The Pandemic Blues

Photos date from March 2005.

Some of you may be familiar with the fact that Maybury State Park used to be the Maybury Sanatorium, a tuberculosis hospital up in the hills of Northville, far northwest of Detroit. It was bounded by 7 Mile and 8 Mile Roads, between Beck and Napier Roads, in the far upper-left corner of Wayne County, on the highest elevation of land within the county. There isn't much left of it these days, aside from a couple scraps of rubble here and there in the woods. The beautiful wooded hills have been preserved for public recreation however, and it may be fondly remembered by most Metro-Detroiters as the one and only place that they ever rode a horse. The sanatorium buildings and tunnels were demolished in 1972. You may not have been aware that the four old doctors' residences clustered just off Beck Road near 8 Mile were left standing, and one of them was reused by the Michigan DNR staff, back by where the riding stables area was. I suspect they may have been built slightly later than the hospital itself, perhaps in the early 1930s.


By 2005 the houses were somewhat dilapidated, and the word was put out that the state was willing to let anyone come and move one or more of the houses to a different location for free, or they would be torn down. I somehow got asked to come and document the three unused houses before they were torn down. At the time I was also online friends with a woman named Karli, whose grandfather was a Maybury doctor who lived in one of these houses. She was also the person who created the now-defunct website mayburysanatorium.com (it can still be somewhat viewed on WaybackMachine.com), and she was one of the people who worked with the Friends of Maybury State Park to lobby for the interpretive signs that now can be found in the park with photos of the old sanatorium. I also donated a few old news articles to her website that I had come across while researching related topics.

Until now I have not done anything with the pictures that I took of the houses that day, and since it seems somehow ironically fitting to write about this now that I have plenty of time on my hands thanks to a quarantine order due to a different respiratory pandemic, I might as well (Covid19 and Tuberculosis aren't really alike, but they were both pandemics, and they both attack the lungs, leaving the victim bedridden). Normally I wouldn't dump this many photos on a single page, but since the houses are now gone, and since my job was to document them, I guess I will post everything I have. I did take several photos with my film camera that day too, but since they aren't as good, I am not going to bother scanning them.

Image courtesy of Wacots.org
But before we go to the houses, first let me begin with some general history on the sanatorium itself. Following a series of harsh Detroit News articles that criticized a lack of proper action against the pandemic on the part of city officials, the City of Detroit began negotiating the purchase of eight farms out in Northville Township in 1917, for the development of the 900-acre site of the sanatorium. Prior to the construction of this facility tuberculosis was “treated” merely by isolation, at general hospitals, Eloise Asylum, or other smaller private sanatoriums in the city.

Image courtesy of Wacots.org
Opened in 1921, the new facility was first known as the "Detroit Municipal Tuberculosis Sanatorium." It was also known as the "Spring Hill Sanatorium" for a brief time, after the many freshwater springs in the area. On February 7th, 1927, the city officially renamed it the "William H. Maybury Sanatorium," after its inspired creator. It served as a custodial institution for people suffering from a disease that had no real cure, except "sunshine and fresh air"...

Image courtesy of Wacots.org
...Imagine a world where there's a fatal respiratory disease that's afflicting large numbers of people worldwide, and there's no known cure, so the government is forced to build large brick institutions on the outskirts of every major city, and in every rural county of the entire United States, just to house all of the victims. And it lasted for decades.

Following the First World War, Detroit’s annual death rate from tuberculosis was 100 per 100,000 and 80% of adults returned positive test results for the “white plague” according to period statistics. Guess what folks, Covid19 sucks, but this isn't the end of the world if we have to endure some inconveniences. We've had it really good for a really long time...thanks to vaccines.

Image courtesy of Wacots.org
By the 1960s a vaccine had been developed for tuberculosis (TB), and all across America these institutions were shutting down due to a lack of patients. In 1963 the City of Detroit was considering phasing out their sanatorium. Maybury finally shut down on August 4, 1969. It was demolished in 1972, and opened as a new state park in 1975, but while it stood vacant it had served as the precursor to the "Northville Tunnels" moniker that would soon attach itself to the rural suburb of Northville, a reference to all of the institutions that were clustered here, all of which had steam tunnels running under their campuses.

Image courtesy of Wacots.org
Since the sanatorium closed in 1969 there has scarcely been a decade when there was not an abandoned institution out in those woods for kids to play around in. A total of eight custodial institutions were placed in Northville over the years: the Wayne County Training School, Plymouth State Home & Training School, Maybury Sanatorium, Eastlawn Sanatorium, Northville State Hospital, Northville Residential Training Center, Hawthorn Center, and a division of the Detroit House of Corrections...and as the decades progressed, one by one they closed and became abandoned, earning Northville a hell of a reputation amongst bored teenaged thrill seekers. As an ennui-afflicted suburban kid, it was almost like you had a choice—either wander into Detroit and get into drugs, or hang out at the "Northville Tunnels."

It would not be inaccurate to say that some of the suburban animosity toward the nasty ol' City of Detroit during the "White Flight" era was due to the large abandoned municipal institutions that the city owned in suburban Northville and Plymouth. Between Maybury and the Detroit House of Corrections, the City of Detroit once held a few thousand acres of land in this area, which sat in neglect while the inner city struggled with bigger problems.

Here is the abandoned Childrens' Unit of the Maybury Sanatorium, in 1967:

Image courtesy of Wacots.org
The Friends of Maybury State Park began working with the state park in February 2005 (one month before my visit) to develop interpretive trail signage highlighting history and landmarks from the old sanatorium. At some point Randy from Detroitfunk.com was snooping around the state park and came across an old dump where he was shocked to find out that the old decorative wrought-iron "MAYBURY SANATORIUM" archway that used to span the front gates of the institution still existed, and was sitting on a scrap heap here in the woods. Here are my photos of it from soon after he told me:


Naturally we raised the alarm on this, and prior to the Friends of Maybury historic trail opening in 2006, I think the rumor was that they were going to have the iron archway fixed and put back up somewhere in the park, but that didn't happen. Instead they came up with a smaller archway that was designed to look like the original, welcoming people onto the trail. That's cool and all, but I mean it's still not the real thing.


I am not sure whatever happened to the original, maybe it is still sitting there in the same spot by the DNR office?

I also learned that if you pick around in the bushes in certain areas of the park you can turn up interesting artifacts. The vaunted "MAYBURY SAN." glass milk bottles are probably the number-one score that most people are after, and for my part I did successfully find a broken one, but I was especially impressed with this medicine bottle I found in the vicinity of the old Children's Unit:


It says "TONSILINE" on the side, which was a common throat / tonsil medicine in the 1900s, and on the front is a picture of a giraffe, probably to amuse sick kids with sore throats, since giraffes have very long throats indeed. I was amused that I found this thing in perfectly mint condition after 80 or 90 years in the dirt.

Here is a piece of what looks to have been an ornamental pilaster, which I found in the woods:


If I recall correctly, Building 72(?) had decorative architectural features such as this.

Anyway, let's begin our tour of the old doctors' houses.


Based on my readings in the history of the two institutions that Mr. Maybury had a hand in founding, he was not a big fan of building residences for the hospital staff...he spoke against the "lavish mansions" built for administrators at the Wayne County Training School, and it seems here at his sanatorium that he had more control over the matter, since these houses are modest by comparison. I could still be wrong on that however, since they look like they could have been built as late as the 1930s; Mr. Maybury passed away in 1931.


The fact is, these Northville institutions were extremely remote back when they were built; no expressways existed yet, and the population of Wayne County was almost entirely enclosed within the urban core of the City of Detroit. The suburbs were still farmland, and it was onerous to ask staff to commute that long distance over country roads from Detroit, or to relocate their family to a house in the City of Northville, which was still a distance away from the actual institutions themselves.


Each house had one of these cute half-walls for 1920s style points:


Note the garden border made of half-buried bricks:


How about some more background on the sanatorium's founder. This comes from my own research in conjunction with Adam and Tim at Wacots.org...

William H. Maybury served in numerous public capacities including Detroit Commissioner of Public Works from 1903 until 1905—an office that he left in better shape than he had found it, paying all bills due and handing nearly $40,000 in surplus funds to his successor. He lived at 635 West Ferry, which is now approximately the site of the Wayne State University College of Education. In 1919 Mr. Maybury was appointed President of the Board of Health by Mayor James Couzens, a position he held through the tenures of subsequent mayors. Maybury also served as a jury commissioner, member of the County Board of Supervisors, and as an influential arbitrator for the city in the historic purchase of the Detroit United Railway in 1920 when the city started its own public streetcar system.


Ironically however, it wasn’t as an elected social servant that William H. entered the public spotlight, but as an unofficial advisor to his much more famous cousin, Mayor William C. Maybury, who carried the Progressive mantle of the beloved previous Mayor Hazen Pingree. Both those mayors' statues can be seen across from each other in Detroit's Grand Circus Park.

Anyway, residents of the city soon came to know William H. Maybury as “Cousin Bill,” a most trusted advisor to not only his cousin the new mayor, but also to City Council President John C. Lodge.


The first of two great testaments to William H.’s civic-mindedness came in 1920, when he supervised the construction of the sanatorium that would eventually come to be named after him. Construction costs were high after WWI, and yet the Detroit Sanatorium was erected under Maybury’s personal guidance at a sum of $1,700,000—$300,000 less than the lowest bid made by any contractor. His keen business sense even allowed for the construction of a children’s hospital at the sanatorium without further monetary appropriation by the city. Maybury was responsible for creating the layout for the institution on the 1,000-acre property and intimately supervised the actual construction of the buildings themselves.


This work, like all of his other civic ventures, was done without any pay. Allegedly he purchased old glass X-ray plates from Detroit's Herman Kiefer Hospital, and other area hospitals such as U of M, when bids for the sanatorium’s glasswork were deemed too high. Bear in mind that since sunshine and fresh air were the main forms of treatment for tuberculosis at the time, the institution would be covered in panes. These old X-ray plates became windows and bookcase doors. Maybury continued this process of “recycling” by purchasing doors, toilets, sinks, bathtubs, and copper plumbing from Detroit's famous old Pontchartrain Hotel prior to its demolition in March 1920. 


William H. Maybury fought for and won every appropriation necessary to complete the construction work while simultaneously acting as contractor, engineer, and architect. It had grown from a small group of school buildings erected from money received from the Common Council into a sprawling sanatorium. Even after the sanatorium was finished, Maybury would visit the grounds and the children there. He even sponsored large parties for the young patients, complete with cake, ice cream, and pink lemonade (I guess the pink variety was considered super rare back then).

Soon after the completion of this first institution, Maybury set out to realize another vision for the public good; the Wayne County Training School For Feebleminded Children (WCTS) at Northville, which opened in 1925. But that's another story.


The foundations of the houses were brick:


A nice bannister:




As you can see I really went all-out with the detail photos...I guess I thought in my mind that these photos might end up serving as the last and / or only record of these houses.


I was impressed with this kitchen.


Small by today's standards, but impressive.










William Maybury died on November 4th, 1931—ironically, in his own sanatorium—of the same disease he had devoted his life to combating. Huge, elegiac articles ran in all the major Detroit papers for several days. At age 72, he finally was “defeated in his last encounter by the white plague,” stated the Free Press. William contracted TB back in January when he was sick with pneumonia and arose too soon from his bed to go back to work at the sanatorium, disregarding the weakened state of his lungs. Indeed, he spent almost all of his time at the sanatorium that bore his name.


Almost tearfully, the News eulogized, “He idealized his city, and because he had so much to give of himself to its service, he raised its standards to a level it had not known before. To be the kind of a Detroiter he was means to be just about the ultimate in good citizenship.” City Council President John C. Lodge declared, “No more beautiful thing has ever been done by any citizen than by Mr. Maybury, whose life has been spent in serving without remuneration the city in which he was born. This [sanatorium] is a living proof that there is among us here, in Mr. Maybury, a great, outstanding man.” 


He was buried in Mt. Elliott Cemetery. In his later years, Maybury was taking care of both his widowed mother and sister, and after their deaths was once quoted as saying, “...I had these children at the sanatorium to look after. They became my family. That is why I never married.”

Maybury's will stated that every penny of his estate would eventually be given to charity. 


Original wooden window sashes were still found throughout these houses, and they were all still in really good shape.












Out back there was this nice cooking pit...




And a swingset that might've been from the 1920s itself:


It's been a minute since this swing has been swung:


[Insert creepy, ghostly children-playing sound effects]


Hey guys, seriously...please don't email me asking whether I saw ghosts...


For reference, here was the DNR office...


We did have to check in here briefly with a ranger dude, who personally chaperoned us through each house.


As it turns out all four of the houses were essentially identical floorplans, and they shared interchangeable components, such as the staircases and bannisters. I imagine they were kept fairly simple like that in order to save money, since after all this was built as a Detroit taxpayer-funded institution, for the city's health department. I'm sure that probably didn't stop the occupants from nibbling skinned dates on occasion however.


This next one was the house that Karli's grandfather had lived in when he was a doctor here. It was the only one of the houses that had a cobblestone exterior as opposed to brick. Sadly, it was also the most dilapidated of the group.

Other than the DNR office, this one was the closest to the road, and partially visible to traffic when the leaves were off the trees. If I could have saved any of them, this is the one I would have chosen.


You might also note that the cobblestone matches that of the entry archway shown back in the historic photos at the top of this page. Perhaps this sole cottage was originally built for the superintendent of the sanatorium back in 1920, and the rest of the four were added later, based on the same pattern? It does seem like it could've been the oldest of the bunch.

Perhaaaaps Mr. Maybury built it for himself, and stayed here when visiting the kids at the sanatorium, rather than constantly commute to and from his home in Detroit...? After his sister and mother died, it doesn't seem like anyone would've been living in his home on West Ferry Street, so it makes sense...


On the front page of her old website mayburysanatorium.com, Karli said,
I made this page in hopes to preserve the history of the Maybury Sanatorium, which over the years has fallen through the cracks. Maybury has been a part of my family since the late 1940s. My grandparents worked there, and my father spent a great deal of his childhood walking on these grounds with them.  
With the help of Friends of Maybury a project is on its way for signage at Maybury State Park. Soon people will be able to walk the trails and learn of what once stood on these grounds. A warm thanks to the Friends for pushing for people to remember a life that existed here not all that long ago.

Incidentally, Maybury Sanatorium's Medical Director, Dr. H.S. Willis, was mentioned in the April 1935 issue of Time Magazine, as having taken part in successful experiments with Detroit-based pharmaceutical giant, Parke-Davis, which led to an effective meningitis vaccine. I am not sure which house he lived in, but I'd imagine it had to be one of these four.




A detail shot of the soffits:


A DNR garage is seen in the background. That should hopefully give a good idea of where this house once stood.


An old coal chute, with glass inserts:


You might also recognize a fuel oil pipe next to the hatch, indicating the coal heat was changed to oil-burning heat at some point.


The plaster was ravaged in this place. Lots of water damage.


The whole living room, and brick fireplace is blocked by a bunch of clutter:


Kitchen:


Upstairs.


Water damage around the bedroom dormers:


Looks like this house had both double-hung, and swing-outs for windows.


More snazzy doorknobs, that the frugal Mr. Maybury would have probably scoffed at as ostentation:


Upstairs bathroom.






This is where the bad kids were locked up when they misbehaved:


You kids today don't realize how good you have it!


This was the first digital camera I had that did a fill flash function...








Cobwebs pulling the door open:




And moving on, to the last one...










I think they were trying to go for a bit of a Tudor look with this one.






Bokehhhhh...




Another more modern DNR structure:








Hey, this was like my first experience with a digital camera, so yeah, I overexposed a few shots...








Could you image living in a state park like this, where you can open your windows in the summer months and let the fresh forest air pass through your whole house? Go on hikes whenever you want?


Too bad they had to tear these places down.






Although all four of them are pretty much identical, I haven't seen another house of this particular design anywhere, and I've been all over Detroit. So that's another reason why I took so many detail photos.








One good thing about being government-owned residences is that they could not be just altered by the owner whenever they felt like remodeling...which has kept "remuddling" to a minimum, and as a result all of the original historic doors were still here where they belong, and in good shape.


I can't remember now if that vestibule floor was brick, or tile...


























I don't know whether anyone ever stepped up at the last minute and offered to move any of the houses to a new location, (even I entertained the notion, fancifully), and it looks like they were all torn down. Only the one housing the DNR office remains on site today. At least I can say I came back and "rescued" a few of the fancy doorknob mechanisms prior to demolition, which may still end up getting reinstalled in the historic house I am currently restoring.


There are other ruins of the sanatorium still to be found throughout the park, including the footings to the old water tower in the middle of one of the trails, and I know that a small section of the steam tunnels still exists, off in a bramble-choked corner of the woods where the powerhouse used to be, but I have not yet gotten around to looking for it.

Image courtesy of Wacots.org

Here is a Sanborn map image of the main sanatorium complex, dated February 1926 (before its name was changed to Maybury), and you can see some of the steam tunnels between buildings...


References:
http://mayburysanatorium.com
http://www.wacots.org/wlbd4.html
http://www.wacots.org/tiki-index.php?page=Maybury+Sanitorium
“Sanatorium Founder Tuberculosis Victim” Detroit Free Press, 5 November, 1931

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting this. This is amazing! I'm a fan of Maybury and have spent hundreds of hours there. Unfortunately I didn't move to the area until around 2010, so I missed the opportunity to see these houses before they were demolished. Recently I found what seems to be the remains of that outdoor fireplace. In the same general area are the remains of two circular structures. Do you remember seeing any silos or other round structures very close to 8 Mile?

    Also, I've yet to find any remains of the steam tunnels but would love to do so. Please let me know if you and/or a small group would be interested in looking for them.

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