One of the oldest homes in Grosse Pointe is Wardwell House, located at 16109 E. Jefferson, Grosse Pointe Park. William Buck, a prosperous English farmer, purchased the land in 1845, and built the main part of this house around 1849. During this era the early homes that had been constructed in Grosse Pointe were primarily clapboard farmhouses, constructed from wood. Two of the oldest recorded clapboard farmhouses are – The Cadieux House now located at 533 St Clair Avenue, Grosse Pointe, and the Provençal House at 376 Kercheval, Grosse Pointe Farms. The house William Buck had built, at 16109 E. Jefferson, was brick, and arguably ahead of its time. Constructed from locally made supplies, it has fourteen-inch thick walls, and lays claim to being the oldest brick house in the community. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
The two-story colonial style home was built by Henry Seitz, however over the years there have been numerous additions – as depicted in the images below (see ‘symbols’ as marked on the graphic). A rear clapboard addition dates from around the 1880’s, while renowned local architect William Stratton renovated the property in 1912 (it is not clear if he increased the size of the property). Images: Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
The original basement and foundation walls are built of limestone; the original two-story house was built of brick, while the roof was constructed from wood shingles. We believe there was once a wood porch, with a shingle roof, that extended across the entire front of the building. The historic photos below, taken in 1936, present part of the interior – the living room. Also depicted are the floor plans for the first and second floor. Based on the symbols (on the graphic) it is possible to view the original work, and also the later additions, while the dotted lines indicate the outline of the original building. As you can see the additions over the years have been quite substantial. Images: Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
William Buck owned the property until his death in 1873. Based on research by Henry Heatley it appears the ownership of the home became subject to a 12-year legal dispute. William Buck had no children or lineal descendants, and despite his wife Elizabeth still being alive it was his nephew, John Gott, who staked a claim to the property. After several years, and Elizabeth’s death (in 1880), the legal dispute was settled. However, until 1901 it would appear the occupants of the house were tenants paying rent, and for at least a brief period, in the 1890’s, the house was used for grain storage. Source: The Wardwell House: A Legacy of Old Grosse Pointe by Henry Heatley.
In 1901 Henry Russel, an attorney and businessman, purchased the house. Despite owning the home Russel spent most of his time at his residence in Detroit. In 1912 Russel gave the house to his newly married daughter Helen and her husband Harold F. Wardwell. Also in 1912 William Stratton was commissioned to renovate the property, but it is unclear whether the work was completed before or after the Wardwell’s moved in.
Harold Fletcher Wardwell was born in Rome, New York in 1883. He graduated from Cornell University, 1907, as a Bachelor of Architecture. In 1910 he began working at the Detroit Steel Products Company, where he held the positions of sales manager, secretary, and ultimately became chairman of the board. He was once regarded as one of the most progressive young businessmen in the City of Detroit. During his career he also held the position(s) of President, director Bloomsbury Corporation, President of Canadian Grosse Pointe Properties, Ltd, and director of the Rivard-Maumee Investment Company, Wayne Land Company. He died in March 1962.
After her husbands’ death, Helen Wardwell continued to live at the house until her death in 1976. Having lived at 16109 E. Jefferson for sixty-five years the property was acquired by the Grosse Pointe Memorial Church at the bequest of Helen Wardwell. The house has since been sold.
In 1976 Wardwell House was listed on the Michigan State Register of Historic Sites, and is a wonderful reminder of the historic homes that were constructed in Grosse Pointe during the 19th century.
*Photos courtesy of the Higbie Maxon Agney archives unless stated.
Written by Katie Doelle
Copyright © 2021 Katie Doelle