Olde Grosse Pointe

2 Dec

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Today we are touring the Provencal-Weir house, believed to be Grosse Pointe’s oldest surviving residence, it dates back to 1823. Originally, the house sat near Provencal and Lake Shore roads; home to Pierre and Euphemia Provencal, they raised their daughter Catherine and 20 adopted children in this tiny home. In 1800 Father Gabriel Richard first came to the Pointe as a visiting priest saying mass on the lawn of this home. The structure has gone through many transformations serving as a family home, a summer cottage, it was moved to its present site and became a grocery store, a real estate office and a rental house. The Grosse Pointe Historical Society bought the building, renovated it and turned it into a museum and One-Room school.

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The original wide-plank floors remain as well as the timber frame, the rest of the house has been reconfigured numerous times and is decorated in the style of the 1850’s-60’s. We begin our guided tour in the museum shop area and proceed to the dining room, around the corner an old-fashioned stove sits across from a modern kitchen. In the family room walls are covered in patterned wallpaper, a fireplace hugs the inside wall; kids are hard at work making crafts today. Upstairs women’s clothing is displayed along with hats, antique furniture and oil lamps. A table is set with a sterling silver serving set, vibrant red glasses,dishes and china tea cups. Bathrooms were updated when it was a rental unit, someone put in Pewabic tile floors. The remainder of the upstairs is used as a one-room school where second through fifth graders get the opportunity to see what going to school was like 100 years ago. 

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At about the same time Cadillac arrived in Detroit many French settlers were making a new life for themselves in Grosse Pointe. In the 1700’s the Pointe was heavily wooded and swampy, the French began clearing land for farms and orchards; the women farmed while the men hunted and traded with the Indians. All farms had water frontage, usually 300 ft and ran back about a mile, these long narrow plots were called ribbon farms. Some of the early settlers came directly from Normandy France, others went to Quebec first, then the Detroit area. Early residents include Moran, Vernier, Gouin, Trombley, St Antoine and Rivard–recognize their names? They can all be found on street signs all over the Pointes as well here in the St. Paul Cemetery.

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Located at Moross Rd and Country Club Lane, this is the only cemetery in Grosse Pointe; the earliest burial dates back to 1831, Catherine Vernier. The grassy lot is dotted with headstones, crosses, monuments and statues. We walk around the seemingly forgotten cemetery reading names and dates of the departed. Many have worn down through the decades making it impossible to make out the inscriptions, headstones have sunk into the ground, I push the dirt with my foot to get a better look. Many of the Vernier’s are here, the Melton headstone has decorative ceramic pieces that remind me of a ‘partridge in a pear tree’. A large statue of a woman holding a child is surrounded by a Gothic style arch.

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From the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s lumberman cut down trees, taking away the woods, the wealthy from Detroit came in and built mansions on the lakefront giving them names like Bellevue, Tonnacour, Rose Terrace and Otsikita Villa. Senators, attorneys, businessmen and merchants moved in, the Pointe was divided up into smaller communities: Grosse Pointe Farms, The Village, The Park, The Shores and Grosse Pointe Woods. While many of the grand old mansions have been torn down, a great deal still remain. Between the Provencal-Weir House, the Grosse Pointe Historical Society and the cemetery, the history of this quaint community lives on.

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We’re having lunch at Hydrangea Kitchen over on Fisher Rd. Housed in a 1-story red-brick building, when I first walk in I feel like I’ve entered a little boutique. Mismatched tables and chairs are scattered throughout the seat-yourself space, a tall framed chalkboard menu stands behind the counter. As soon as Kris sees the JL Hudson Maurice salad, he knows what he wants; I pick the sandwich. I grab a cup of coffee from the serve yourself thermos and check out the decorative items around the room, much of it is for sale, so I guess it is a boutique and a restaurant. Our plates arrive, each with a half salad and sandwich; the panini is a combo of country Brie, melted butter and sliced Granny Smith apples on a warm, crisp ciabatta roll. The Maurice is really good, they even got the garnish of green olives and gherkins right, but Kris will tell you it’s not ‘Hudson’s’ good.

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Today we Sneak-a-Peek at the future Designers’ Show House sponsored by the Junior League of Detroit. Located at 15500 Windmill Pointe Drive, we have been keeping an eye on the place as work has progressed, I’m so excited to have a chance to get inside! The home is a beautiful 3-story English Tudor built in 1927 for American aircraft designer and VP of engineering at Packard Motor Car Company, Colonel Jesse G Vincent. The house was recently sold, emptied and the new owners have donated the place to be used as the 2016 Show House. The house is opened for two days for a ‘bare bones’ tour before the designers take over. The thing about these old houses is, even empty, void of any decoration, they’re still stunning.

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The cement contractor is hard at work getting the driveway poured, we pay our $5 and anxiously step inside one of Grosse Pointe’s most distinctive homes. Foot traffic is directed by a series of arrows and human traffic controllers telling us which way to go; we’re happy to see many of the original light fixtures, radiator grills and fine details are in tact. The wood is gorgeous, I’m guessing dark walnut, it’s all over the place; paneled walls, steps, floors and beams. Bathrooms are fully tiled in yellow, lavender and blue, pedestal sinks remain. We’re a bit curious about the temperature settings in the shower: Cold, Hot and Scalding…. We meander through bedrooms, sitting rooms and a turret on the second floor, there’s a balcony that overlooks the living room, wow! All of the leaded and stained glass in the home is unique, window pieces are square-shaped, the front door is circles, I like that a lot.

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The third floor is the ballroom, it’s huge, it even has a stage area where a band probably played. It’s just one big empty space now, it’ll be interesting to see what the designers do with it. We are directed back downstairs where we get an up close look at the living room, dining room and kitchen; lots of wood, ornate plaster and the view, we have to talk about the view….. There’s an unobstructed view of Lake St Clair everywhere we look, today the sky and the water are almost the exact same shade of blue, the backyard fountain is in the process of being restored. This lot has its own canal that runs from the lake to a dry dock under the living room, impressive eh? The Show House runs May 7-22, put it on your calendar so you don’t forget. Maybe we’ll see ya there!

One Response to “Olde Grosse Pointe”

  1. Penny Masouris December 17, 2015 at 9:17 pm #

    Thank you for all your hard work showcasing Detroit and environs. Its truly a fascinating place with history going back to 1701. I’ve begun telling Detroit lovers about your web site. You should a book. Penny Masouris

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