Stearns Telephone Historic Marker

511 Woodward between Larned and West Congress Streets

It is easy to overlook this Michigan Historic Marker.  It is not posted on the side of a building nor is it in a lobby area.  Rather it is located in an almost prone position and a small stone pediment in the middle of the sidewalk.  You could walk very close to it and not see it.  Furthermore, most of the paint has worn off over the years.  It is difficult to read even if you are on top of it.  You would need quite a ladder and excellent light conditions to photograph it appropriately.

The telephone was one of the most important inventions of the post-Civil War era in terms of both improving the quality of life and expediting business activity.  For a relatively small cost, merchants and home owners could share a party line allowing them to instantly exchange messages.  In the early years, most services was local, but quite quickly, long distance service developed, speeding the flow of information around the nation.  The important consequences of Mr. Bell’s invention are seldom praised.

Frederick Stearns came to Detroit in 1855 and established a pharmacy. I believe it was on the spot when the hidden historical marker reposes.  He quickly got into the business of making medicines.  In the early years, I think that he produced what we would call patent medicines.  Later, I believe that he and his colleagues began making more modern and more scientific pharmecutical products.  The huge Stearns building—a manufacturing and office center—still stands at 7533 East Jefferson and is now a successful condominium structure known as the Lofts at Rivertown.  Frederick K. Stearns’ attractive Arts and Crafts style home, designed by William Stratton and Frank Baldwin and completed in 1902, stands at 8109 East Jefferson.  It is included within the National Historic Register’s East Jefferson Residential Thematic Resource.  When you read about buildings in Detroit, you learn that Stearns firm rented or owned many structures near downtown Detroit in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century.

Because the text of this historic marker is hardly visible, I repeat it below:

“On September 22, 1877, a Bell telephone was installed on this stie in the drugstore operated by Frederick Stearns.  An iron wire strung along rooftops connected the store with the Stearns laboratory a half-mile away at the foot of Fifth Street.  This ervice, only eighteen months after Alexander Graham Bell patented his invention, was the first to be offered by the organization which eventually developed into the Michigan Bell Telephone Company.  A placard in the store window invited the public to drop in every hour on the hour to speak over the amazing new devise.  Other private lines followed, but it was a year before the first telephone exchange was constructed with fifteen or twenty subscribers on each party line."

Summary description of Frederick Stearns and his pharmecutical company:
State of Michigan Registry of Historic Sites:  P25,251  Listed April 24, 1970
State of Michigan Historic Marker: Put in place: April 6, 1972
National Register of Historic Places: Not listed
Photograph – such as it is:  Ren Farley; November 20, 2010
Description prepared: November, 2010


Return to Michigan Historic Markers

Return to Home Page