East River Road Historic District

Eleven structures in or near East River Road’s intersection with
Grosse Ile Parkway on Grosse Ile

This is one of the most impressive historic districts in southeastern Michigan. And, I suspect, it is also one of the least visited. It includes, I believe, St. James Episcopal Church at 25150 East River Road, the Michigan Central Railroad Station, the United States Custom House for Grosse Ile at the intersection of East River Road and Grosse Ile Parkway and seven or eight elegant homes built on the west side of East River Road in the 1870s and 1880s. An economically prosperous upper class emerged in Detroit when the city became a dominant manufacturing center in the decades after the Civil War. Cities, at that time, were dirty and odoriferous sites. They were also accurately seen as unhealthy places where population density and the absence of sewer and water system spread contagious ailments. During the summer, there was no air conditioning to improve the quality of life. Financially secure families, at that time, sought clean, peaceful rural locations where the wife and the children could spend the summer. Often they were close enough that the breadwinner of the household could visit on week-ends. I presume that Detroit residents took boats from the foot of Woodward to Grosse Ile, but after 1871, it was possible to ride a Michigan Central train to the island from downtown Detroit. Grosse Ile became an ideal location for the summer homes of Detroit’s elite. Indeed, the eminent architect, Gordon Lloyd, built his summer home here and designed other structures on this island.

This website includes separate pages describing St. James Episcopal Church, the Michigan Central Railroad Station and the U. S. Customs House. Equally impressive are the homes in this historic district, homes that are pictured on this page. All of them face a large and carefully designed yard as well as the calm, wide Detroit River. They have extremely pleasant views. Most of them were constructed in the Victorian style, some built with limestone and some constructed with wood. You notice that each home is different from all the others in this historic district. Many of them are embellished with elaborate gingerbread, illustrating the ken of the carpenters and artists of that era. I think that some or many of these residences were designed by Gordon Lloyd, but I do not know which ones. All of these homes appear to be exceptionally well maintained and occupied almost a century and one-half after they were completed. With completion of the bridge in 1913, it became possible to drive to Belle Isle.

This is a marvelous array of architecturally interesting structures and there is, I believe, no historic district in the Detroit metropolitan area that offers its residents a more relaxing or pleasant view.

Dates of constructions: About 1840 to about 1880
State of Michigan Registry of Historic Sites: P25,378 Listed June 16, 1972
State of Michigan Historical Marker: None put in place
National Register of Historic Places: Listed
Use in 2009: One church, two buildings used as historical museums and several residences
Photograph: Ren Farley; August 3, 2009
Description prepared: August, 2009


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