Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – Lake Terrace, Residences of John S. Newberry and James McMillan

Last week we reviewed the work of Ernest Wilby, a talented designer who was arguably best known for the buildings he created during his time as Albert Kahn’s chief designer from 1903 until 1918. In 1911, Wilby with Albert Kahn completed 99 Lake Shore Drive, completed in 1911 for John S. Newberry Jr.

This week we stay with the Newberry Family and the ‘Lake Terrace’ residences that were owned by close friends and founders of the Michigan Car Works, Congressman John S. Newberry Sr. and Senator James McMillan.

Towards the end of the 19th century John S. Newberry and James McMillan played a key role in developing the residential growth of Grosse Pointe, and the industrial growth in Detroit. In 1875, having purchased numerous French strip farms in the community (for a reported $1000 an acre), the duo commissioned Gordon W. Lloyd to design almost identical summer cottages on a plot of land they would name ‘Lake Terrace’. Built in a similar architectural style the cottages were the first of their kind in Grosse Pointe and proved to be influential in positioning Grosse Pointe as an exclusive summer location for wealthy families from Detroit.

The cottages were completed around 1876. The twin Swiss chalets were constructed of wood and featured large open terraces that ran around most of the property(s). Image courtesy of: the Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library.

During the 1880’s it is believed both properties were significantly remodeled thus creating larger three-story homes in the Shingle Style that was particularly popular in the United States and the Grosse Pointes between 1880 and 1900. This architectural approach, which stemmed from New England, was popular with numerous leading architects at the time including H.H. Richardson, Frank Lloyd Wright (early in his career), and the firm of McKim, Meade, and White. Source: Wikipedia. Typical characteristics, as displayed in the design of the homes at Lake Terrace, include: shingles on the roof and all wall surfaces, an asymmetrical façade, irregular roof lines, expansive porches, a curving or castellated tower, steeply pitched roofs, and small windows grouped in pairs or triples. Images courtesy of: the Library of Congress and the Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library.

John S. Newberry Residence:

James McMillan Residence:

Lake Terrace was an extensive property. It included a long dock that extended out into the lake that was built in conjunction with neighbor Mr. A. E. Brush (owner of a 35 acre property known as ‘The Pines’). The dock allowed the owners to moor their two steam yachts, Lillie and Truant – the former was owned by Brush, the latter was owned by Newberry and McMillan. A further yacht, Leila that was owned by a dozen other residents was also moored at the dock. It is reported Leila would head to the city each day, leaving at 8.30am, returning at 4.00pm with up to twenty to thirty passengers on board. The dock also proved a popular venue location for local fisherman.

It is reported a noticeable feature of the Lake Terrace estate was the handsome row of rare arbor vitas that lines the carriage drive. Also located on the grounds was a small rustic cottage occupied by Will. C. McMillan, son of James McMillan.

The properties of John S. Newberry and James McMillan at Lake Terrace were demolished around 1910.

John S. Newberry and James McMillan were both key figures in Detroit. John S. Newberry was born in Waterville, New York in 1826. He moved with his parents to Michigan and graduated with a degree in Civil Engineering from Michigan University in 1847. He then proceeded to study law and was admitted to the bar in 1853. For several years he practiced law, specializing in the admiralty business. In 1862, he established the Michigan Car Company of Detroit with his friend James McMillan. Having been involved with this extremely successful company along with numerous large manufacturing enterprises John S. Newberry was elected to Congress in 1879, serving until 1881. His first wife was Harriet Newell Robinson. His second wife was Helen P. Handy, daughter of Truman P. Handy, a well-known financier and banker of Cleveland.  Together they had three children Truman Handy (who resided at 123 Lake Shore), John S. Newberry Jr. (who resided at 99 Lake Shore), and Helen H. Newberry (who married Henry Bourne Joy, residing at 301 Lake Shore). John S. Newberry passed in 1887.

James McMillan was born in Hamilton, Ontario in 1838. Mr. McMillan began his career in Detroit as a clerk at the extensive wholesale hardware establishment of Buhl, Ducharme & Co. In 1961, he became a purchasing agent of the Detroit and Milwaukee Railway and was placed in charge of key interests in Michigan. It was around this time he met John S. Newberry. During 1962, the duo had established the Michigan Car Company of Detroit. It is reported Mr. McMillan was heavily involved in philanthropic enterprises in Detroit along with liberal investments in building up and improving various portions of the city. He severed as the Michigan State Chair from 1879 to 1880, 1886 to 1887, and 1890 to 1896. He also served as a United States Senator from 1889 until his death in 1902.

John S. Newberry and James McMillan have been described (in an article by Thomas A. Arbaugh in Tonnancour, Volume II) ‘as taking Detroit’s industrial development from a cool, spring daybreak, transforming it into a blazing midsummer’s afternoon sun’. But, it wasn’t only Detroit that Mr. Newberry and Mr. McMillan played a significant role. In building their residences at Lake Terrace they helped transform the once rural farming community of Grosse Pointe into an exclusive suburb for Detroit’s Industrial elite, and in doing so paved the way for the development of the flourishing community we know today.

*Photos courtesy of the Higbie Maxon Agney archives unless stated.

Written by Katie Doelle
Copyright © 2020 Katie Doelle

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