James Smith Farm House

2015 Clements in Detroit

This is one of the most unusual and seemingly misleading historical sites that you will find in Detroit. When you first see it, you may think that your misread your map.

James Smith established a farm in this area and built a small one-and-one-half-story log cabin, perhaps as early as 1830, and certainly no later than 1850. His log cabin is what you see, but you probably will not recognize it, even if you walk close to it. At first, glance, it looks like an inexpensive post-World War II infill house built much too close to the neighboring buildings. This is because the original log cabin was greatly altered over the decades. No traces of the logs are visible. A bay was removed and a rather mediocre porch was added. The logs were covered in the aluminum siding that you see. If you look closely at this home, you may see one indication of its age. The chimney looks as though it was constructed casually, using homemade bricks by someone who did not consult any expert and who certainly did not worry about Detroit's inspectors. Shortly after the Civil War, modern bricks came into style. This is, I believe, one of two log cabins still standing in Detroit. The other was the very upscale summer home of Senator Thomas Palmer designed in 1885 by the architects Mason and Reed. It is located in Palmer Park

If this log farm home were built around 1830 or so, it would be the second oldest residence still standing in the city. The oldest is the Trowbridge residence on East Jefferson constructed in 1826. Legal documents report that James Smith bought this plot of land which was then well beyond city-limits in 1829 in Greenfield Township. He farmed the area and raised cows. Apparently he won a prize for his high quality butter at the 1854 Michigan State Fair. Apparently his heirs sold the land to developers but, for some reason, the log cabin you see here was not torn down. In 1916, the city of Detroit annexed this area. Apparently the owner of the home in the 1960s requested an historic designation and it was granted some years later.

Attention was directed to this home in 2015 and 2016. The nailhed website noted below provides extensive and detailed information about many historical sites in the greater Detroit area. One of those sites listed in November, 2015 was the James Smith log cabin. There you will find much more information about this home including the fact that, in 2015, it was owned by the Detroit Land Bank and listed on their "Do Not Demolish" list. Then, on February 27, 2016; John Carlisle wrote a long and information essay about this home in the Detroit Free Press providing more information about this unusual Detroit structure.


Architectural style: Log cabin used as a farm home
Builder: Presumably, James Smith
Use in 2016: Abandoned property
For addtional information: http://www.nailhed.com/2015/11/duck-duck-duck-goosea-log-cabin-in.html
Detroit Free Press description of home: Feburary 27,2016: http://www.freep.com/story/news/columnists/john-carlisle/2016/02/27/detroit-oldest-cabin-hidden-in-neighborhood/80866138/
Michigan Registry of Historic Sites: P25247. Listed July 19, 1990
Michigan Historic Marker: Erected: April 16, 1991. This small marker is visible on the pediment of the porch
Description updated: March, 2016

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