If you were asked which local government in the Detroit area made the best judgment about selecting an architect who would design an appealing and appropriately stately city hall that would age very gracefully, you might say Springwells Township. This is ironic since Springwells Township ceased to exist more than 80 years ago.
A major task for territorial governor Lewis Cass was the creation of local governments throughout Michigan. On January 5, 1818, he formally established Springwells Township which included a substantial section of southern Wayne County. Because of the fine quality of well water, this area had been designed Belle Fountaine by the French who maintained ribbon farms. Cass translated that name into English. I have not seen early maps of Springwells Township, but I read that there were disputes about its boundaries until 1828. After completion of the Erie Canal in 1825, settlers migrated to Michigan and occupied land in Springwells Township. As early as the 1850s, components of this township were cleaved away to form villages, cities or other townships. Detroit, for example, annexed a substantial eastern proportion of the township before 1910.
A settlement grew along in the Michigan Central Railroad line in present-day Dearborn in 1837. It took the name Springwells. It had a post office, but was not incorporated as a village until 1921. A few years later it changed its charter to become a city and then, in 1925, adopted a new name: Fortson. By the mid 1920s, the two major remaining components of Springwells Township were the Dearborn and Springwells community. The impressive Georgian Revival hall that you see pictured above was built to serve as the village hall for Springwells and opened in June, 1922.
From 1900 through the 1920s, the city of Detroit annexed outlying areas, so numerous localities that once had their own identities and governments disappeared into the rapidly growing huge city. Residents of Hamtramck and Highland Park opposed such annexation and remain independent entities surrounded by the city of Detroit. Apparently, the residents of Fordson also feared being annexed by Detroit, so Fordson and Dearborn, in 1928, merged to form the city of Dearborn. Springwells became a defunct township. To the extent that the term Springwells is used today, it refers to a section of southwest Detroit. For several decades the Springwells Municipal Building served as Dearborn’s city all with all departments housed there.
This is a two-and-one-half story hip roofed building constructed in red brick with trim in white limestone and painted wood. There is a high foundation and an impressive entry way with Tuscan columns. This Dearborn building prods you to think about the replica of Independence Hall that Henry Ford erected for Greenfield Village. However, that version of Independence Hall was designed by a different architect—Robert Owns Derrick—and was finished about a decade later than the Springwells Township structure. There is one other structure designed by Marcus Barrows shown on this website—the Herman Strasburg home located across Cass Avenue from the Detroit Public Library on the Wayne State University campus. Burrows also designed the Ralph Harmon Booth Home at 315 Washington in Grosse Pointe.
Dearborn is named after General Henry Dearborn, a Revolutionary War hero who went on to serve as Secretary of War in the Jefferson administration. The remote United States fort located at the mouth of the Chicago River at the time of the War of 1812 was also named after General Dearborn, a fort that was abandoned prior to General Hull’s surrender of Detroit to the British forces.
Dearborn became famous as one of the most prosperous and well-financed suburbs in the United States because its tax base included the large Ford River Rouge plant, the home office buildings of Ford, their test track and many engineering facilities. Dearborn was also widely known for the man who served as mayor from 1942 through 1978, Orville Hubbard. Mayor Hubbard was never reluctant to express his extremely strongly-held views and paid great attention to every detail of the operation of his city’s government. He had the funds to provide civic services that were among the best in the nation and faced the unusual challenge of having to find ways to spend excess tax revenues. Dearborn had a reputation for having an especially punctual trash pickup and commentators speculated that no flake of snow fell on the streets of Dearborn since Mayor Hubbard had exceptionally active snow removal crews. Under his leadership, Dearborn bought rural land in southern Michigan to provide a place where city residents might camp and visit. The city also built at least one retirement complex in Florida for Dearborn residents when they visited the Sunshine State. However, he was also universally recognized for his refusal to allow any blacks—other than household servants—in Dearborn. He took great pride in being the mayor of a city of more than 100,000 with virtually no black residents, although thousands of African Americans labored at the River Rouge plant. Mayor Hubbard insisted that the slogan “Keep Dearborn Clean” be prominently posted on all city property and vehicles including police cars. Cynics translated that to “Keep Dearborn White.” Many of his efforts during and after World War II were devoted to opposing any developments whose promoters might take a liberal stance and allow African American residents. For instance, he successfully fought to keep the federal government from building housing for defense workers in Dearborn during World War II. After World War II, Metropolitan Life proposed investing in a large residential-commercial complex in his city. Mayor Hubbard successfully opposed this large civic development endeavor, fearing that the housing might be open to African Americans.
The first federal census of Dearborn—1930—enumerated 50,000. The population grew rapidly after World War II, reaching a peak of 112,000 in 1960. Since then, the demographic trend in Dearborn is similar to that of the city of Detroit and most other older suburbs; that is, a slowing of growth followed by substantial population declines. The Census Bureau estimated a population of 86,000 for Dearborn in 2008 or about what it was in the mid-1950s.
Architect: Marcus Burrowes
Architectural style: Georgian Revival
Date of opening: June 26, 1926
Use in 2005: City hall for Dearborn
State Registry of Historic Places: P25015 Listed March 20, 1984
State Historical Marker: This is immediately in front of the building close to Michigan. It was erected April 26, 1984.
National Register of Historic Sites: Not listed
Photograph: Ren Farley, December 5, 2005
Description prepared: December, 2009
Return to City Government
Return to Commerical Buildings
Return to Homepage