This is a marvelous example of Victorian-era vernacular style. If you organize your own architectural tour of the city of Detroit, it is worth a detour to see this home.
Corktown was Detroit’s first ethnic neighborhood, being settled by the Irish in the early 1830s. Detroit’s population grew slowly until manufacturing boomed after the Civil War, but grow it did. Employment was concentrated in today’s downtown area and the nearby riverfront. Because there was no public transportation, homes had to be build close to where the jobs were so Corktown, Harmonie Park and neighborhoods along East Jefferson were settled before the Civil War.
By the 1860s, urban population growth stimulated a rudimentary and very slow form of public transit: horse drawn cars pulled along iron rails laid in the middle of a street, often an unpaved street. By 1863, horse lines were extended west along Michigan from Campus Martius to Corktown and beyond.
Joseph Esterling, a carpenter and contractor, built the beautiful home that you see in the picture above. He was a Prussian, reminding us that while there were many ethnic neighborhoods in Detroit and other US cities in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries, most of them included a diverse array of European immigrants coming from a long list of origins. The Irish once dominated Corktown and Poles Poletown but in most of these ethnic neighborhoods, many nationalities lived side-by-side. African-Americans were—and continue to be—the exception since their neighborhoods are much more homogeneous than traditional ethnic neighborhoods.
Mr. Esterling selected an Italianate style for his residence as indicated by the protruding bay window on the first floor, the bracketed cornices and, perhaps most distinctively, the elaborate window heads. This style of extensive decoration with wood trim disappeared from the builder’s repertoire by the end of the Nineteenth Century. This is a notable example of vernacular architecture; that is, an ordinary functional building not designed by a famous architect, but one that effectively utilized the most appealing popular or folk arts of the era. Members of the Esterling family continued to occupy this home for ninety years.
This residence has been lovingly restored. It is great to look at this house and appreciate the skills of the builder and those who continue to make it look fresh and appealing. At first glance, you might be surprised by the pastel colors. Apparently, this is an historically correct color scheme since pastels were used to paint homes in the late Nineteenth Century.
Date of Construction: 1864
Builder: Joseph H. Esterling
Architectural style: Italianate with Victorian style trim
Use in 2004: Residence
City of Detroit Local Historic District: Not listed
State of Michigan Register of Historic Sites: P25091 Listed March 16, 1982
State of Michigan Historical Marker: Erected April 27, 1983. This is visible on the front of the home facing Wabash.
National Register of Historic Places: Not listed
Photo: Andrew Chandler: July, 2004