Plum Street Series

W. G. Malcomson

William George Malcomson, famed Detroit architect, was the son of Joseph R. Malcomson and Rachel Harding. William (I’ll call him W.G. to differentiate him from other Williams) has numerous connections to Alexander Y. Malcomson, the Ford investor, which I’ll show. Joseph Robert Malcomson was born about 1811 in Northern Ireland. Joseph had a brother named William, who was born around 1821. William was the father of Alex Malcomson, so W.G. and Alex were first cousins. I’ll discuss Alex’s family in their own post.

Photograph of Malcomson’s Grocery, 415 Michigan Avenue

Joseph married Rachel Harding in Ontario on June 1, 1852. Rachel had been born in Ireland in 1818 (her parents were William Henry Harding and Lydia Booth). Rachel’s first husband was George P. Edwards. They had been married in Toronto on January 9, 1843 and had a daughter named Lydia Martha Edwards in 1845. I assume George died before 1852, when Rachel married again, to Joseph. Joseph and Rachel had 5 children: W. G., Mary, Joseph, Richard, and Rachel. Joseph also seems to have adopted Rachel’s daughter Lydia. The family came to the U.S. in about 1857. In the 1860 census, the family was living in Detroit. Joseph was listed as a storekeeper, with $600 in personal estate. Rachel was 36, Lydia was 15, W. G. was 7, Mary was 5, Joseph was 4, and Richard was 2. Ann Carroll, aged 19, also lived there and was a clerk in the store. The 1864 Michigan State Gazetteer & Business Directory showed that Joseph was a grocer. The store (and their home) was located at the corner of Michigan Avenue and 8th Street. In the 1870 census, Joseph was a grocer, with $7000 in real estate and $2000 in personal estate. W. G. was 17 and clerk in the store. Also living there were Mary (15), Joseph (13), Richard (11), and Rachel (9). Ann Carroll was still living with them, as well as Margaret Kelly (aged 35), and both were listed as domestic servants.

In the 1880 census, Joseph was listed as a retail grocer. W. G. was 27 and now an architect. Richard was 21 and a clerk in the store. Rachel was 19 and a school teacher. Joseph’s brother William, aged 65 and a gardener, was also living with them, as was his son Alex. Alex was 14 and a clerk in a store. Ann Carroll and her mother Margaret were boarding there, as well as servant Margaret Kelly. Joseph R. Malcomson died on January 31, 1881.

Children of Joseph and Rachel Malcomson

LYDIA MARTHA – half-sister of W. G., she was born in 1845. On 1/1/1867, she married George Mickelborough. They had 5 children: Sarah Jane (12/29/1869-12/6/1901; was the 1st wife of Alex Y. Malcomson), Rachel Edith (3/5/1872-6/1955; married Alexander C. Long), Mary Jane (12/14/1874-7/1970; married Reno Deming), Matthew Harding (2/27/1877-10/11/1953; married Ethel Moore), and Lydia May (5/3/1878-5/17/1970; married Harry Learned). George Mickelborough died before 1889, when Lydia was listed as a widow in the Detroit city directory. Lydia died in 1927.

Rachel Harding Malcomson (left), Sarah Mickelborough Malcomson (standing), Mary Jane Malcomson (baby), and Lydia Edwards Mickelborough, c1891

WILLIAM GEORGE – born 4/7/1853. See rest of post for more details.
MARY – born in 1855. Attended the University of Michigan from 1879-1881. She became a teacher in Detroit. She died 9/22/1883. Her funeral was at Plum Street Church of Christ, and she was buried at Woodmere Cemetery.
JOSEPH JR. – born August 1857. He died in Detroit on January 7, 1876 of kidney disease.
RICHARD HENRY – born 10/25/1858. After his father died in 1881, he ran the store as Malcomson Bros. In the 1930 census, he was a patient at the West Side Sanitarium, located at 3840 Fort St. It was an “18-bed private mental hospital which specialized in the treatment of alcoholic, drug, and mental patients” (Ibbotson, p. 46). He died at the Ypsilanti State Hospital on 3/4/1941 after having been a patient there since 11/25/1939.
RACHEL ANNIE – born 4/4/1863. Attend University of Michigan from 1881-83. She became a school teacher. She resigned from Central High School in 1924. In 1930, she was living with her brother W. G. and his wife. Like her brother Richard, Rachel was admitted to Ypsilanti State Hospital on 11/25/1939. She died on 10/29/1940.
— The 6/22/1959 Detroit Free Press installment of the series “The Teacher I’ll Never Forget” by Mrs. Harold Moore featured her. Mrs. Moore said, “I will always remember with great affection Miss Rachel Malcomson, who taught English literature at old Central High School on Cass Avenue. In my mind I can see her now – a prim figure in tailored waist and skirt, with her Oxford eye glasses attached to a gold chain. The chain pulled out from a little gold roller that was pinned on her blouse. While she was talking to the class, she would pull out the chain and let it snap back, again and again. The habit fascinated me. Miss Malcomson was a teacher who was enthusiastic about her subject and assumed that her pupils were equally so. Her eyes sparkled and her features became animated as she talked of some English writer of prose or poetry. She made Beowulf a real person and Chaucer’s pilgrims, wending their way to Canterbury, as human a group as our own class. When a student gave a wrong or even a ridiculous answer to a question, she never rebuffed him. “That’s an interesting idea,” she would say, or, “I hadn’t thought of it that way.” Then she would lead him into a discussion and develop the right answer. One thought which she expressed many times has remained with me through life. In response to any account of discouragement or disappointment she would reply, “But you will find that there is always some compensation.” I have found this to be true and often very comforting. It is one of the many reasons she is a teacher I’ll never forget.”

W. G. and Jennie, c1882

W. G. Malcomson married Jennie McKinlay on June 13, 1882. On May 6, 1883, W. G. assisted in the first worship service at the Church of Christ at 14th and Ash Streets. In 1889-1891, he was the architect for the Plum Street addition. In the 1900 census, W. G. and Jennie were living on Trumbull Avenue with their children Mary (15), Joseph (14), Arthur (12), Caryl (6), and Ruth (4). Also living with them was a “niece” May Hampton, aged 18. May was actually the granddaughter of W. G.’s aunt, Lydia Harding Booth. Lydia Mickelborough, W. G.’s sister, was living next door to him with three of her children. His mother and siblings, Richard and Rachel, were also living on Trumbull Avenue. Margaret Kelly, aged 59, was still a servant, and Ann Carroll, aged 60, was still a boarder. Rachel died on February 28, 1901 of “old age.”

Children of W. G. Malcomson and Jennie McKinlay

MARY KATHRYN – born 11/4/1884. Attended University of Michigan and was a public school teacher. She married Mallory Napoleon Stickney on 6/26/1912. They had 3 children: Mallory II (4/22/1916-12/25/1923), Mary Janet (2/13/1922-7/14/2008), and Honor Malcomson (12/31/1923-12/17/2004). Mallory farmed in Clarkston and died on 11/20/1958. Mary Kate died on 3/30/1985 at age 100.

4 generations from left to right: J. P. McKinlay, Mallory Stickney II, Mary K. Malcomson Stickney, and Jennie McKinlay Malcomson, c1917

JOSEPH EMMETT – born 3/8/1886. Married Vonnie Mosshammer on 2/3/1917. They had a daughter, Alice Louise (9/27/1917-6/4/2019). Vonnie qualified as one of 15 women on the U.S. Women’s Swimming/Diving Team in the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp. She traveled to Holland with the team, but caught the flu and couldn’t participate. Joseph and Vonnie divorced in 1923. Joseph was a surgeon in the U.S. Navy Medical Corps. He married again to Frances Fuqua on 6/12/1924 at St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. They had 2 children: Joseph Jr. (1925-1934) and Jeanette (1926-2012). In 1928, Joseph was a lieutenant commander at the U. S. Naval Academy. In 1935, he was appointed officer-in-charge of the Navy recruiting district in Detroit. He died July 11, 1955 and was buried in Grand Lawn Cemetery.
ARTHUR JOHN – born 12/11/1887. Attend University of Michigan from 1905-06, and also became an architect. Married Gail Swift on 5/5/1917. She had also attended U of M and became a teacher. They had one son, Arthur, born on 9/24/1918. Sadly, Arthur died on 7/17/1919 at the age of 31 of cancer, from which he had been dealing with since 1912. In the 1920 census, Gail lived with Alex Malcomson and his family on La Salle Blvd.

Left to right: Arthur J. Malcomson, Joseph E. Malcomson, and W. G. Malcomson, 1917

CARYL ISABEL – born 12/20/1893. Graduated from University of Michigan Dental School in 1917 – she was 1 of 2 women in the 106-person class. Married Norbert Kulsavage/Kulasavicz on 6/27/1919. They had 2 children: Caryl (1921-1955) and Norbert Jr. (1922-2002). They divorced in 1950, and Norbert died in 1963. Caryl died on 8/24/1979.
JENNIE RUTH – born 11/11/1896. Married Clarence Robert Conn on 4/6/1917. They had 2 children: Elizabeth (1918-2015) and William (1922-2009). They divorced on 10/29/1925. She married again on 10/4/1927 to Clarence William Gregory. Ruth died on 8/17/1983 in Florida.

In July 1910, the Detroit Free Press mentioned that W. G. Malcomson and his family were staying at their cottage on Orchard Lake with guests Mrs. J. F. McKinlay [Minnie, wife of Jennie’s brother John F. McKinlay, a Common Pleas Judge] and her son [John Ritter McKinlay] and Miss Gail Swift [Arthur’s future wife]. Between 1920 and 1930, W. G. and his wife built/moved to 61 Edison St. In the 1930 census, the home’s value was $25,000, and W. G. was listed as 77, Jennie was 73, and Rachel, W. G.’s sister, was 69.

Plum Street Church of Christ
W. G. was known as a great leader in the Plum Street Church of Christ. When Vernon Fry first attended, W. G. presided over the Lord’s Supper, and Fry found him “dignified, eloquent, and comforting” (Boyd, p. 124). He also served as the Sunday school superintendent and an elder. As an architect, he designed many Detroit-area Church of Christ buildings, including the Dearborn Church of Christ, River Rouge Church of Christ and the new Plum Street building at Hamilton and Tuxedo in 1918 (with his son Arthur). The 9/30/1937 Detroit Free Press described an upcoming celebration on October 1st to honor Claud F. Witty’s 25th anniversary in ministry in Detroit: “Among the veterans of the old Plum Street congregation assisting Friday will be W. G. Malcomson, of 61 Edison Ave., V. C. Fry, of 616 Woodward Ave., and Mrs. C[aroline] H[elen] Trout, of 141 Puritan Ave.”

Malcomson & Higginbotham
In 1890, W. G. formed a partnership with William E. Higginbotham. One of their first jobs was to design the old Central High School (now Old Main at Wayne State University). In 1906-07, they designed the Malcomson Building located at 1215 Griswold Street for Alex Y. Malcomson. In 1908, they designed Henry Ford’s house, now at 140 Edison Street where the Ford’s lived until 1915. They also designed more than 3/4 of Detroit school buildings between 1895 and 1923. W. E. Higginbotham died on April 9, 1923. In 1924, Alexander Linn Trout (son of Alexander A. Trout and Caroline Helen Linn) joined the firm and prepared the sketches for Mosher-Jordan Halls at the University of Michigan, which was finished in 1930.

W. E. Higginbotham (on left) and W. G. Malcomson (on right), in their office
From Detroit Public Library
Firm’s letterhead from 1924

W. G. Malcomson died of pneumonia and bronchitis on October 19, 1937 at the age of 84. He was buried in Grand Lawn Cemetery. His wife Jennie died less than a year later on September 27, 1938.

Detroit Free Press, Nov. 13, 1937

Sources:

  • Boyd, R. Vernon. (2009). A History of the Stone-Campbell Churches in Michigan.
  • Ibbotson, Patricia. (2004). Detroit’s Hospitals, Healers, and Helpers. Arcadia Press, p. 46.
  • Michiganensian: The Year Book published by the Senior Classes of the University of Michigan. (1917). pages 230-251. Ancestry databae “U.S., School Yearbooks, 1880-2012.”

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