Brush Park Historic District/Woodward East Historic District

Bounded by Woodward on the west, Mack on the north, Beaubien on the east and I-75 or
the Fisher Freeway on the south just northwest of downtown Detroit

Does Brush Park illustrate Detroit’s decline into a city of ruins, or does it provide hope for the future? The frequently cited urban critic, Camilo Jose Vergara, documented the collapse of the once beautiful Ransom Gillis home in Brush Park. Indeed, almost all of his publications, including American Ruins and The New American Ghetto, show many pictures of this home’s slow deterioration. For him, it is symbolic of formerly magnificent and prosperous cities rejecting their marvelous past and falling into hopeless despair. However, a more careful observer will find that since the mid 1990s, a number of the classic Victorian era homes have been restored, several major apartment buildings have been refurbished into appealing lofts and several dozen costly new condominiums have been built in the southeast corner of Brush Park. Maybe this area hints at a bright future for the city. Make your own decision after strolling through Brush Park before or after an afternoon at Ford Field or Comerica Park.

Charles and Theresa Barthe were among the small number of French who migrated to Detroit from Montreal in the early Eighteenth Century to seek prosperity using a land grant from the King. Their daughter, Marie Archange Barthe, was born in Detroit in 1749. She later married John Askin, a Scotsman, who was serving as governor of Michilliackinac, after the British replaced the French as the colonial power in this area of North America. A child of John Askin and Marie Archange Barthe, Adelaide, was born in Detroit during the British occupation in 1783.

After the Revolutionary War, many colonial soldiers assumed that the United States controlled the land from the Atlantic well into the Midwest. Some of the eastern seaboard states proposed granting lands in the Midwest to former soldiers as a reward for their fighting in the Revolution. Land grant or not, quite a few New Englanders presumed there were opportunities west of the Appalachians and moved there. This was made easier after President Washington and the United States army succeeded in controlling and then expelling Indians from Ohio, and after the US negotiated the Jay Treaty of 1796 ending British claims to control the upper Midwest. Given its great distance and transportation difficulties, few New Englanders moved to Detroit, but Elijah Brush was an exception. Born in Burlington, Vermont in 1772, he fought with the Revolutionary Army and then was trained in the law at Dartmouth. He arrived in Detroit about 1800. Within two years, he had successfully won the hand of Adelaide Askin. The marriage had a marvelous economic benefit for him. His father-in-law did not approve of the independence of the colonies, so in 1802, he moved with Marie Archange Barthe to Canada, leaving control of the farm in the hands of Elijah Brush. By 1806, ownership passed into the hands of Brush. He became active in civic affairs, serving as the second mayor of Detroit and from 1806 until his death at age 41 in 1813, as treasurer of the Michigan Territory.

Elijah Busch’s son, Edmund, was enrolled at Hamilton College also studying law when his father died. He returned to Detroit and became active in civic affairs while starting numerous businesses. He served as president of the city’s Board of Water Commissioners for 26 years.

Detroit’s population began to grow after completion of the Erie Canal in 1825 made it possible to get to Michigan from the East Coast. German and Irish immigrants arrived in the 1830s, a migration stream that picked up volume the following decade. By the 1850s, the entrepreneurial Edmund Busch clearly understood the true value of his grandparents’ property—as a location for the mansions of the city’s elite. He began developing his land as a residential neighborhood. It had, of course, the advantage of being close to the center of the city where emerging economic elite had their stores, offices or businesses. As the developer of a residential area, you can name the streets after your relatives and friends. Edmund Busch took this opportunity. Adelaide is for his mother, Alfred for his brother—a West Point graduate who became a physician, and both Edmund and Brush for himself. Winder and Watson were the surnames of his friends. Colonel John Winder, I believe, also bought property from Edmund Brush.

In the pre-industrial era of Detroit’s history, two geographic areas were developed as residential areas for the city’s rich—primarily entrepreneurs whose commercial businesses prospered. Fortunately, quite a few homes remain from this period, giving us an idea of what was stylish in that era before Detroit became an industrial metropolis. The Belgium immigrant, Francis Palms, encouraged the development of East Jefferson. The only competition was the area that Brush developed.

Neighborhoods: Can they be recycled? Most of the housing stock in Brush Park was completed by the end of the Nineteenth Century. Many of the homes in the late 1800s were built in the Second Empire style, giving this neighborhood the nickname, "Little Paris". The marvelous home that Albert Kahn built for himself was among the last built in this area. The coming of streetcars in the late 1890s, and then automobiles a couple of decades later, allowed prosperous families to live in many different neighborhoods, not just close to downtown where they worked. Before the First World War, several other Detroit areas offered housing amenities rivaling or exceeding those of Brush Park, including Indian Village on the east side and Boston-Edison near the Highland Park border.

The popularity of Brush Park declined. During the Depression decade, few families could maintain the large homes found there, so some were subdivided into apartment units. The demand for housing in Detroit was weak in the 1930s, but during World War II, small apartments in classical old homes could be rented for much profit. After World War II, the Brush Park residential area steadily declined. The riots of July, 1967 did not destroy any homes here, but as Detroit’s population fell by 50 percent, many of the mansions were abandoned, falling into the dereliction that Camilo Jose Vergara emphasizes so frequently.

The revival of Brush Park began in the 1990s. A few of the older mansions have been restored to their glory, including the Elisha Taylor home. Others are now undergoing renewal, including the Lucien Moore home at 104 Edmund, which is being converted into costly condos. At least one older apartment building, the Carola, has been restored. In addition, a substantial number of condominiums have been built in the southeast corner of Brush Park near the intersection of Woodward and the Fisher Freeway.

It will be interesting to observe the trajectory of this neighborhood’s revival. Employment shifts—expanding white collar and medical sector employment in and near downtown Detroit—and demographic shifts—much delayed marriage, low fertility rates, cohabitation and apparent increases in gay and lesbian couples—suggest that the demand for condo living close to downtown Detroit will grow, thereby effectively renewing this neighborhood. The challenges, however, are numerous and a walk through this area will convince you that there are still quite a few classical mansions in as much disrepair as the Gillis home that Vergara publicizes so frequently.

This area is designated as the Brush Park Historic District by the City of Detroit's Historic Designation Board. Pretty much the same geographic area or exactly the same area is designed as the Woodward East Historic District on the State of Michigan and National registries of historic sites.

This website provides information about a number of homes and locations in Brush Park including:

Elisha Taylor Home – 59 Alfred (1870)
Hudson-Evans Home – 79 Alfred (1874)
Bernard Ginsburg Home - Adelaide (1898)
Albert Kahn Home – 208 Mack at John R (1906)
Ransom Gillis Home – Alfred at John R.
Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts – 47 Watson
John Harvey Home - 97 Winder
Emanuel Schloss Home - 284 Winder

The component of Detroit’s Lower Piety row extending on the east side of Woodward from Alfred to Mack is also included within the Brush Park Historic District:

First Unitarian Church of Christ – 2870 Woodward at Edmund (1890)
First Presbyterian Church – 2930 Woodward at Edmund (1889)
Temple Beth El/ Bonstelle Theater – 3424 Woodward (1903)

City of Detroit Local Historic District: Listed January 23, 1980
State of Michigan Registry of Historic Sites: Woodward East Historic District
National Registry of Historic Sites: Woodward East Historic District
Use in 2009: Residential Area

Description updated: March 13, 2009

Return to City of Detroit Historic Designations

Return to Michigan Registered Historic Districts

Return to Federal Register of Historic Districts

Return to Homepage