Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – Wardwell House

This week we travel back in time to 1840 and the third oldest house in the Grosse Pointes –Wardwell House, located at Jefferson and Three Mile Dr.

William Buck, a prosperous English farmer, purchased the land in 1845 and financed the construction of the Colonial style home. Completed in 1849 the property was built from locally made brick, has fourteen-inch thick walls, and is the oldest extant brick house in Grosse Pointe.

For several generations however, there has been some folklore surrounding the house, which questioned when the property was actually built –

  • A French coin dated 1789 was found in a wall cavity, suggesting the wall was built during this period
  • Several alterations, which ultimately tripled the size and floor space of the house suggest the house was built before 1840, putting it closer to the late 1700’s or early 1800’s
  • The triple brick house could not have been constructed in or before the 1830’s due to the site’s swampy land.
  • There is a further belief the house was originally a log cabin that was then bricked over.

In the excellent article by Henry Heatly (The Wardwell House: A Legacy of Old Grosse Pointe) Heatly’s research puts paid to some of the theories. He presents credible evidence the house is indeed a mid-nineteenth century construction.

Amongst the many facts he outlines, the architectural details of the home and the construction materials used are the biggest give away. (Brick, wood, cement and more significantly some of the window casings contain a segmental arch capped by keystone brick – which came into use during the 1840s.) Further research and evidence to the history of the Wardwell House can be found in Heatly’s article.

William Buck owned the property until his death in 1873. In 1901 the house was purchased by Henry Russel (an attorney and businessman), yet despite owning the home, Russel spent most of his time at his residence in Detroit. In 1912 Russel gave the house to his daughter Helen and her husband Harold Wardwell, which is when the couple moved into the property. During their occupancy Henry Ford reportedly wanted to buy the house and relocate it in Greenfield Village as a showplace, but owner Harold Wardwell refused to sell.

Helen Wardwell lived there for sixty-five years, until her death in 1976. The property was then acquired by Grosse Pointe Memorial Church (as a bequest of Helen Wardwell) in 1977, and has since been sold to Dr. and Mrs Douglas L. Ross, who still reside there.

Today Wardwell House is still in wonderful condition and is listed on the Michigan state register of historic sites.

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


Written by Katie Doelle
Copyright © 2014 Katie Doelle

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