May 31, 2011

The Hugh Finlay Duplex


This two-family home, located at 2253-2255 (formerly 305-307) Wabash, was built on a lot that was once part of the Cicotte / Godfroy Farm. The history of that farm has been covered in a previous post, so there is no need to repeat it here. The segment of the farm south of Michigan Avenue was divided into individual lots in 1864. On April 26 of that year, lot number 26 was purchased by a forty-four-year-old real estate dealer named Ralph Phelps.

Plat of the Godfroy Farm south of Chicago Road (State of Michigan)

Two years later, Ralph Phelps sold lot 26 to Horace Fosdick.

Horace Forsdick

Horace P. Forsdick was born January 23, 1833 in Suffolk County, England to Benjamin and May Ann (Easter) Forsdick. He came to Detroit around 1860. On April 26 of that year, he appeared in Recorder's Court to declare his intention to become a United States citizen.


At the outbreak of the Civil War, Forsdick enlisted with Company C of the 1st Regiment of US Sharpshooters on August 26, 1861. Applicants were required to pass a strict marksmanship test in order to be accepted. Having been mustered into the Army of the Potomac, Company C fought in a number of major battles, including Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Gettysburg.

This monument at Gettysburg honors the 1st Regiment of U.S.
Sharp shooters from Michigan. A plaque on the front states that
Company C fought on that field July 2 & 3, 1863.
(Stone Sentinels)

Several weeks after the Battle of Gettysburg, on September 30, 1863, Forsdick was transferred to the Veteran Reserve Corps, which engaged in either light- or non-military duties. The Second Battalion, to which Forsdick was transferred, was reserved for soldiers who sustained severe injuries or disease. The exact cause of the transfer will not be known until his consolidated service record and pension files are obtained from the National Archives. Forsdick's company in the Veteran Reserve Corps, No. 30, was mustered out by detachments between August and November of 1865.

When Forsdick returned to Detroit, he worked as a painter for the Michigan Central Rail Road. On December 19, 1865 he married Cornelia Sutherland in Scotch Presbyterian Church, which once stood on the corner of Farmer and Bates Streets. Cornelia was the daughter of James and Helen Bine Sutherland, both Scottish immigrants. Mr. Sutherland worked as an undertaker on the east side of the city.

On May 8, 1866, Forsdick purchased the previously mentioned "lot 26" for $350. He is listed as living at that location in the 1866 city directory. Building permits were not required at the time, so there is no way to know the exact date of the construction of that first home (not the same as the duplex that stands there today). It's possible there was already a house on the lot when Forsdick purchased it, but $350 would be extremely cheap even for a modest house in 1866.

Horace and Cornelia raised several children in this first house, which was addressed as 305 Wabash. Around 1886, Forsdick moved out of the home but retained it as a rental property.

A note on the back of this photo states that it was taken on Wabash near
Michigan Avenue in 1901. "Sheep on Wabash Ave." is written on the front.
Courtesy of the Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library.

The one-story home on the far left of the above photograph is Fordick's former home at 305 Wabash. Using the 1897 Sanborn map of Detroit, it is possible to locate where the photographer was located and identify which buildings appear in the image.

Sheep Photoshopping by Anny Bouchard

The house just south of Forsdick's property (not in the photo) is the beautifully restored Joseph Esterling House at 2245 (formerly 301) Wabash Street.


On January 2, 1900, Horace Forsdick quit-claimed the property to his thirty-one-year-old daughter, Elizabeth C. Forsdick. In 1902, Horace Forsdick hired a contractor named Hugh Finlay to build a three-unit townhouse on Toledo Street between Cavalry and Campbell (since demolished), in which Forsdick was to spend the rest of his life. His daughter was evidently so satisfied with Finlay's work that she decided to demolish 305 Wabash and hire Finlay to build a two-family home in its place. The City of Detroit issued Finlay the building permit on June 26, 1903. The application describes the intended building as a wood-frame, brick-veneer structure measuring 40 by 52 feet. The estimated cost to build it was $5,200.

Two separate notices of the building permit appeared
on the same newspaper page, perhaps by accident.

The builder, Hugh Coulter Finlay, was born in Ontario on May 7, 1853 to Irish immigrants James and Mary Ann (Coulter) Finlay. Hugh Finlay came to the United States in 1881 and married Jane Emily Soules October 1, 1854 in Chicago. They had two children by the time they came to Detroit, but only one of them lived to adulthood. Finlay died in San Bernardino, California on August 11, 1942 and his cremated remains were interred in the family plot at Woodmere Cemetery in Detroit.

Horace Forsdick died on March 30, 1919 and was interred at Elmwood Cemetery, Section P, Lot 6, Grave 13. Despite having fought for the Union in the Civil War, there is no marker on his grave. Elizabeth Forsdick would own the two-family home on Wabash Street until her death in 1953. However she never lived in the home--in fact, it doesn't appear to have ever been owner-occupied.

Because this research was requested by the current occupant of the north half of the duplex, this post will focus on the previous occupants of that unit.

The Harker Family

The first people to live in the north half of the new duplex were Joshua and Catherine Harker. Joshua Harker was born to Joseph and Margaret (Teasdale) Harker on February 13, 1845 in Guisborough, England. His family immigrated to Delaware Township, Ontario, Canada in the 1850s, and he had moved to Lyon Township, Michigan in the late 1860s. On November 9, 1869, Harker married Catherine Rosella Arms, born July 2, 1846 in Brighton, Michigan to Israel and Julia Ann (Parsons) Arms, pioneers who came to Michigan from New England in the 1820s. Joshua and Catherine Harker had three children: Ward Wesson, Clarence Parsons (who died at eight months), and Edith Mille. An 1875 gazetteer lists Joshua Harker as a blacksmith.

Joshua Harker's farm in Lyon Township (Bentley Historical Library)

In 1895, Joshua and Catherine Harker moved to Detroit, where their children had already settled. Harker started a moving company and a wood and coal wholesale business soon after moving to the city.

Advertisement from a 1904 Detroit city directory (

The Harkers lived at several addresses in southwest Detroit before finally settling at 307 Wabash Avenue in 1904. Their daughter Edith, who graduated from the University of Michigan's training school for nurses the previous year, moved in with them at this address.

October 14, 1906 ad from the Detroit Free Press.

The family had only lived in the home for three years before Joshua Harker passed away. He died at home on June 6, 1907 from paresis caused by "nervous worry over business and rheumatism".

Death certificate for Joshua Harker (Seeking Michigan)

Catherine Harker and her daughter Edith had moved to another home by 1908.

The Waite Family

The next family listed at 307 Wabash was that of Jackson C. and Mary E. Waite. All that is known about Jackson C. Waite is that he was born in the state of New York in June 1861. Mary E. Waite was born in Bath, New York in March 1861 to Thomas and Rachel (Moore) Stenson, both Irish immigrants. Jackson and Mary Waite married around 1881, moved to Jackson, Michigan before 1884, and settled in Detroit by 1887. Mr. Wait's listed occupation was "traveling agent", which was the term then used for traveling salesmen and similar kinds of company representatives. When the family moved into the Finlay Duplex in 1908, their three adult sons lived with them:
  • Henry Fowler Waite - Born April 3, 1882 in State of New York. Employed as a clerk by the Burroughs Adding Machine Company.
  • Robert Lawrence Waite - Born October 11, 1884 in Jackson, Michigan. He briefly co-owned a pool hall on Michigan Avenue past 17th Street with William J. Brennan, and was later listed as a driver.
  • Edward Lawrence Waite - Born September 4, 1888 in Detroit. Worked as a clerk for dry goods wholesaler Edson, Moore & Co.

Detail from 1910 Census listing residents of 307 Wabash Street.

Around 1916, Jackson C. Waite disappeared. His wife and sons remained in the home for years afterward, but there was no record of his death or of him living anywhere near the area. It was as if he vanished. ... Or did he? (Hint: Check back for a future blog post about Mr. Waite.)

Detail from the 1920 Census listing residents of 307 Wabash Street.

The Waite household and vicinity in 1921. This was the year
that the address changed from 307 to 2255.

Harry Waite was later employed as a warehouse superintendent at People's Outfitting Company. The building the company used at the time was torn down several years ago to be replaced with a parking garage.

Detail from 1930 Census listing residents of 2255 Wabash Street.

Robert Waite died in Essex County, Ontario on July 25, 1930. The last year the Waites were known to live at this address was 1941. Mary E. (Stenson) Waite died in Detroit on September 23, 1946.


No city directories were published during World War II, and the Detroit Public Library's collection of directories is sporadic after that point. Ironically, it's easier to find out who lived in a historic home 100 years ago than it is to list those who lived there within the last fifty years.

After the death of Elizabeth Forsdick, the administrator of her estate, Robert G. Shaw, sold the duplex to Leo and Irene Eagle on March 25, 1954 for $9,000. Mr. and Mrs. Eagle sold it just three months later, on June 10, 1954, to James D. and Ella Aristos.

The 1956 city directory indicates that 2255 Wabash was rented by Alice Schuler and her sons Chester and Howard. Alice M. (Ryan) Schuler was born in Canada in 1883 and married Peter C. Schuler in Rochester, New York in 1911. In addition to the two sons already mentioned, the Schulers also had two daughters, Thelma and Norma. Peter Schuler died before 1930, and the family moved to Detroit at an unknown date. Chester J. Schuler worked as a mail sorter for the railroad, and Howard P. Schuler was a driver for Checker Cab. The Schulers were still living in the home at the time of the 1964 city directory, but it's not known exactly how long they lived there.

2253-2255 Wabash as it appeared in 1976.
Courtesy of the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office.

The property changed hands several more times before the present day:

  • April 17, 1975 -- From James D. and Ella Aristos to Joseph and Josephine Attard, for $12,000.
  • November 15, 1982 -- Joseph and Josephine Attard to Mario A. and Debra L. Zavala, for $16,000.
  • April 3, 1987 -- Mario A. and Debra L. Zavala to Brian W. Tremain, for $36,000. At the time, Tremain's residence was 2245 Wabash, the previously-mentioned Esterling House. Tremain now lives in Kentucky.
  • September 20, 1996 -- Brian Tremain to Jeanne Fitzgerald.
  • April 20, 2004 -- Jeanne Fitzgerald to Faith Fowler. Fowler is currently the executive director of Cass Community Social Services and Senior Pastor of Cass Community United Methodist Church.

May 16, 2011

The Joseph Buchanan House -- 1778 (214) Wabash Street

Note: This blog will no longer be updated weekly. Posts will now be made whenever I have research to share--hopefully at least once per month.

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The Joseph Buchanan House, formerly 214 Wabash Street

214 Wabash first appeared in city directories in 1883. Although the city was issuing building permits by then, I failed to locate this home in the index to building permits. (A document profiling several Corktown homes incorrectly states that 214 Wabash was built in 1893, but the permit referred to there was in fact for 212 Wabash, immediately to the south, now demolished.)

The house was built on lot 66 of outlot 1 of the Lafferty Farm, platted in 1867. In 1883, property was owned by Clement Lafferty, a grandson of the farm's original French settler, Louis Vessiere dit Laferte.

The first known renter of 214 Wabash was a livestock agent named Martin Lamb, born in Michigan on March 23, 1854 to Martin M. and Mary Jane (Guthrie) Lamb. On May 30, 1881 Martin Lamb married Matilda B. Harvey, born November 22, 1828 to Thomas and Ellen (Delaney) Harvey in Toronto. Martin and Matilda Lamb moved to 214 Wabash around 1883.

Martin Lamb is listed at 214 Wabash in 1883, the
first time the address appears in the city directories.

James F. Buchanan

On June 14, 1884, Clement Lafferty sold the house to contractor James Buchanan. It's possible that Buchanan originally built the house for Lafferty (which would explain why he chose to move into the home a few years later), but there is no direct evidence of this.

On January 22, 1884, renters Mr. and Mrs. Lamb had their first child, Hazel. They would later have two more daughters, Irene and Ruth Ellen.

"218" is a typo--the directories list the family at 214 Wabash.

Other renters evidently stayed with the Lamb family in this house. The 1883 directory lists a William J. Marshall at the address, and the 1886 edition indicates that a Miss Mina Humphries lived there.

214 Wabash and vicinity as it appeared in 1885. (M Library Digital Collections)

The last year the Lamb family was listed at this address was 1886. They moved to an address on 19th Street, and later to the Boston-Edison Neighborhood. Matilda Lamb died March 3, 1906. Martin remarried in 1906 and died April 6, 1919.

Three years after purchasing 214 Wabash, James F. Buchanan moved into the home with his family. Buchanan was born on September 19, 1858 in Drumquinn, County Tyrone, Ireland to Patrick and Mary (McCormick) Buchanan. He came from a family of textile manufacturers, and as a teenager he was sent to Belfast to study mechanical engineering. In 1875 he moved to Detroit, briefly living on the east side before relocating to Corktown. Buchanan married Mary Ann Ferry, also an Irish immigrant, in 1879, and they had three children before moving to 214 Wabash. While living at 214 Wabash, they had two additional children: Margaret, born January 1887; and Thomas, born January 4, 1891.

214 Wabash Street in the 1889 Sanborn Maps. Note that the house did not yet
have a covered porch. It and other architectural details were added later.

On August 2, 1897, James Buchanan's wife Mary Ann died from a pelvic abscess at the age of 43.

The house and vicinity, 1897. A carpenter shop was added at the rear of the property.
Also note that the covered porch on the front of the house was built by this time.
The Frederick Bechstein House, at 195 Wabash, is at the bottom left.

After his wife's death, Mr. Buchanan decided to sell his house. This ad appeared in the Detroit Free Press on December 4, 1898:


Ten days after that ad ran, a notice of a more personal nature was printed in the same paper under "Local Brevities":

John P. Buchanan did return--the 1900 Census shows him living with his father.

On August 12, 1899, James Buchanan remarried in Essex, Ontario. His second wife was Jane Tyre, born in Brownstown in 1878. Buchanan finally sold 214 Wabash on February 1, 1900 to Pauline C. Ball for $8,000.

James Buchanan went on to create many more homes as well as commercial and public buildings, including many of the structures that once comprised the Eloise Asylum in Westland. Among them was the hospital for female mental patients, completed in 1903.

Pauline C. Ball

Pauline C. (Kroehl) Ball owned the house very briefly, and only as a rental property. The home was occupied by Canadian immigrants Amasa and Sarah Jane (Martin) Beebe and their three sons, Robert, Earl, and Wilfred. When Beebe moved to 214 Wabash in 1900, he was the Secretary Treasurer of the Freeman B. Dickerson Company, a publisher located at 67-71 Michigan Avenue. The company's owner, Freeman Dickerson, was once a board member of the Eloise Asylum and former Postmaster of Detroit. When it was necessary to build a post office at what was then the Wayne County Poor House, he elected to name it Eloise, after his four-year-old daughter. The name eventually became synonymous with the entire institution.

The building on the far left housed the offices of the F. B. Dickerson Company, employ-
er of Amasa Beebe. Photo courtesy of the Shorpy Historic Photo Archive

Samuel and Clarissa Kingsley

Pauline Ball sold 214 Wabash to Samuel R. Kingsley Jr. and his wife, Clarissa A. (Norris) Kingsley on April 12, 1901. Mr. Kingsley was the Wayne County Register of Deeds at the time and a veteran of the Civil War. Mr. and Mrs. Kingsley lived in Romulus and continued to rent out the property on Wabash Street.

By 1907, Amasa Beebe and his family moved to a home on Forest Avenue, and then later to Los Angeles, where Mr. Beebe died in 1939. The Beebes were followed by the family of Oscar A. Prunner, a lantern maker at the Buhl Stamping Company. Prunner was born in Canada around 1863 and married Nancy Crowley in 1883. They immigrated to the U.S. and had two sons, Oscar Allen Jr. and George Wesley.

The Detroit Free Press on July 20, 1909 reported an accident on the Baker Street bridge involving Mrs. Prunner:


A later article stated that she sued the city for $10,000, but it is not known how the case turned out. (By which I mean I couldn't find out how to get the information for free on the internet.)

The 1910 Census shows that a seventeen-year-old servant named
Tracy Burner lived with the Prunner family at the time.

James and Mary Taylor

The home's owner, Samuel Kingley, died on December 1, 1917. On September 27, 1919, his widow, Clarissa, sold the property to James R. and Mary Ellen (Miller) Taylor for $6,000. Samuel Kingsley and James Taylor were former business partners and and lived on the same street in Romulus, Michigan. At the time, Mr. Taylor was on the board of directors of the Romulus State Bank and continued to use 214 Wabash strictly as a source of rental income.

The following year, the home received a new set of tenants:
  • Charles Ferris, 29, born in New York. Occupation: steam fitter.
  • Alice Ferris, 24, born in Canada. Wife of Charles Ferris.
  • Charles Ferris Jr., 2, son of Charles and Alice Ferris.
  • August J. Samstag, 25, born in New York. Occupation: city fireman.
  • Laura E. (Scott) Samstag, 20, born in Michigan. Wife of August Samstag.
  • Nellie B. McNurney, 30, born in Michigan. Occupation: telegraph operator.

This Sanborn Map of the area was published in 1921,
the same year the address changed from 214 to 1778.

Nellie B. McNurney

On April 20, 1922, James and Mary Taylor sold the house to one of the renters, Miss McNurney. The home was owner-occupied for the first time in over twenty years. Living with Nellie McNurney was her mother, Mary (Gillick) McNurney, born in Connecticut in 1850. She married Patrick McNurney in the late 1860s and the couple settled in Corktown in the early 1870s. Mary claimed to be "widowed" as early as the 1900 census, but in fact her husband was alive and living at the Eloise Asylum, where he also worked as a janitor. He died there in 1914.

Nellie McNurney's brother, Francis Patrick McNurney, also moved in after his wife committed suicide in 1926. He worked as a clerk in an auto factory. Their sister, Isabelle (who never married) moved to 1778 Wabash around 1930.

Detail from 1930 Census listing the residents of 1778 Wabash.
Mary (Gillick) McNurney had passed away by this time.


Some of the historical records obtained contain gaps after 1940. The McNurney family was listed at the home in 1941, but the next available deed on the house shows that it was sold by Nick Horsft and Lillian M. Kahl to Apolonio Renteria on August 25, 1945. No city directories were printed during World War II, so it is not known when the McNurneys moved out. Apolonio Renteria was a construction worker and Mexican immigrant who lived on the east side who again used 1778 Wabash as a rental property.

After Renteria's death, the house was sold by Lucy Madden, the administrator of his estate, to Melesio and Beatriz S. Morales on December 15, 1964. Melesio was born in Texas, and Beatriz in Mexico. They continued to rent out the home. The city directories are incomplete, but from as early as 1956 to at least 1968, the home was rented by Santos and Juanita Benavides. Mr. Benavides worked for the Delray Connecting Railroad. In 1973, a Soloman Benavides is listed at the address.

1778 Wabash in 1976.

Finally, on March 4, 1980, Melesio and Beatriz Morales sold the house to its current owner, Martha H. Delgado, who lives in the home with her husband Louis. This garden of this beautifully restored home will be on the 2011 Corktown Historical Home and Garden Tour, just three weeks away!

Corktown Historical
Home & Garden Tour

Sunday, June 5, 2011
Noon Until 5:00 pm

$12.00 advance purchase
$15.00 day of the tour
Please call (313) 961-9193 for details

May 7, 2011

1416 to 1434 Michigan Avenue

Once again, I do not have a full post for this week. Next week, however, I will have the full history of a new house to share. Until then, enjoy this pair of photographs of the northeast corner of Michigan and Trumbull Avenues. The buildings that now stand at 1416-1434 Michigan Ave are the very same in both images. The second photo is undated, but appears to have been taken in the 1880s.

Photo courtesy of the Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library

Michigan Avenue was obviously much narrower at the time the photo was taken. In the 1930s, all of the buildings on the south side of the street were demolished and the road was widened to its current horrifying nine-lane width.

To examine the circa 1880s photograph in full detail, click here.