Every Detroit Tour should include a walk or drive down historic Ferry Street, once home to Detroit’s wealthy residents, including Charles Lang Freer. Freer, a wealthy Detroit businessman, gifted his amazing art collection to the nation along with the funds to construct a building to house it and an endowment to fund future studies and acquisitions.
The Freer Gallery of Art opened on May 9, 1923 in Washington, D.C. It’s the first Smithsonian museum dedicated exclusively to fine arts collections.
Charles Lang Freer’s Detroit Residence Ushered In A New Age
On your walking or driving tour of the Motor City, stop in front of 71 East Ferry Street, the home built for Charles Lang Freer, the younger business partner of Colonel Frank Hecker. (Chateau-style home on corner of Woodward and Ferry).
Freer opted for a more informal look with his shingled, 22-room cottage designed by noted Philadelphia architect Wilson Eyre, Jr.
Combining elements of the Queen Anne-style inspired by the Elizabethan cottage – a modern response to the ornate Victorian, and preeminent architect Henry Hobson Richardson’s preference for stained shingles and rough stone, this house is considered one of the finest examples of cedar shake-style architecture in Michigan.
The radical new residence built when Freer was in his early 30s may have raised eyebrows at the time of construction according to Detroit Free Press staff writer Lilian Jackson Braun in her 1967 article: Freer Home – Last Word in an Era of Riches. She wrote that the millionaire and “individualist” built the home to reflect his personal taste and probably didn’t give “a split-shingle for anyone’s opinion.”
Charles Lang Freer: An Avid Art Collector
An avid art collector, Freer acquired more than 9,420 art objects and manuscripts before his death. His passion for Asian art evolved into one of the finest private collections as did his interest in the works by the artist James McNeill Whistler. The devotee even purchased the acclaimed Whistler-designed dining room of a London residence called the Peacock Room and had it reinstalled in in the carriage house attached to his Ferry Street home.
Charles Lang Freer’s Detroit Home Today
The Merrill-Palmer Skillman Institute, a national leader in childhood education since 1920 occupies the house today. It was purchased from the Freer estate with funds bequeathed by noted local philanthropist Lizzie Pitts Palmer. While the home is not open to visitors or tourists on a regular basis, occasionally public tours are offered through various organizations.
More To Discover
The Ferry Street Historic District is full of rich Detroit history. Learn more about the homes and people who lived here by reading the Historic American Buildings Survey published by the National Park Service before you tour Detroit.
Or, let our knowledgeable guides at City Tour Detroit show you around. If we don’t have a public Midtown Detroit tour schedules, you can book a private walking or sedan Detroit tour. For more information on our Detroit tour offerings, visit: www.citytourdetroit.com or call 313.757.1283.
It’s always fun to tour Detroit and discover how this city of innovation impacted the world.
Photos: Detroit Public Library online image gallery.