Northville: An Ideal 1892 Suburban Village
Book promotes community's assets while providing glimpse of Northville as a 19th century village.
In 1892, the Eagle Steam Printing & Engraving Company, located on East Main Street in a frame building that once housed (and for a time printed) The Northville Record, published a small pamphlet-sized book titled, Northville: The Ideal Suburban Village.
The book, featuring wonderful engravings and text detailing Northville’s downtown streetscape, versatile businesses, extensive manufacturing and other assets, was a promotional publication designed to attract prospective home buyers to lots available in what is now the Cabbagetown area east of Center Street between Baseline and Rayson (formerly Yerkes Street), and the Buchner Hill area west of Center including High, Walnut and Elm streets.
The Eagle Steam Printing & Engraving Company was established in 1869 and specialized in engraving and printing, including fine cut and catalog work as well as artistic designing for programs, invitations and letterheads. The company likely did some of the elaborate letterhead of several local businesses such as J.A. Dubuar Manufacturing and American Bell & Foundry.
While I am grateful for the many fine histories of Northville including Jack Hoffman’s Northville . . . The First Hundred Years, Barbara Louie’s Northville, Michigan, Laura Smyth Hixson’s Early Northville and the 1969 Centennial edition of The Northville Record, the Eagle book is unique for its 1890s perspective on our community. It’s also a treasure trove of Northville history, chock-full of factoids and details about the village, circa 1892.
I have gleaned much information from this gem of a book. Though its prose tends to “gild the lily” in its descriptions of the village (its intention, afterall, was to lure folks to Northville's bucolic neighborhoods), the information and engravings are invaluable.
Northville’s location —24 miles from Detroit — was, and continues to be, an asset. (Although today we more commonly refer to Northville’s location as near-equal distance between Detroit and Ann Arbor). In 1892, transportation from Detroit was on a direct line by the Flint and Pere Marquette railway.
The book notes, “An electric railroad is now being discussed, and in all probability will shortly be constructed.” The electric streetcar became a reality in November 1899.
"Northville is situated in a beautiful rolling country, so absolutely different from the flat, sandy level which surrounds Detroit in other directions as to have characterized it as the Switzerland of Wayne county," the book states. "The streets are broad, smooth and beautifully shaded and lighted by a complete system of electricity ... Its residences are modern and handsome — its people are cultured, refined and progressive."
The book makes much of Northville’s manufacturing might, with good reason. It notes that Northville was second only to Detroit in manufacturing importance.
Among the impressive list of Northville industries in 1892 were the following:
- Globe Manufacturing, the largest manufacturer of church and school furniture in the world with more than 200 employees.
- J.A. Dubuar Manufacturing, manufacturer of hardwood lumber as well as pulley blocks, wheelbarrows, screen doors and “Michigan Air Rifles.”
- Tonquish Manufacturing, a new company in 1892 that manufactured a line of moderately priced parlor and library tables.
- Ely Dowel and Manufacturing, maker of dowel pins for furniture,ß and moldings for caskets. The company moved its factory from Detroit to Northville in 1889.
- Clover Condensed Milk Company pioneered improvements in the processing of condensed milk, and was one of country's largest condensed milk producers.
- Northville Mills, Northville’s first gristmill and the catalyst for much of the community’s growth in its early years. By 1899, it had been refitted with roller presses and was producing the celebrated Gold Lace flour.
- Frank N. Perrin, carriage manufactory, wagon shop and blacksmith plant producing surreys phaetons and buggies.
In addition to its manufacturing might, the Eagle book also highlights the Northville Fish Hatchery, the first federal fish hatchery and one of the finest hatcheries in the country, and the Yarnall Gold Cure Institute for the “rational treatment and radical cure of alcohol, opium, cocaine, tobacco and cigarette habits.”
Several of the downtown businesses highlighted in the book include engravings that provide a glimpse of how buildings looked in the 1890s and where they were located. An engraving of the south side of East Main Street looking west illustrates the entire block of buildings including the southwest corner of Main and Center occupied by the Park House hotel, then considered the “best $2 per day house in Michigan.”
Aside from the Park House hotel, all of the buildings in the 1892 engraving of South Main Street thankfully remain today. The businesses at that time included C. R. Stevens Drugs (now Rock On Main), Teichner & Company dry goods store (now Table 5) and B.A. Wheeler grocery (now Genitti’s).
An engraving of the north side of East Main Street shows Geo. E. Waterman & Co., with its hardware store located in one of the downtown’s oldest frame buildings (now gone). Nevertheless, the brick buildings on the west side of the midblock still remain. In 1892, the buildings housed J.S. Lapham & Co. bank, Knapp & Yerkes hardware and cutlery, and A.E. Rockwell, a jeweler and optician.
In 1892, North Center Street boasted Sands & Porter furniture in a new brick building constructed in 1888 (now occupied by Simply Wine and Center Street Knits), and the Moffat Opera House (demolished).
Add to this F.A. Miller’s meat market, two laundries (Star Laundry and Northville City Laundry Co., A.H. Kohler grocery, M.N. Johnson & Co. livery stables as well as countless cobblers, coopers and milliners.
The book also showcases the community’s churches, Northville’s Union School (high school), The Northville Record and the establishment of the Ladies Library Association as well as other civic organizations.
With its tranquil setting, thriving downtown and extensive manufacturing, is it any wonder that housing was at a premium and developers scurried to find more land for building? The book quotes an article in The Northville Record in September 1892 that "forty persons were seeking homes and not a single house was vacant ... Available lots upon which to build residences or business houses are increasing in value very rapidly."
Such was the challenge for Northville: The Ideal Suburban Village.
Northville: The Ideal Suburban Village was reprinted by the Northville Historical Society in 1974 and again in 1994. Copies are available for sale at the Mill Race Village office in Cady Inn. Reference copies of the book also are available in the Local History Room at the Northville District Library.
Editor's note: a change was made to the original version of this story to add an omitted word. The direct line from Detroit mentioned above was on the Flint and Pere Marquette railway.