Trinity Church, 1050 Porter Street, Detroit

On January 5, 1860, lots 7 and 8 of block 57 of the Labrosse Farm were sold to Patrick Buchanan. They would remain in the family's possession for over sixty years.

Patrick Buchanan was born around 1830 in County Tyrone, Ireland. He and his brother William immigrated to America in the 1840s and settled in Corktown. Soon after the death of his father James Buchanan, his mother Susan O'Gorman Buchanan immigrated to Detroit with her eight youngest children.

After Patrick Buchanan purchased the original house at 20 Baker Street, he moved into the home with his mother and younger siblings. By that time, Patrick was a clerk in the employ of Town & Shelden, a dry goods wholesaler owned by Reuben Town, Allen Shelden, and Zachariah Chandler. So impressed was Patrick Buchanan by his employers that he named two of his sons Allen Shelden Buchanan and Zachariah Chandler Buchanan.

Among the members of the Buchanan family who lived at the first home at 20 Baker Street were: Ann Buchanan, who married Captain Peter Lennon, founder of the town of Lennon, Michigan; Thomas Buchanan, a founding member of the Marine Engineers' Beneficial Association, the oldest and largest maritime union in the United States; and Margaret Frances Buchanan Sullivan, who moved to Chicago in the 1870s and became a newspaper editor--obviously an extraordinary accomplishment for a woman in the 19th century. She was sent by the Associated Press to cover the 1889 World's Fair in Paris, the event for which the Eiffel Tower was constructed, as the only American correspondent. Mrs. Sullivan is the author of the book Ireland of To-Day: The Causes and Aims of Irish Agitation.

Patrick Buchanan married Rosanna Doran on August 3, 1865 at Most Holy Trinity Church in Corktown and moved to a house on Fifth Street. Two years later, on July 14, 1867, he sold the property on Baker Street to his sister Susan Buchanan for $800. Around 1870 a home was built at 24 Baker Street and the family moved into the new home.

Detail from an 1884 Sanborn map showing 24 Baker Street.
The attached structure may have been the original 20 Baker.

The Buchanans lived at 24 Baker until 1896, when a new home was built at 20 Baker Street--the house that stands today.

Next Week: The Buchanan House Part II: 1896-1913 -- Susan Buchanan


  1. Very interesting! Some very significant people lived in that house. Excellent job.

  2. Thanks! (Wow, my first comments since January 1st...)

  3. I hope you keep this up, I am loving reading this stuff. I wonder if any neighbors would hire you to do this for their houses? I'll bet a lot of people are curious but not willing to spend their free time doing all the work.

  4. My mom says she lived on Temple in Cork Town but she didn't call it Cork town, anyway she claims Trolly cars passed her house when she was age 5. she was born in 1920. Family name was Briggs, I kept asking, as in Briggs Statium, ie Tiger Statium? anyway I like your work and want to visit Cork Town. thank you