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American Gothic: 1905

American Gothic: 1905

Detroit, Michigan, circa 1905. "Residence of W.C. McMillan." 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.


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Housing style

FYI, there is nothing Gothic about this house. It is an Italianate villa, which is a type of Romanesque revival popular in the middle to late Victorian period. Notice the semi-circular arches in the windows, and the tall square tower, typical of the style. Gothic arches are pointed, and the Gothic revival would have some sort of spire, if anything, not a tower like this. The more extreme Gothic revival buildings even have 'superfluous excrescences' [I love that term, not my creation.] like gargoyles spires, cornices, etc., to dress it up. The Romanesque revival is, overall, simpler and cleaner, with more straight lines. The lines in Gothic revival tend to be more broken up.

The tower is where you would lock up an insane or mentally handicapped relative, or perhaps a wayward, unmarried female relative who had managed to get herself pregnant.


I am referring to the 7th picture in the article that Cnik70 linked to in the Detroit News ("Where Detroit's elite met to eat," August 9, 1996) - the one labeled "The James McMillan Mansion on Jefferson was an early home of the University Club." I am not referring to the picture he posted, which shows the same location today. The picture in the Detroit News shows a house that belonged to James McMillan, not to his son William C. McMillan. At first I thought that it was the same house, passed from father to son, but looking at the architecture closely, I say it's not. If you can figure out how to post that picture here (I'm sorry I can't), the others may see what I mean. Thanks!

The Success/Failure of Black & White

What makes this house spooky - the epithet used by so many posters on this topic is the fact that it is in black & white. The look of the house is dark & foreboding and even the ivy can't soften it.

Now imagine this house in colour. Dark red brick with the green ivy in contrast. The areas around the windows in either sandstone or terra cotta. The Victorians and Edwardians loved colour and paint technology was giving them an affordable rainbow of shades. Trim, like the railings around the porch in one colour, the sashes for the windows in a different one. The big oak door would be in contrast to the stone around it, and the whole thing would be topped with a slate roof. Suddenly it ceases to be sinister and becomes just another Victorian home, which if it was kept up would be no more sinister than a lot of newer buildings.

The Addamses

Charles Addams supposedly modeled the Addams Family Home after College Hall at The University of Pennsylvania.

This one was tricky to find

The house was at the corner of East Jefferson and Russell, says the Detroit News ("the former home of U.S. Senator James McMillan, which had been built during the 1870's.")

It eventually became the home of the University Club. In 1931 another University Club, now a YWCA, was built on the site.

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It's a Mickey Mouse Moment

Isn't that the Applegate Mansion? (Think of F.W. Dixon)

McMillan & Dad

William C. McMillan was a son of of Michigan Sen. James McMillan, who was chairman of the Senate Park Improvement Commission of D.C., better known as the McMillan Commission. Sen. McMillan died in 1902, two years after the commission was formed.

The "McMillan Plan" resulted in removal of many of the slums that surrounded the Capitol, replacing them with new monuments and government buildings that now form D.C.'s "monumental core," as well and the National Mall and Union Station.

As for W.C. McMillan himself, he was general manager of the Detroit and Cleveland Navigation Co.


I can't get enough of gothic architecture. So eloquent and emotional while still wholly austere.

1313 Mockingbird Lane

With or without Halloween decorations this would be the scariest house on any block.

Dare you to go in

Gosh, when I was a kid there were a bunch of these vintage places about town all deserted and creepy. Naturally we all had to find a way in and explore. A few of these adventures ended at the police station but as we were not vandals we got off with a good scary official tongue lashing.

Some places were left with everything still inside as if the people just one day vanished, never to return. It sure was interesting!


Did Detroit have power poles in 1905?

[Yes. And telephone poles, too. - Dave]

The Adams Family


[You're close. It's "Addams." - Dave]

Erie guy

William (W.C.) McMillan, eldest son of three-term Republican U.S. Senator James McMillan of Michigan, was then the president and general manager of the Detroit & Cleveland Navigation Company, which provided daily service during the navigation season between Buffalo and Detroit, and Cleveland and Detroit. At the time of his death two years later ("at home" in February 1907), he was also president of several iron or steel companies and shipbuilding companies, and one of three co-owners of the Detroit Free Press. In 1902 he declined to be a candidate for election to the Senate vacancy created by his father's death.

Update: A Marshall, Michigan, newspaper's report of his death gave his address as 452 Jefferson Ave. Based on turn-of-the-century economic segregation patterns, it's probably East, not West, Jefferson. 452 E. Jefferson (under the pre-1920 building numbering system) would be on the north side of the corner of E. Jefferson and Rivard St. (near the Palm Apartment site); 452 W. Jefferson would be between 10th Street and Rosa Parks Blvd, where a truck terminal is now located.

Don't go in the tower, you fool!

Ah, but who--or what--lives in the upper tower room?

Fire Breathing

I wonder if Spot still lives under the stairs.

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