July 29, 2013

The Henry G. Blanchard House

As unlikely as it seems, I have until recently never seen a complete, pre-twentieth century photograph of an existing Corktown home. A portion of 1200 Porter Street is visible in a photo of Most Holy Trinity that appears on page 10 of Arcadia Publishing's book on Corktown, and I came across a genealogy website that contained old images of 1394 Pine Street, but those date to approximately 1907. All of the other pre-1900 photos I've found were of surviving non-residential buildings, or of homes that are no longer standing.

Several days ago, however, my neighbor Scott Robichaud (co-owner/renovator of the Joseph Kingston house and author of the Redemption in Corktown blog) came across this impressive 1895 image of 1651 Leverette Street:

This house was the work of contractor Berthold L. Schwartz, who obtained the building permit from the city on May 17, 1895. The estimated cost to build the home was $2,100.00. We know this photograph was taken in 1895 because the brick terraces next door are obviously under construction, and the permit to build them was issued to real estate developer John J. Hart on April 25, 1895.

This is what the home looks like today:

The house has clearly experienced many changes since its construction. The wrought iron ridge cresting, weather vane, and yard fencing have all been removed. The front porch has been completely rebuilt, and the clapboard and shingle siding has been covered by Insul-brick, probably around the 1930s. The vacant lot next door was filled in by 1908, when a wood-frame duplex was constructed by builders Charles W. Burkhardt and William C. Wilkie. What's interesting about the vacant lot in the 1895 photograph is not only that the rears of 1656 and 1662 Bagley are visible, but that the lots next to the Blanchard house was apparently used as a corral for at least one horse:

Image Courtesy Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library.

Captain Henry Gordon Blanchard

The house's first owner, Henry G. Blanchard, was born in New York City on January 9, 1837. He became an apprentice sailor at a young age and ultimately made his way to Detroit to learn steamship navigation on the Great Lakes. After three seasons on the lakes, he obtained his Master's Certificate, officially becoming a Captain.

(Image Source.)

At the age of 28, Captain Blanchard received the position of Detective for the Detroit Custom House, working to protect what was even then a busy international border. In 1867, he became Chief Deputy of the U.S. Marshal's Office of the Eastern District of Michigan. In this position, he became a "terror to smugglers," in the words of a contemporary newspaper.

Captain Blanchard married a woman named Margaret in the 1860s, but her maiden name and the date of the marriage are unknown. According to census records, she was born in the West Indies around 1844. The couple had two children, both of whom died young. A daughter, Mina Celia, was born December 18, 1869, and died three years later on December 13, 1872. A son, Norman, was born October 26, 1873 and died the following December 9th. Margaret Blanchard evidently died before 1880, when the census indicated that Captain Blanchard was a widower. By that time, he had retired from civil service and purchased shipping vessels, eventually founding the Blanchard Navigation Company.

The Traveler, c. 1890, formerly known as Justice Field. (Image Source)
This vessel was owned by Captain H. G. Blanchard from 1884-1888.

On September 16, 1882, Captain Blanchard married Mary E. Winterhalter, a Detroit native who had a daughter, Rose, from a previous marriage. The couple never had any children of their own.

In 1892, Captain Blanchard was appointed a crier (essentially a bailiff) for the U. S. Courts in Detroit. He held this position when his residence on Leverette Street was constructed. The last home Henry and Mary Blanchard occupied before this was one of the two visible in the background of the 1895 photograph above--specifically, 1662 Bagley (formerly 174 Baker), which dates to the 1870s.

Captain Blanchard spent the rest of his life in his home on Leverette. It was where he passed away on April 4, 1900 at the age of 63. Funeral services were held at his church, St. Peter's Episcopal, and the Captain was laid to rest at Woodmere Cemetery. Mrs. Blanchard immediately left Corktown to live with her daughter and son-in-law, physician William Polglase, who was the live-in superintendent of the Michigan Home for the Feeble Minded and Epileptic in Lapeer.

Click here to view a high-resolution version of the Blanchard House photograph.