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The GPHS Newsletter

Fall 2014 Newsletter

Moorings Archive
Archive of the "Moorings" Newsletters from prior years

Moorings cover Current Newsletter: Winter 2014
Continued Reading


GPHS Receives Prestigious History Award

The Griffin Mystery

From the Archives

Frank Bicknell Educational Lecture Series

Interurban Intermezzo

Legends of le Detroit

Second Saturday Schedule

GP Historical Society Receives Prestigious State History Award

The Grosse Pointe Historical Society has received a state history award from the Historical Society of Michigan for its Legends of the Lake, a community, historical and theatrical experience.

This is the first time the Grosse Pointe Historical Society has won this prestigious award in the category of special events.

History AwardLegends of the Lake was produced by the Grosse Pointe Historical Society and the Grosse Pointe Theatre, with three sold-out performances at the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House in the fall of 2013. It was a collaboration of three organizations working together to present the history of our community in a live outdoor theater.

The archive-based Legends of the Lake is a retelling of experiences of the area's early settlers. The GP Historical Society looked for stories that would reveal their personal struggles, courage and humor. Among the materials selected from the archives was Marie Hamlin's 1883 book "Legends of Le Detroit." The Society used seven stories to highlight life along Grosse Pointe's Lake St. Clair, including the voyage of the Griffin and the baptism of Lake St. Clair in 1679 to the story of Euphemia and Pierre Provencal who, in the 1880s, opened their lives to 24 children orphaned by the cholera epidemics.

Members of the Grosse Pointe Theatre and Grosse Pointe Historical Society crafted the stories into 5-8 minute vignettes with up to six characters in a scene. Directed and staged by Grosse Pointe Theatre, members of both groups auditioned and were cast in roles for the production.

A second Legends of the Lake production is planned for Fall 2015.

The Historical Society of Michigan awards only 15 top honors each year in various categories including life achievements, volunteer service, history books, articles and education. The Society presents the State History Awards every year to individuals and organizations that have made outstanding contributions to the appreciation, collection, preservation and/or promotion of state and local history. The awards are the highest recognition presented by the Historical Society of Michigan, the state’s official historical and oldest cultural organization.

The Griffin Mystery

In the long-ago '60s and '70s, our family decided to become boaters. To introduce the four of us to Great Lakes history, I started reading to my husband and children some exciting accounts of storms and tragedies that had occurred. Perhaps that was a bit morbid, but we found it rather exciting. And later we did experience our own close calls on Lake Erie, Lake St. Clair, and the Clinton River.

griffin pictureI am sure our research included the Griffin, the first European type of craft to sail the Great Lakes.

The Griffin was designed and built by Rene Robert Cavalier de La Salle, a young Jesuit born in France in 1643. He gave up his status in 1666 and came to Canada, where his brother was a priest. La Salle dreamt of making a fortune in trade with China and Japan, by shipping goods across the Great Lakes and down the Mississippi River. He thought he would reach the Gulf of California and have a direct route to China. With the aid of priests in Canada he was granted rights by Louis XIV to pursue this plan. Forts were to be built and manned around the Great Lakes and down the river to ensure France’s trading rights.

Built in New York in 1678 and 1679, the Griffin was approximately 40 feet long and 15 feet at the beam. It was described as a barque of 45 tons, with a single mast and seven cannon. Our family boat, the Idler II, was 40 feet by 14 feet. I cannot imagine having a crew and equipment for a long voyage on a ship that size.

Because the Seneca Indians opposed the building of the ship and threatened to burn it, launching was done a few days early. The Griffin set out on her first voyage on August 7, 1679, after rigging was completed. They reached the mouth of the Detroit River on August 10, and on the 11th sailed between Grosse Ile and Bois Blanc. The crew was greatly impressed with the beauty of the area, the ample game, and fruit trees. On August 12 they crossed the lake they named after Saint Claire. They found the mouth of the St. Clair River full of narrow channels and shoals, as it is today. When they reached Lake Huron, they were threatened by high winds and storms. Finally they reached a safe harbor at Mackinac Island.

On September 12, the Griffin continued on to Green Bay, where a crew that had been left there the year before was waiting for La Salle's arrival. In that year, the crew left at Green Bay had amassed 12,000 pounds of furs and goods for trading. To expedite the trip back to New York, the pilot and a crew of five were quickly sent on their way before the winter storms. La Salle never saw the Griffin again.

What happened to the Griffin? Did the untrustworthy pilot and crew take off with the goods? Did the Indian tribes capture and kill the crew? Was the Griffin burned after all? Were they wrecked in one of the Great Lakes' notorious storms?

It is believed that the wreckage of the Griffin has been located. However, it has not been confirmed that the discovered wreckage is that of the first sailing ship on the Great Lakes, the mighty Griffin.

By Pat Willson

From The Archives

Note: The Grosse Pointe Historical Society Alfred and Ruth Moran Resource Center receives hundreds of requests for information each month. From time to time, we will highlight an unusual or interesting request. In this issue, we focus on research done for Karen Olsen from Paradise, Michigan.

It started with a portrait of a beautiful lady, well dressed and wearing pearls. This is the woman for whom the hospital was named, but she sure didn’t look like a gal from the Upper Peninsula.

Karen Olsen is the Administrative Assistant at the Golden Leaves Living Center in the Helen Newberry Joy Hospital, in Newberry, Michigan. This is a state-of-the-art facility located in the center of the Eastern side of the UP and is named for our own Grosse Pointe resident, Helen Hall Newberry Joy. Many people from the Pointes know who this wonderful philanthropist was, but that is not so in the small towns of rural Michigan; not even in Newberry. So when Karen started asking questions and found no answers about the lady in the portrait, she began the hunt, which took her to the Grosse Pointe Historical Society.

For Karen, to honor Mrs. Joy was important. The hospital was to open a emergency room. In celebration, the staff would hold a reception. That is where a time capsule, which Helen’s son Henry Bourne Joy Jr. had placed in the foundation of the hospital, was to be opened. Karen wanted to be armed with all the information that she could before the event.

Karen traveled to Grosse Pointe and paid a visit to our Society's office. There she was able to glean from Izzy Donnelly, Director of Education, that Helen, in all likelihood, hadn’t been to Newberry Michigan.The city had been named for her father, John Stoughton Newberry, who was an early Michigan industrialist. He had created the Detroit Car Wheel Company. He used the natural resources for manufacturing from the location now named Newberry. And more impressively, Mr. Newberry served as the first provost marshal for the State of Michigan. He went on to become a United States Representative for Michigan.

Helen Hall Newberry was as forward thinking as her father, and also endowed with a spirit of generosity that can only be compared to a rare few. Among the many lists of her many gifts was the first woman's residence at the University of Michigan. She donated her Detroit mansion on Jefferson Avenue to the Daughters of the American Revolution to use a headquarters, which has proved the financial foundation for hugely important donations to historic and patriotic causes. It was important for Karen that Mrs. Joy used her resources in a manner that supported women, and that would allow unmarried women to reside outside of their parents' homes without disgrace. In a time when education and independence were difficult for a young girl of obtain, Helen found a way to make it happen.

Karen Olsen had found what she had been hoping for. No, Helen Newberry Joy had not been at the ground-breaking for the hospital, which was founded in 1965. She had passed away in 1958. But Karen found that Helen had made it possible for women to become nurses; that they in turn gained skills that improved lives of those they healed and those who benefited from a working woman’s wages. Yes, Karen found her "strong lady in pearls." And no matter what Henry Junior has left us in the time capsule, the gift he gave was to name the hospital for his mother. Helen Newberry Joy Hospital is honored to bear her name.

By Kay Burt-Willson

Frank Bicknell Educational Lecture Series

March 18, 2015 - Detroit's Historic Eastern Market
Randall Fogelman
Cook Schoolhouse, 25025 Mack Avenue, GPW

April 15, 2015 - My Brave Mechanics: The First Michigan Engineers and Their Civil War
Mark Hoffman
Cook Schoolhouse, 25025 Mack Avenue, GPW

May 13, 2015 - Grosse Pointe Shores
Arthur Woodford
Edsel & Eleanor Ford House, 1100 Lake Shore Road, GPS

Interurban Intermezzo
by Thomas G. Peck

in-ter-mez-zo: "…a short movement separating the major sections of a lengthy musical composition or work." -The American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition (Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1982).

Except for observations or experiences relating to buses that have operated in this region since the early part of the 20th century, those of us who were born in the mid-1950s or later have no first-hand recollections of mass transportation in southeastern Michigan.

Other major American cities have, presently and/or previously, employed a number of different motorized transportation systems (besides buses) to move their commuting workers, residents and visitors about on a daily basis. These systems include(d) cable cars, electric streetcars, elevated trains, ferryboats and subways.

Detroit and its suburbs cannot claim the diverse number of mass transit systems that such cities as New York or San Francisco have employed for decades. The last major competitors to the buses in Detroit were the streetcars that ceased operating in 1956. In the decades since their demise, urban planners, newspaper editors, politicians and commuters alike have decried the lack of any alternative forms of mass regional transit to the existing city and suburban bus systems, and complaints (most often involving the DOT) about dirty, run-down buses, ill-behaved and sometimes violent passengers and generally poor service are longstanding and depressingly familiar.

The recent commencement of construction of a light rail track along Woodward Avenue from downtown Detroit to the northern city limits at 8 Mile Road has, in general, been applauded by the citizenry, private sector spokespersons and governmental officials alike, most of whom no doubt share the conviction that the project is long overdue.

Many of these same individuals would likely be surprised to learn that, for a relatively brief period dating back more than a century (from the early 1890s to the mid-1920s), the greater metropolitan area was serviced by a light rail system (often collectively referred to as the “interurbans”) that connected 159 communities within a 75-mile radius of Detroit. 1

Originally consisting of several separate light rail companies that were later consolidated under the name of the Detroit United Railways (DUR) in 1901, at its peak in 1916, this network tied the city to its northern, eastern and western suburbs with 981 miles of track. Its cars made some 330 runs per day, reaching speeds in excess of 60 miles per hour on straightaway. 2

Radiating outward from the downtown Interurban Station at Jefferson Avenue and Bates, the lines ran along major thoroughfares such as Fort Street, Gratiot, Grand River, Jefferson, Michigan and Woodward Avenues. One of the main eastward routes, originally called the Shore Line, was completed in 1900, and traveled through Grosse Pointe to Mount Clemens along Jefferson. It was eventually extended along the St. Clair River to Port Huron. 3

In August of 1897, the Detroit, Lakeshore and Mount Clemens Railway began construction of an interurban line from Detroit to Mount Clemens. The 26-mile route followed Lake Shore (Jefferson) from the Macomb County line to the Village of Grosse Pointe Farms. The route left Lake Shore at Weir Lane and traveled on a right of way to what is now Kercheval. It then took Kercheval to Moross Road and Moross east to the new highway (Grosse Pointe Boulevard), which it then followed to Fisher Road. After moving west on Fisher Road, the route turned south on Mack Avenue, and crossed into Detroit at the Alter Road city limit. 4

The route did not follow Jefferson in its entire traverse across the Grosse Pointe section due to a lawsuit that certain residents of Grosse Pointe Farms, whose summer homes were situated on Jefferson, had commenced in the Wayne County Circuit Court against the Detroit Citizens Street Railway in 1893. The DCSR had proposed to extend its Mack Avenue to Fisher Road section of line out to Jefferson, and the residents objected to an electrified rail line along Jefferson, presumably because of the increased amount of traffic that it would bring. Consequently, the new highway was constructed from Fisher Road to Moross, running parallel to Jefferson. In the interim, the Detroit, Lakeshore and Mount Clemens Railway had acquired the rights to build the new section of electric rail line. (The lawsuit, which was transferred to the Michigan Supreme Court in August of 1897, seems to have been settled shortly thereafter.) 5

In 1999, a Michigan Historical Marker commemorating the Shoreline Interurban Railroad was erected at 24800 Jefferson in St. Clair Shores.

The sleek and elegant-looking rail cars boasted creature comforts that today's urban bus, elevated train or subway rider would react to with utter disbelief and envy.

The amenities included green plush passenger seats, a "men only" smoking section containing brass cuspidors and black leather seats, and, on the deluxe chair car used by DUR executives on inspection tours (which was fitted out in 1922 as a club car on the Detroit-Pontiac run), two separate compartments for card players, one of which was equipped with permanent card tables and 13 lounge chairs. 6

In the years immediately following World War I, competition from bus lines deeply cut into the profits of the interurban companies. By the mid-1920s, all of the remaining interurban lines in southeastern Michigan were in receivership, and the last such line in the state (which ran from St. Joseph and Benton Harbor to South Bend, Indiana) closed down in 1934.7

In all likelihood, another factor contributing to the reduction in the number of interurban passengers was the increasing number of automobiles on Michigan roads. Vehicles such as Henry Ford’s Model T were being manufactured by the millions, and were now affordable to the working classes, and to others who had previously relied upon light rail transit lines for transportation.

One of the few remaining buildings used by the long-vanished interurban system located in the metropolitan area is the former power plant that was constructed by the DUR at the junction of Grand River Avenue and what is now known as Orchard Lake Road, in present-day Farmington. Footnote 8

The DUR's Farmington facilities also included a car barn located across the street from the power plant and a depot. The power plant ceased operating in 1930, and the building was taken over by the LaSalle Wines & Champagne Company in 1933. The company expanded the building in 1941 and in 1956, and operated it until 1970. Footnote 9 The massive structure, now known as the Farmington Winery, is owned by the J.S. White family, which has converted it for use as office and retail space. Footnote 10

The Detroit area's first experience with a high speed, light rail commuter train system had been exciting, but of short duration-a transitory link between the horse-drawn streetcar era of the late 19th Century and the automobile age that was to transform America’s transportation landscape (as well as many other aspects of American life) by the first few decades of the 20th Century.

Again invoking the musical analogy from the beginning of this article, should the light rail system that is now under construction be able to operate successfully throughout the region within the next few years, it may turn out to be not merely an intermezzo, but a major section in its own right.

1 Don Lochbiler,, Detroit’s Coming of Age: 1873 to 1973
(Detroit: The Detroit News, Inc,.,1973) 275.
2 Lochbiler 272-273, 275-276.
3 Lochbiler 272, 275.
4 Unpublished  manuscript on Detroit area transportation, 1991.
5 Unpublished  manuscript.
6 Lochbiler 272, 276.
7 Lochbiler. 277.
8 Lochbiler.277.

Works Cited

  • "Farmington Winery"
  • Lochbiler, Don.  Detroit's Coming of Age:1873 to 1973.  Detroit:The Detroit News, 1973.
  • "Michigan Railroads"
  • Unpublished manuscript on Detriot area transportation, 1991.

Legends of le Detroit 2014
at the Provencal-Weir House

The "Indian Summer" was the perfect backdrop for Legends of le Détroit Friday, September 26 at the Provencal-Weir House.

Experienced actors retold stories from Marie Carolyn Watson Hamlin's book, published in 1883, from the side porch on Lakeview Road. Ms. Watson collected the stories and compiled them into this book to preserve the Native American and French heritages of the region.

Cider and donuts were available to the guests, who brought their own chairs for the event. The Grosse Pointe Farms Police department delivered cones to block off part of Lakeview, allowing people to sit comfortably in the street. The Hunt Club provided their star horse, Lacy, to the setting and Grosse Pointe Woods donated haystacks and cornstalks. The lighting of tiki torches was the final touch for an evening of perfect ambiance.

The five stories for this event were selected by a special events committee, Isabelle Donnelly, Emmajean Evans, Pat O’Brien, Mary Stelmark to reflect life in the area from 1701 to 1815. Storytellers and their stories were: Matt Becker (The Phantom Priest), Kay Burt-Willson (Francois and Barbe), Sal DeMercurio (Kishkaukou), Peter DiSanti (They Sibyl's Prophecy) and Gina Telford (The Nain Rouge)

Read more... Visit our "Legends" page

Second Saturdays
at the Provencal-Weir House

Saturday, Dec. 13 from 1pm to 4pm

Children's Workshop
Handmade ornaments are featured. Children have the opportunity to create one of three ornaments – reindeer, snowman or gingerbread man. This event is for children ages 7 years and older and requires modest sewing skills. Register at or 313-884-7010. Materials fee.

Old Newsboys CoverBook Signing
Grosse Pointe Magazine’s publisher John Minnis and editor Lauren McGregor will sign their book, Images of America Old Newsboys’ Goodfellow Fund of Detroit: 100 years.

The Old Newsboys Fund of Detroit was formed in 1914 by James J. Brady, a former newsboy. The inspiration was a cartoon drawn by Tom May titled "Forgotten" that was published in the Detroit Journal. The drawing depicts a poor child who received nothing for Christmas. Mr. Brady, along with other key Detroit businessmen, vowed to do anything they could to prevent a Detroit child from being "forgotten" again.

Saturday, Jan. 10, 2015 from 1pm to 4pm

Children's Workshop
Snowman fleece hats will keep heads warm. Hats are custom fitted for each child. This event is for children ages 7 years and older. Modest sewing skills needed. Register at or 313-884-7010. Materials fee.

Saturday, Feb. 14 from 1pm to 4pm

Children's Workshop
Children will create translucent hanging hearts with wax paper and crayons. Hang them in front of a window and watch the sunbeams color your room for a festive Valentine’s Day! This event is for ages 6 years and older. Register at or 313-884-7010. Materials fee.


Joy Bells OrnamentLaBelle's Country Store
Located in the front of the Provencal-Weir House, LaBelle’s Country Store features items that reflect Grosse Pointe. The Cook Schoolhouse ornament is the third in a series of ornaments designed especially for the Grosse Pointe Historical Society. The Joy Bells and the Provencal-Weir House ornaments are also available. 2015 calendars that showcase 12 of the previous Pointes of History Awards are featured in this calendar. Books, prints, maps and toys are also available in the store.

Open House tours begin at 1pm

PW HouseTrained docents guide visitors through the c. 1823 Ribbon Farm home that still has the original Michigan pine floors, was the first school in Grosse Pointe and the first building to provide Catholic Mass. The farmhouse has a storied past; come to hear its fabulous history. Tours are free.