Nortown community fights to save historic farmhouse, receives demolition deferment

Efforts to stop the demolition of one of the Nortown neighborhood's most architecturally and historically significant buildings have been successful, at least for now. The Norris House, built by one of Detroit's most notable 19th century residents, has been spared the wrecking ball as the city's Public Health and Safety Committee deferred its demolition at its meeting Monday, May 11. While there is more work to be done, including better securing the property, meeting with the Historic District Commission, and launching a fundraising campaign, organizers are so far emboldened by the results of their efforts.

Reportedly abandoned since the early 1990s and once the target of arson, the Norris House has remained largely intact. The Victorian farmhouse was built in the early 1870s by Col. Philetus Norris, a Civil War veteran who cleared the land around what is now 17815 Mt. Elliot St. In addition to being credited for bringing business and infrastructure to the area, including streets and the railroad, Norris built the Two Way Inn, the oldest bar still operating in the city of Detroit.

After Norris established then-Prairie Town, neighbors began calling the area Norris Town, which evolved into Nortown before being annexed by the city of Detroit. Norris himself would move on to become the second superintendent of Yellowstone National Park, where he played a role in exploring, documenting, mapping, and establishing the park.

While the Nortown Community Development Corporation has owned the Norris House for a couple of years now, preservation efforts have kicked into high gear since recently finding out that the house was on the demolition list. Michelle Lyons, a member of the restoration committee, credits Nortown CDC executive director Pat Bosch for working tirelessly to save the building.

Still, many issues stand in between preservationists and the preservation of the Norris House. While the house is no longer in immediate danger of demolition, that doesn't mean it couldn't reappear on the demolition list in the future. Fundraising will be necessary to shore up structural issues before it can be turned into the neighborhood asset the CDC hopes it can become. Given the legacy of Norris, organizers desire to one day re-open the house as a National Parks interpretive center. Now it's up to them to convince the city that such a transformation is possible.

"It could take years to get this building back and going," says Lyons. "We just want to make sure it's still around to do so."

Source: Michelle Lyons, member of the Norris House restoration committee
Photo: Jen Lyons via ProhibitionDetroit.com
Writer: MJ Galbraith

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MJ Galbraith is Model D's development news editor. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.
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