September 30, 2014

The Henry Hart Map of 1853

In 1853, New York surveyor Henry Hart published a map of Detroit that indicated the location of every building within the city limits. This map not only allows us to see the state of the development of Corktown, which was still a new neighborhood, but it can help us determine which houses in Corktown are the oldest. This is not always easy--building permits were not required until 1878, and city directories can be inconsistent and incomplete.

At the time, the western border of the city roughly coincided with Eighth Street. The area beyond that would have still been part of Springwells Township, and was excluded from the document. Just over the border was the Woodbridge Farm, which wasn't legally subdivided into individual building lots until 1858.

Until now, I have only had access to low-resolution images of the Hart map. But I recently noticed that the Detroit Historical Society has a copy of this map in their online archives, and a high-resolution version available to paid members. Below is a detail of the area including Corktown.

Image courtesy Detroit Historical Society.

Superimposing this map over a modern aerial photograph can help researchers determine which structures in Corktown were built before 1853.

The houses that I believe coincide with existent structures are highlighted in yellow. Some buildings appear to coincide with the 1853 map, but they are known to have been built afterward. For example, today's Most Holy Trinity Church was built after the older wooden structure was demolished in June 1856.

Of the small handful of houses in Detroit that predate the publication of Hart's map, these seven can be found in Corktown.

• 1362 Bagley. The house next door to this one (1366 Bagley) probably also dates to the 1850s.

• 1232 Labrosse. According to the Detroit Historic Designation Advisory Board, the John Purdon house was constructed around 1851. Like many of the other houses on this list, this home would have had a very simple design originally, with Victorian details being added at a later date.

• 1319 Labrosse. I am least confident about the date of this house, but if it does predate 1853, then the corbels, window bay and window hood are clearly Victorian additions.

• 1323 Labrosse. The booklet from the 1994 Corktown Historic Homes Tour calls this the Hall House and dates it to 1848.

• 1337-1339 Labrosse. The porch on this duplex is not original to the structure. When first built, it would have looked similar to the Worker's Row House, pictured below.

• 1430-1438 Sixth St. Previous research on the building indicates that it was probably built in 1849, or not long after.

• 1200 Porter. Confirmation that the Michael Keenan House was built by 1853 is found in an 1852 re-subdivision of the block, which indicates a house already existing on the lot at the time.

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