Plum Street Series

Alexander Young Malcomson

Alexander Young Malcomson was born on June 7, 1865 in North Ayrshire, Scotland. His parents were William Malcomson and Bridget Rodgers. In 1861, the family, including William (aged 40), Bridget (33), and children William (16), Ellen (10), Philip (8), Robert (5), Ann (3), and Henry (1) were living in Dalry, Ayrshire, Scotland. Son Joseph (12) was a lodger in the home of Thomas Gaffney in Glasgow Gorbals, while their daughter Mary (18) was living with her grandparents Philip and Mary Rodgers at Kilcush Cottage in Dalry. In 1871, Alex’s father William worked as a laborer at the ironworks and the family lived at No. 1 Stoopshill Row in Dalry. Living with William and Bridget were daughter Mary (28), who was married to Henry Allan, and her son Robert (1), daughter Ellen (21), who was married to William Hill, and her son Robert (2). Additional members of the household were sons William (26), Joseph (23), and Alexander (5).

The Malcomson family lived at No. 1 Stoopshill Row in Dalry in 1871, at right. 1896 map from

In 1880, William Sr. and Alexander arrived in the United States. In the June 11, 1880 U. S. Census, they were living with William’s brother Joseph R. Malcomson and his family at 415 Michigan Avenue in Detroit. William was listed as widowed, aged 65, and his occupation was gardener. Alexander was 14 and a clerk in a store (probably his uncle Joseph’s store). Alexander continued boarding with Joseph’s family through 1883. On 9/3/1884, Alex, along with other friends from church (including future wife Sarah Mickelborough, his 1/2 cousin Lydia’s daughter), attended a going-away party for Thomas Linn. The 12/31/1884 Detroit Free Press reported on Christmas festivities for the kids at Plum Street Church of Christ, including Alex’s recitation of “The Last Hymn” which was “touchingly delivered.” This poem was written by Marianne Farningham and published in her 1878 book “Songs of Sunshine.” It was a popular piece for recitation in the late 19th century.

In 1885, Alexander was employed as a clerk at William Baxter and boarded at 320 5th Street. The next year he clerked for S. H. Edgerly & Co. and boarded at 434 Bagg (and his future wife Sarah was living at 415 Michigan Avenue). The 12/23/1886 Free Press contained an advertisement for “Alex Y. Malcomson, Dealer in choice meats of every description, and pure leaf lard a specialty.” This market was located at 895 Grand River Avenue. The 1887 city directory showed that he was living in the same building as the meat market. In 1888, he seemed to have finally found his calling. The directory showed him owning the Malcomson Coal & Wood Company at 254 Baker Street, at the corner of 13th Street, along with his cousins R. H. and W. G. Malcomson. The slogan for the coal company was “Hotter than Sunshine” and eventually went from a one-horse and cart business to 10 coalyards, 110 wagons, and 120 horses. Tracing Alex through city directories helps prove Robert Lacey’s assertion that Malcomson was “opportunistic, restless, and compulsive,” “specializ[ing] in spreading himself thin” (p. 72).

In the 1889 directory, Alex was boarding at 373 Trumbull Avenue (his cousin W. G.’s house). Alex married Sarah Mickelborough, the daughter of W. G.’s half-sister Lydia, on October 11, 1889. John S. Gray, deacon at Plum Street Church of Christ, performed the ceremony, and W. G. Malcomson and W. F. Linn were witnesses. Their first child Mary Jane was born on August 15, 1890. In the 1890 city directory, Alex, Sarah, Mary, and Alex’s father William were living at 200 Pine.

Sarah and Mary Jane, c1891

In 1891, they were living at 415 Michigan Ave. where Alex was listed as owning the Malcomson Bros. grocery store. Joseph’s family had moved out. R. H. Malcomson was the proprietor of Malcomson Coal and Wood Co. at 247-251 and 252-254 Baker. In 1893, the same situation was in place. Alex and Sarah’s 2nd child, Helen Josephine, was born June 21, 1893. In 1895, the family lived at 243 12th Street and Alex ran the coal company again. Malcomson Bros. grocers was again run by R. H. Malcomson and his partner Alexander C. Long (Long was married to Sarah’s sister Rachel). On March 17, 1896, Alex and Sarah’s 3rd daughter Grace Lorraine was born. In 1897, Alex and his family (including his father) were still living at 243 12th Street and Alex ran the Malcomson Coal, Wood, and Coke Company.

Sarah Mickelborough Malcomson in front of the office for the Malcomson Coal and Wood Company in 1896.
From Detroit: City of Industry by David Lee Poremba (2002). Arcadia Publishing, p. 93.

Their son George William was born on December 5, 1897, and a stillborn daughter was born on February 11, 1899. Alex and Sarah’s next son Alexander Jr. was born February 27, 1900. In the June 14, 1900 census, the family was living at 290 24th Street. The 1901 city directory listed an additional company called The A. Y. Malcomson Co., Ltd. which dealt with selling ice. James Couzens was secretary and Alex was its treasurer. On November 24, 1901, Alex and Sarah’s last child, Allan Robert, was born. Sadly, Sarah died less than two weeks later on December 6th of a cerebellar embolism and eclampsia, resulting from Allan’s birth. Her funeral was Monday, December 9th at Plum Street Church of Christ. Sarah was almost 32 years old and had had 7 children in 11 years. Soon after, on March 19, 1902, Alexander’s father William died at about 90 years of age.

Alex Y. Malcomson and his 3 sons, George, Alexander, and Allan, c1903 – from Rochester University’s archives

On August 20, 1902, Malcomson and Henry Ford formed a partnership called the Ford & Malcomson, Ltd. They had became acquainted when while Ford was working for the Edison Illuminating Company and purchased coal from Malcomson. When Ford left Edison’s company in 1899, he continued to buy coal from Malcomson for his house.

1903 was an eventful year for Alexander Malcomson. On January 1, 1903, he married 26-year-old Alice Schofield in Toronto. They had known each other from Plum Street, where Alice taught in the Sunday school. Vernon C. Fry’s sister, Lily, was one of the witnesses to the wedding. In the 1903 city directory, the ice company was no longer listed, but the coal company now had multiple yards. On June 16, 1903, Ford & Malcomson, Ltd. became the new Ford Motor Company after Malcomson gathered investors. The investors were all associated with Alex in some way, whether through church or business. John S. Gray and Vernon C. Fry were members of Plum Street Church of Christ. Some sources say Gray was an uncle and Fry a cousin of Malcomson, but I have found no proof of that. Albert Strelow had built Alex’s coalyards. John W. Anderson and Horace H. Rackham were his lawyers. James Couzens and Charles Woodall were employees of Malcomson’s. Other investors were the Dodge brothers and Charles H. Bennett, the founder of the Daisy Air Rifle Company. More about the Ford Motor Company in a separate post.

Ford Motor Company listing in the 1903 Detroit City Directory

Alex and Alice’s daughter Dorothy Jean was born September 4, 1904. In 1905, the family lived at 29 Alger Avenue. Between 1906 and 1910, they lived at 63 Boston Boulevard. Alex’s daughter Grace died on March 23, 1908 at the age of 12 after an operation for appendicitis. On February 13, 1909, Alex and Alice had a daughter named Margaret Alice. By 1913, the family was living at their final home at 116, now 7640, LaSalle Boulevard (a sad photo gallery on Flickr shows the state of the house). The coal company became the Malcomson-Houghten Company, suppliers of coal, coke, builders’, pavers’ and sewer supplies. In 1914, Alex was the president of United Fuel and Supply Company. In 1920, he was the president of the Harlan Gas Coal Company, while his son George was the president of the Malcomson Coal Company and the vice-president of the Harlan Gas Coal Company.

In April 1922, the Malcomsons separated, and Alice moved out and filed for divorce on August 3, 1922. The March 21, 1923 Detroit Free Press ran a front page story when the divorce was granted, detailing the financial arrangements. Alice was awarded $225,000 ($25,000 at once, 10 yearly payments of $12,500 and a final payment of $75,000 to be paid on April 1, 1933). Their two daughters, Dorothy, aged 19, and Margaret, aged 14, were allowed to choose who they wanted to live with. Dorothy chose to live with Alex and Margaret chose to live with Alice. Alice had testified that Alex had a “domineering, argumentative disposition” and “often rude toward her over trivial things, and very often lost his temper.” Another article said he “berat[ed] her frequently in profane language” and once struck her.

According to the 8/2/1923 Free Press, Alexander Malcomson had had “an illness of nearly two years brought on by a nervous breakdown.” He had gone to California to find relief, found none, and returned to the Battle Creek sanitarium before finally moving in with his daughter. He died on August 1, 1923 at the home of his daughter Mary Jane in Ann Arbor. Alice threatened to contest Malcomson’s will unless her two daughters with him were given shares of the estate equal to those of his other children.


Boyd, R. Vernon. (2009). A History of the Stone-Campbell Churches in Michigan.

Lacey, Robert. Ford: the men and the machine. New York: Ballantine, 1986.

Plum Street Series

Colin Campbell

Colin Campbell

Colin Campbell was born June 22, 1811 in Glasgow, Scotland to John Campbell and Jessie Garnock. In 1840, Caroline Linn began attending the Disciples of Christ meeting in Glasgow, where she met Colin Campbell. They married in late 1840 or early 1841. Their first child, John Milton Locke Campbell, was born December 24, 1841 in Glasgow. Colin, Caroline, and John along with Caroline’s parents, William and Jean Linn, and siblings Alexander (with his wife and children), Thomas, Robert, and Janette left Scotland and arrived in New York on August 2, 1842 on the ship Wandsworth.

In late 1842, after arriving in Detroit, the Linns and Campbells began meeting for worship at Thomas Hawley’s home in Detroit. Colin and Caroline had a daughter, Jessie Garnock Campbell, on June 24, 1844. During this time, Colin was in a business partnership with James Jack, his former roommate in Glasgow. This ended in 1847, and James Jack went into business with John Coats, the brother of James and Peter Coats who founded J & P Coats Thread Company. In 1848, Thomas Linn and Colin opened the “Campbell & Linn” Dry Goods Store (aka the “Scotch Store”) at the corner of Jefferson and Woodward Avenues. Caroline and Colin then had a son named Forrest Smith Campbell on May 14, 1849. In the 1850 U.S. census, Colin was listed as a merchant, aged 39. Caroline was 29, John was 8, Jessie was 6, and Forrest was 2. Also living with them was Caroline’s family. William Linn was 60, Jean was 57, Thomas was 26, and Janette was 18. Colin and Caroline had a daughter named Jeanie Flora was born on December 28, 1853. There was a fire in 1858 at the Scotch Store and it moved to the corner of Woodward and Congress.

Campbell & Linn at Jefferson and Woodward, c1856
from Detroit Public Library Burton Historical Collection

Apple Island

On August 27, 1856, Colin bought Apple Island, a 38-acre island in Orchard Lake, from John Coats for $3,050. From 1856 to 1939, the Campbell family and friends spent summers there, traveling from their homes in Detroit and Ohio. Colin and Caroline’s family lived in the original Greek Revival house, which was begun in 1847 and completed in 1851 by previous owners. Campbell Harvey described the main summer house as a “rambling, red-roofed, clapboard-sided, one-story structure on stone foundation… [with] a narrow porch in front, the ceiling of which was supported by four square wooden pillars.” Worship services were often held in the Campbell’s parlor and, beginning in 1874, at the Orchard Lake Chapel. Summer activities including swimming, fishing, sailing, and gardening.

Elma Campbell (daughter of Forrest & Harriet Campbell) fishing off the Apple Island dock, c1898 – From GWBHS

Additionally, the women and girls, according to Campbell Harvey, “sat on the porch, knitted, read, or sewed.” Charles Louis Loos, father of Charles II and Louise Loos, stayed in a bedroom in the Campbell house during his summer visits. Other families built their own cottages on the island, including Colin’s daughter Jessie Harvey, his son Forrest, his granddaughter Annie Brush King, and the Loos and Mayers family. The Harvey house was built in about 1870, soon after Jessie Campbell married John Harvey in 1867. Their son Campbell Harvey described it as “a story-and-a-half white clapboard-sided structure witha wide, comfortable verandah on three sides.” The Mayers cottage belonged to Samuel Mayers and his wife Lola. They spent summers on the Island between the 1870s and 1910s. The King cottage was built around 1900 by Annie F. Brush, the child of Colin’s daughter Jeanie, and Annie’s husband Claude B. King. Annie’s grandson, Glen King, described the cottage as a two-story building with an east-facing porch, a central stairway, and Annie and Claude’s bedroom in the northeast corner. Forrest Campbell’s cottage, on the east side of the island, was two stories and a full length, east-facing porch, likely built in the 1890s. A duplex on the south end of the island was occupied by Albert Mayers and his wife Rebecca and Charles L. Loos II and his wife Mary Louise Mayers. It may have been built in the 1870s, after Charles and Mary were married. Samuel, Albert, and Mary Louise were all siblings.

Photos from GWBHS

Forrest and Tina sold the island to Willis Ward in 1915 and were allowed, along with Annie King, to keep their cottages. Annie died in 1931, Forrest died in 1933, and Tina died in 1939. After 1939, the buildings all began to decay and were overtaken by nature. For more information about the island, see materials created by the Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society including a wonderful video Apple Island: Then and Now, Apple Island Archaeology, and Apple Island History

Their last child Caroline Ella, nicknamed Tina, was born March 25, 1860. In 1862, Colin Campbell and others started a separate congregation on Jefferson Ave. and Beaubien Street, due to conflicts within the Howard Street congregation, especially with Campbell’s brother-in-law Alexander Linn. The two congregations reunited in 1865 briefly, but differences over issues like the use of musical instruments during worship split them again by 1867. On April 2, 1867, their daughter Jessie married John Harvey. In the 1870 U. S. Census, Colin (60) and his two sons John (26) and Forrest (21) were dry goods merchants. Caroline (49) kept house, while daughters Jeanie (16) and Caroline (10) attended school. Caroline’s mother Jean (77) was living there as well. They had 2 servants living with them named Kate Collins and Hanna Harper. Next door, Jessie and her husband John Harvey, a druggist, lived with their 1-year-old daughter Caroline. Two servants, Lizzy Codd and Anne Keller, lived with them. Also in 1870, Campbell and his brother-in-law Thomas Linn purchased the old Scotch Presbyterian Church and moved it to Washington Avenue. The Washington Avenue Christian Church congregation was located here until about 1890. (A new building, designed by W. G. Malcomson and W. E. Higginbotham, was built at the corner of 2nd Avenue and Ledyard and was called the Central Christian Church. In the 1920s, the congregation moved further up Woodward Avenue to a building built with funds from John Gray’s son, Philip H. Gray and designed by George D. Mason. In 1928, the Central Woodward Christian Church was dedicated. They moved to Troy in 1978 and sold the building to the Little Rock Missionary Baptist Church.)

In 1871, Colin’s partnership with his brother-in-law Thomas Linn ended. Colin then started Campbell & Sons with John and Forrest. Colin and Caroline’s daughter Jeanie married Henry T. Brush on December 18, 1873. Their daughter Annie Frances Brush was born April 12, 1874. Campbell & Sons went out of business in August 1874. Sadly, Jeanie died of typhoid fever at the family’s house on Apple Island on September 18, 1874. After her husband Henry died in 1879, the Campbell family raised their daughter Annie.

Jeanie Campbell Brush

About Henry Thomas Brush

Henry T. Brush was born August 9, 1849. He was an architect and formed a company with Hugh Smith in 1873. He designed and built the Orchard Lake Chapel, which was funded with donations from Colin and Caroline Campbell, in 1874 (perhaps how he met Jeanie). Smith and Brush split in 1875 and George D. Mason joined Brush. After Jeanie’s death, Brush married Charlotte M. Grosvenor on March 7, 1876. On August 10, 1877, a son named Frederick Farnsworth Brush was born. During this time, Brush, with Mason, designed the Ransom Gillis House. Some other buildings he designed were Central Hall at Hillsdale College, Ypsilanti High School, the Woman’s Hospital and Foundlings’ Home, and the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue. Mason left the firm in 1878, and John M. Donaldson joined Brush. Brush had suffered from depression over Jeanie’s death and his financial problems, and he shot himself on July 15, 1879. He and Jeanie were buried in Woodmere Cemetery. Three years later, Charlotte married Brush’s former partner John M. Donaldson.

In the June 1, 1880 census, Colin and Caroline lived on W. Montcalm Street with their sons John (aged 38) and Forrest (30), daughter Caroline (20), granddaughter Annie Brush (6), and a boarder, Oberlin Loos (24). Colin was a fire insurance agent. Oberlin Loos was the brother of John’s future wife, Louise Loos. John and Louise were married on August 12, 1880 in Bethany, West Virginia.

About the Loos Family

Charles Louis Loos was a frequent guest of Colin Campbell’s in the summers at Apple Island. He and Colin had met at a church convention in the late 1850s. Charles had been born in France in 1823 and had come to Ohio with his family in 1834. In 1838, he began attending a Disciples of Christ church near his home and was baptized. In 1842, he began attending Bethany College in what is now West Virginia which had been founded by Alexander Campbell. Charles taught at Bethany College and became president of Transylvania College in Kentucky. He also edited Campbell’s The Millennial Harbinger.

Charles married Rosetta Kerr in 1848. They had many children, including a daughter named Louise. As mentioned, she married Colin Campbell’s oldest son John in August 1880. They had probably met during one of those Apple Island summers. Another of Charles and Rosetta’s children, Charles Loos Jr., married Mary Louise Mayers, sister of another Apple Island visitor, Samuel Mayers.

Colin Campbell died on September 9, 1883 from a heart attack he suffered at the Sunday service at the Orchard Lake Chapel. Forrest Smith Campbell married Harriet B. Hall on October 14, 1891. Colin’s wife, Caroline Linn Campbell, died May 15, 1900. Their daughter Tina never married. She was a schoolteacher at Central High School and resigned from teaching at the same time as Rachel A. Malcomson – June 13, 1924. Tina died on October 23, 1939. Her obituary stated that “she spent her summers for 75 years in the family home on Apple Island.”

Colin and Caroline Campbell’s Grandchildren

John Milton Locke Campbell and Louise Loos – No children
Jessie Garnock Campbell and John Harvey
– Caroline Campbell – born 11/5/1868; never married, no children; died 4/21/1961
– Jessie – born 11/9/1871; never married, no children; died 5/28/1951
– John Gould – born 10/26/1875; married Evelyn Beattie, 1 daughter; died 5/24/1945
– Amelia Drummond – born 9/16/1879; married David J. Law, 2 children; died 8/1967
– Alice Garnock – born 4/14/1884; married Neil Bentley, 2 daughters; died 4/11/1981
– Campbell – born 4/28/1889; married Dorothy K. Durfee, 1 daughter; died 1978
Forrest Smith Campbell and Harriet B. Hall
– Elma Virginia- born 1/7/1893; married Henry Hart, 2 daughters; died 8/10/1925 of leukemia
– Colin – born 5/19/1895; married Margaret Lytle, 3 children; died 12/27/1974
– Douglas Hall – born 1/14/1900; married Eleonore Grindley; died 12/9/1984
– Forrest Jr. – born 6/19/1903; died 11/21/1906 of diptheria
Jeanie Flora Campbell and Henry T. Brush
– Annie Frances – born 4/12/1874; married Claude King, 3 sons; died 10/9/1931
Caroline Ella Campbell – never married, no children. Helped to raise Annie Frances.

– Campbell, John M. L. (1890). Historical Sketch of the Central Church of Christ, Detroit, Michigan from July 1842 to Sept. 24th, 1890.
– Taylor, G. G. (1906). A History of the Plum Street Church of Christ, Detroit, Michigan.
– Wurst, LouAnn. (Approved June 5, 2018). Apple Island’s Approved application for National Register of Historic Places.

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


  • 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.”
Plum Street Series

Charles A. Lorman and His Ice Company

Charles A. Lorman was born November 1, 1829 in Geislingen in Württemberg, Germany. His parents were Christian Lorman and Elizabeth Vetter. Christian was a blacksmith. After he left school at 14, Charles worked as a cabinetmaker. According to Silas Farmer, when Charles was 17, he “left home, with knapsack on back and cane in hand, traveling through different countries, working at times at his trade, until he finally arrived at Rotterdam, Holland” (p. 1245). From there he left for America, arriving in New York on August 9, 1849. In Detroit, he became a dry goods salesman and worked at a few different hotels. He then traveled to New Orleans and worked on a steamboat on the Mississippi River.

When Charles came back to Detroit, he headed up to Marine City where he worked in shipbuilding. He was in Marine City at the same time Alexander Linn and his family were there. Charles began attending Sunday meetings conducted by Linn. Linn baptized Charles in 1854 in the St. Clair River. According to G. G. Taylor, the ice on the river was 2 feet thick and had to be cut for the baptism. It was during this time Charles met Alexander Linn’s sister, Janette.

Janette Linn Lorman in the 1920s

Back in Detroit, he started working in the ice business, becoming a partner in the firm McLees & Lorman. In the 1856-57 Detroit City directory, he and Clinton McLees were listed as ice dealers in Springwells, Detroit. Meanwhile, Charles and Janette were married on December 24, 1858. When McLees died in 1860, Lorman went into the ice business for himself. In the 1860 U.S. census, Charles, Janette, and their baby Jean were living in the Railroad Hotel, owned by John F. Antisdel and located where the Detroit Opera House is now located. Jean had been born in February 1859. Another daughter, Caroline, was born in 1862. In the 1863 Detroit City directory, Lorman was listed as an ice dealer at 141 Jefferson Avenue. In the June 1863 Civil War draft, Lorman was living in Hamtramck. Charles and Janette’s next child, Flora, was born in 1865. Their 4th daughter, Jessie, was born on May 19, 1867. Their 5th child and 1st son, Christian Karl Lorman, was born May 30, 1872. Their last child, a son named Robert Blair, was born September 1, 1879.

Ad for Lorman’s “Belle Isle Ice Company” in the Mar. 3, 1872 Detroit Free Press

In 1869, Charles and Joseph L. Miner entered into a partnership and, in 1874, formed the Belle Isle Ice Company. In 1878, they absorbed the Wolverine Ice Company. Miner’s 1905 obituary said that he became president of the J. L. Miner Ice Company in 1882. Miner sued Lorman around this time and, in October 1892, the case went to the Michigan Supreme Court (I don’t understand the details, but the case can be read here and here.) The “1887 Michigan Reports of Cases Determined in the Supreme Court of Michigan” gave an enlightening description of how ice was harvested on the Detroit River and Lake St. Clair:

Colin Campbell’s oldest son John was a bookkeeper at the Belle Isle Ice Company (Lorman kept the name after Miner left). Walter Sanderson, John S. Gray’s brother-in-law, was the company’s secretary and treasurer, and W. F. Linn, Lorman’s nephew, was a stockholder.

Joint ad from the Gourlay Brothers, A.R. & W.F. Linn, and Lorman’s Belle Isle Ice Company in 1884’s “Proceedings of the Annual Conventions of the Christian Missionary Association

Children of Charles & Janette Lorman

JEAN – born in 1859. Married Alan Murray (son of Lilly Gourlay) on 9/25/1884 at her father’s home. They had 2 sons: Lorman Gourlay Murray (born 2/23/1886) and Welwood G. Murray (4/12/1890). In 1900, the family lived in Pittsburgh where Alan was an insurance agent. In 1910, they were living in Seattle where Alan managed the Bankers’ Reserve Life Insurance Company. Lorman married Mabel Bush on 8/10/1910 in Tacoma. They had one child, Janet Lorman Murray, on 6/23/1913. On 7/12/1914, Welwood died in a car accident. Alan died in June 1918 in Seahurst Park, WA. In the 1920 census, Jean, her mother Janette, and her nephew Oliver Hollis were living in Detroit. In 1930, Jean was back in Seattle working as a stenographer at age 71. In 1940, she was living with her son Lorman and his wife in Seahurst. Jean died on 2/25/1959 in Seattle at the age of 100.

CAROLINE – born in 1862. Married Ira N. Hollis on 9/21/1894. From 1893 to 1913, he was an engineering professor at Harvard University. From 1913 to 1925, he was president of Worcester Polytechnic Institute. They had 4 children: Janette Ralston (b. 5/14/1895), Oliver Nelson (b. 9/13/1896), Elinor (b. 5/11/1900), and Carolyn (b. 1/17/1903). Caroline died in 1925 and Ira died in 1930. Their daughter Carolyn died in 2005 at 102!

FLORA ISABEL – born in 1865. Married Julius O. Cobb on 12/14/1892. They had 2 daughters: Janet (b. Oct. 1893) and Nancy (b. 12/17/1899). In the 1900 census, the family was living at the Ft. Stanton U.S. Marine Hospital in Lincoln, NM where Julius was surgeon-in-charge. Cobb was sent to the Bitterroot Mountains in Montana to investigate a spotted fever outbreak in June 1902. In July 1903, Cobb was a surgeon at the Marine Hospital in Los Angeles, CA. In 1910 the family was living in Milwaukee, WI. In 1920, the four of them were living in Chicago and Julius was the surgeon-in-charge at Chicago’s Marine Hospital. Janet married Charles D. Murray on 6/15/1921 and they had one daughter named Nancy Isabel in 1928. Julius died on 3/26/1935, and Flora died on 2/24/1947.

JESSIE – born 5/19/1867. Married William H. Vollmer on 4/24/1912 in Chicago. Vollmer was an architect that designed many homes around Detroit. In 1908, Vollmer had designed a home for Jessie’s mother on Green Lake in what is now West Bloomfield (Jessie lived there too – I wonder if that is how she and Vollmer met). Jessie and William had 2 sons, Russell Karl and William Jr. William died of stomach cancer in April 1932. Jessie died in October 1944 at Grace Hospital in Detroit.

William H. Vollmer, far left, working at Spier & Rohn’s architectural firm, c1896. From Detroit Public Library

KARL CHRISTIAN– born 5/30/1872. In 1896, he was a clerk at “Pittmans & Dean,” which was a coal and ice supplier. In 1897, he disappeared without any word to his family. In 1905, Karl sent a letter to Flora’s husband Julius Cobb from Johannesburg. He explained that he had changed his name to John Long, fought in the Boer War, and been shot in the thigh. Soon after the letter, Karl boarded a ship for the U.S. via Southampton. He arrived in Detroit on 8-20-1905, too late to see his dying father. Charles had died on August 8th. Karl was interviewed for the 8-21-1905 Detroit Free Press and said he would return to South Africa because it was “the only place with which I will ever be satisfied.” Something must have changed, however, because between 1908 and 1918 he was 1st officer on the S.S. Iroquois, purchsed by the Puget Sound Navigation Co. in 1907. It was a passenger steamship that operated on a regular route from Vancouver to Bellingham and Seattle (coincidentally, it was originally built by Craig Shipbuilding Co. of Toledo). Karl’s application for a Seaman’s Protection Certificate (like a passport) on 10/7/1918 states that he would be joining the Emergency Fleet Corporation, whose job it was “to acquire, maintain, and operate merchant ships to meet national defense, foreign and domestic commerce during World War I.” I lost track of Karl after the 1920s.

Karl Christian Lorman, c1918

ROBERT BLAIR – born 9/1/1879. In 1898, he was a clerk at the dry goods store “Burnham, Stoepel & Co.” in Detroit. By 1918, he was living in Seattle (may have moved there because of his sister Jean). In 1920, he was living in Deer Harbor, WA and was a life insurance salesman (like Jean’s husband Alan). However, in the 1930 census, his occupation was fruit farmer. In 1940, he was back to being an insurance salesman at the Ohio National Life Insurance Co. in Seattle. He died on May 15, 1950 and was buried in Detroit’s Elmwood Cemetery with his family.

Charles Lorman was a deacon at the Plum Street Church of Christ for many years. Around 1893, he retired and sold his ice company to the Pittmans & Dean Company (his son Karl worked there in 1896). In April 1905, Charles began to get ill with kidney problems. In early August, he developed pneumonia and died on August 8th. Philip G. Sanderson (son of Walter Sanderson and Isabella Gray) was his physician and called Charles “one of the best-hearted men I ever knew.” (Detroit Free Press, 8-9-1905). He was buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

In July 1908, his wife Janette had a house built on Green Lake, near Orchard Lake. It was designed by William H. Vollmer, her future son-in-law. The house is currently located at 6890 Commerce Road in West Bloomfield. Janette died at the home of her daughter in Massachusetts on August 30, 1927 at the age of 95. The funeral was held at her home on Field Avenue in Detroit, with services conducted by Dr. Edgar DeWitt Jones (of the Central Christian Church) and Frederick Cowan (of Ann Arbor Church of Christ), with prayer offered by John T. Smith (of Plum Street Church of Christ).

Janette Linn Lorman’s house on Green Lake in 1909 (above) and in 2020 (below).


Plum Street Series

Linn Family

William Linn was born in Glasgow, Scotland in November 1788. He married Jean (or Jane) Ralston on October 29, 1814. They had 7 children that I know of: William, Alexander, Caroline, Thomas, Robert, Janette, and James. The family belonged to the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. In 1838, Alexander Linn and his sister Caroline became friends with Helen Lambie and began attending services at the Methodist church with her. In 1839, Alexander became a member of the Scotch Baptist church because he had begun to believe in immersion for baptism. He and Helen joined and were baptized and the rest of the Linns also joined. In 1840, however, Caroline Linn left the Baptists and started attending the Disciples of Christ meeting in Glasgow. She was 19 at the time and walked the 7 miles to the meeting each way each Sunday. This is where she met her future husband, Colin Campbell.

William and Jean Linn and their children Alexander (with his wife and 10-month-old son), Caroline (with her husband and son), Thomas, Robert, and Janette left Scotland and arrived in New York on August 2, 1842 on the ship Wandsworth.

More about William and Jean’s 7 children:

  • William (b. 6/27/1815) – married Ann Margaret Munn on June 1, 1840 in Paisley, Scotland. In the 1841 Scottish census, they were living in Paisley with a 3-month-old son, William Campbell Linn. He did not emigrate to America in 1842 like the rest of his family. In the 1861 census, they lived in Govan (now part of Glasgow) with children William, now 20, Margaret, aged 11, and Caroline, aged 7. William Sr. worked in the upholstery business. In the 1871 census, William was an upholsterer and trimming manufacturer, employing 4 men and 40 women. He was also listed as a Church of Christ pastor and all 3 children still lived with them. In the 1881 census, William, his wife, and daughter Margaret were living in Kinning Park, Glasgow. William Sr. died before the 1901 census, but his wife, aged 86, was living in Govan with her unmarried daughter Margaret, her married daughter Caroline, her son-in-law William Crockatt, and their 6 children.
  • Alexander (b. 4/26/1818) – married Helen Lambie on July 2, 1840 in Paisley, Scotland.
  • Caroline (b. 1/12/1821) – married Colin Campbell about 1840 in Scotland (more about him in another post).
  • Thomas (b. 5/24/1826) – married Annie Stanbery in about 1868 in New York. She was a cousin of George Gourlay’s wife Maria Stanbery.
  • Robert (b. 2/14/1830) – married Jessie Craig Blackie on June 28, 1858 in St. Clair County, Michigan.
  • Janette (b. 4/20/1832) – married Charles A. Lorman (also featured in a separate post) on December 24, 1858 in Detroit.
  • James (?)

From New York, the Linn family moved to Detroit and began meeting with the Hawley family on Sundays. In the 1850 U.S. census, William and Jean Linn were living in Detroit with their daughter Caroline and her husband Colin Campbell and their 3 children. William’s children Janette (18) and Thomas (26) were also living with them. In 1854, Charles A. Lorman was baptized by Alexander Linn (Lorman would marry Janette in 1858). William, the patriarch, died on August 17, 1860 and was buried in Elmwood Cemetery. His wife Jean died on May 20, 1877.

The rest of this post will mostly deal with William and Jean’s sons Alexander, Thomas, and Robert.


Alexander and his wife Helen came to New York on August 2, 1842 with their 10-month-old son Alexander. In the 1850 census, Alexander and Helen were living with the J.F. Johnson family in Detroit and had 3 children: Alexander (8), William (6), and Jane (3). Alex was listed as a pine oil maker. In about 1854, Alexander and his family, along with his brother Robert, moved to Marine City, Michigan. Alexander preached at various churches including Marine City’s, Brockway, Algonac, and Ionia. Back in Detroit by 1862, Alexander worked at Duncan Stewart and also as a cashier at his brother Thomas’ store, “Campbell & Linn.” In 1863, Alexander and Helen’s sons Alexander R. and William F. Linn opened “A.R. & W.F. Linn,” a company that sold tea, coffee, and spices.

A.R. & W.F. Linn at Jefferson and Shelby Avenues, c1881
from Detroit Public Library Burton Historical Collection

Children of Alexander Linn and Helen Lambie

ALEXANDER R. – born in 1841 in Scotland. He married Janette Craig (sister of James Gourlay’s wife Jean) in about 1865. They had 3 daughters: Katherine Campbell Linn (7/25/1868-5/27/1965), Helen Gourlay Linn (8/6/1871-2/7/1940), and Jeanette (Nettie) Linn (b. 9/7/1874, d. 1/18/1887 of diptheria). His wife Janette died on Dec. 26, 1875 of consumption. In 1880, A.R. lived with his 3 daughters, and James Gourlay and his wife were boarding with them. In about 1882, he remarried to Ella Levington and had a daughter born in 1884 named Marguerite Gray Linn. In 1930, Alex was a widow living with his 2 unmarried daughters, Katherine and Helen, in Cleveland, Ohio. He died at the age of 90 on October 2, 1932.
WILLIAM F. – born in 1844 in Michigan. He married Ella Lyman in about 1874. In the 1880 census, they lived on Howard Street in Detroit. In the 1900 census, William and Ella were living on Vinewood Avenue with an adopted daughter named Hazel Draine who was 14. He died May 28, 1904 in Cuyahoga County, Ohio. Ella died in Los Angeles in 1931.
JANE ANDERSON – born Nov. 30, 1847 in Detroit. She married Edward H. Patterson on Dec. 28, 1870. They had 2 daughters, Helen (b. 1871) and Susan (b. 1873). They attended Plum St. Church of Christ. Edward was an undertaker in the firm of “Latimer & Patterson.” In the 1890s, he was an alderman in Detroit’s 4th ward. He died July 12, 1914 at his home “a few hours before a telegram arrived asking him to notify Mrs. C. A. Lorman [Jane’s aunt]…of the death of her grandson, Welwood Murray, in an automobile accident in Seattle, Washington” (Detroit Free Press, 7/13/1914). Jane died on 1/27/1930.
COLIN – born April 18, 1851. He worked as a clerk in the early 1870s and died on February 15, 1873 in Detroit of lockjaw.
CAROLINE HELEN – born January 1857, married Alexander Anderson Trout on February 24, 1881 in Detroit. Alexander was involved in the Plum Street mission at 14th and Ash Streets in 1882-1884. They had one son, Alexander Linn Trout, on February 2, 1886. A. A. Trout died on January 1, 1888 at the age of 35. A. L. Trout was a captain in the Engineering Corps of the U.S. Army during World War I. He wrote a letter to his mother that was published in the Detroit Free Press on Sept. 22, 1918, in which he discussed a Red Cross hospital in France. In the late 1920s, he worked for the firm Malcomson & Higginbotham. Caroline died on April 8, 1944.
THOMAS S. – born Jan. 1, 1862. The 9/7/1884 Free Pess detailed a surprise going-away party thrown for him at Caroline & Alexander Trout’s home. Thomas was leaving the next Monday for the west. “During the evening, Mr. James Sanderson in behalf of his gentlemen friends presented him with an elegantly bound Bible.” Many family members and friends from Plum Street were also guests, including Mrs. Helen Linn [mother], Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Trout [sister & bro-in-law], Mr. and Mrs. William Linn [brother & sis-in-law], Mrs. J. A. Patterson [sister], Sarah Mickleborough [Alexander Malcomson’s 1st wife], Cora and Nellie Long [from Plum St.], Flora Belle Lorman [cousin], Nellie and Susie Patterson [nieces], Edward H. Patterson [bro-in-law], Charles A. Lorman [uncle], Alexander Malcomson [from Plum St.], Allen Murray [son of Lilly Gourlay, later married Thoma’s cousin Jean Lorman], Robert Lambie [grandmother’s nephew], and James Sanderson [son of John Gray’s sister Isabella].

In January 1868, the Linn and Lorman group that split from Colin Campbell’s group started meeting for church at the Detroit Ice Company (owned by Lorman). In February 1868, the church of Christ bought 2 lots at the southwest corner of Fourth and Plum streets for $1800. From 1870 to his death, Alexander Linn devoted much of his time to the Plum Street Church. In the 1880 census, Alexander, his wife, daughter Caroline, and son Thomas were living at 364 Abbott St. Alexander died April 9, 1882 of “debility from old age.” He was nearly 64 years old. According to his niece, Caroline Campbell, “When Uncle Aleck died, his hand was in my mother’s in spite of church difficulties. He asked my mother to recite a hymn.” (daughter “Tina” Campbell’s letter dated July 1932 – from His wife Helen died August 10, 1902 at the home of their daughter Jane.


Thomas Linn was 16 years old when his family emigrated from Scotland to America in 1842. He worked as a trader in Northern Michigan for his brother-in-law Colin Campbell’s business, “Campbell & Jack.” In 1848, Thomas and Colin opened the “Campbell & Linn” Dry Goods Store (aka the “Scotch Store”) at the corner of Jefferson and Woodward Avenues. There was a fire in 1858 and the store moved to the corner of Woodward and Congress.

Campbell & Linn at Jefferson and Woodward, c1856
from Detroit Public Library Burton Historical Collection
Business card for Campbell & Linn at Congress and Woodward
from Detroit Public Library Burton Historical Collection

Thomas attended the Central Christian Church. In 1868, he married Annie Stanbery, who was born on October 18, 1834 in New York City. Their son Robert was born November 20, 1869. In 1871, Thomas and Colin’s partnership ended, and Thomas started “Linn & Stanbery” with Annie’s brother John. They sold millinery, dress goods, undergarments and other items at 154 Woodward Avenue. That business lasted until 1876. In the 1880 census, Thomas, Annie, and Robert were boarding at physician Benjamin Stone’s house. In the late 1880s, Thomas and family moved to 38 W. Adams on the corner of Park in Detroit.

38 W. Adams on left, photographed in July 1906
from Detroit Public Library Burton Historical Collection

Thomas started working as a floor manager at Newcomb, Endicott, & Co. in about 1880 and retired in 1897. Upon his retirement, he received an inscribed gold watch with a chain from the firm, a leather easy chair from the employees of the 2nd floor, and a gold-headed cane from those on the 1st floor (Detroit Free Press, Aug. 1, 1897). Thomas’ son Robert Stanbery Linn became a physician and joined the army as a surgeon during the Spanish-American War. In the early June 1900 census, he was living with his parents and two servants at 38 W. Adams. In the summer of 1900, Robert went to China as an army surgeon. On August 11, 1903, Robert married Alice MacLay in Glen Falls, New York and they had a daughter named Marian in June 12, 1904. On August 26, 1909, Thomas Linn died at his son’s house at 594 Cass Avenue. He was buried in Elmwood Cemetery. Annie lived with her son and his family during the 1910 census. She died on April 6, 1912. Robert died on June 18, 1941.

Dr Robert Stanbery Linn
Robert Stanbery Linn, son of Thomas and Annie Linn from Find-a-Grave


After his marriage in 1858 to Jessie Craig Blackie, they lived in Brownstown in the 1860 U.S. census. At that time, Robert was a merchant with $5000 in real estate and $4600 in personal estate. In the June 1863 draft registration, Robert was still a merchant in Brownstown. In November 1866, he was appointed a U.S. Postmaster in Gibraltar. Robert was a shipbuilder in Gibraltar.

In 1866, Robert formed the shipbuilding company “Linn & Craig” with John Craig, who was the brother of Jean/Mrs. James Gourlay and Jeanette/Mrs. Alex R. Linn. You may remember Alexander R. Linn was Robert’s nephew. They worked together through the 1870s building ships of wood. Some of their ships were named after friends and relatives, like the Colin Campbell, the Annie L. Craig, and the Jessie Linn. John left the partnership because he had begun wanting to build steel hulled ships. Robert continued the business until about 1892. John Craig established his shipyard in Gibraltar, then moved to Trenton, Michigan in 1883. He then moved on to Toledo, Ohio in 1888. Eventually, John Craig retired from the Craig Shipbuilding Company, and it was found that Toledo was now too small. His son John F. Craig moved the company to Long Beach, California in 1906.

Robert Linn and his wife Jessie had 4 daughters: Annie Ella, born on August 5, 1863; Lillian, born July 8, 1865; Caroline Campbell, born January 17, 1870; and Flora Ralston, born March 1, 1875. Around 1890, the family moved to Detroit and attended Central Christian Church. Lillian married Edward Waterfall on October 31, 1894 in Detroit. They had a daughter named Jessie C. Waterfall on October 7, 1897. The rest of Robert’s daughters never married. Robert’s wife Jessie died of heart trouble on July 19, 1896. Robert died on Sept. 16, 1900 at his home at 514 Cass Ave. Around 1903, Caroline became an elementary school teacher in Escanaba, Michigan. Flora also became a teacher, but in the Detroit Public School system.

Picture of
Gravestone of Robert W. Linn in Detroit’s Elmwood Cemetery
from Find-A-Grave

Annie Ella was admitted to the Ypsilanti State Hospital on Christmas Eve 1931. She died there on May 22, 1934 at the age of 70. Lillian died at the home of her daughter in Highland Park on December 9, 1933. Caroline died on November 20, 1934 in Escanaba and was buried there. Flora died on July 5, 1937 and was buried with her sister Caroline in Escanaba.


Plum Street Series

Gourlay Brothers

Robert Gourlay was born in 1792 in Fifeshire, Scotland. His first wife’s maiden name was Cameron and they had 3 children, William, Thomas, and Sarah. Robert married Helen Lawson on October 22, 1822 in Edinburgh, Scotland. They had two daughters, Margaret and Lilly Ann, and three sons, George, James, and Alfred – who would become the owners of “Gourlay Brothers” in Detroit in the 1870s. Margaret was born July 26, 1829 and died in Detroit on March 8, 1918. George was born January 7, 1834 and died December 8, 1900 in Detroit. Lilly Ann was born December 31, 1835. She died May 17, 1860 in New York City. James was born December 3, 1837 and died November 19, 1919 in Detroit. Alfred was born July 31, 1845 and died in Detroit on March 5, 1930.

Robert Gourlay’s children with his first wife:

WILLIAM – born 1815 in Edinburgh. He was a popular comedian and actor, playing roles in Scotland, England, Australia, and America. He married Louisa J. Ryder on Oct. 25, 1841 and had 6 children – Ellen, Jessie, Robert, Corbet, John, and Alice. With his second wife, Susan, William had 2 more children, Minnie and William. The whole family was involved in the theatre. In 1866-1869, he and the family traveled to Australia. He visited New Zealand in 1874 with his collection of curiosities. In the summer of 1880, the Gourlay family made their last stage appearance in Newcastle, England. They presented Mrs. MacGregor’s Levee on July 26-27, 1880.
THOMAS – born 1820 in Edinburgh. He was also an actor. He and daughters Jeannie and Margaret were in the cast of “Our American Cousin” the night Lincoln was assassinated. Apparently, Jeannie had just left the stage when the shot was fired. According to a Feb. 3, 1968 article in The Pocono Record, Thomas covered Lincoln with a flag from the theater and helped to carry Lincoln to a house across the street. The flag is currently at the Pike County Historical Society’s The Columns Museum.

The cast from Our American Cousin the night of April 14, 1865

In the 1841 Scotland census, Robert’s family was living at 219 High Street in Edinburgh where Robert was a tailor. Robert died before the 1851 census, in which the family was still living at the same address. Helen was a draper and her sons George and James were draper’s assistants. In May 1855, Lilly Gourlay married George Welwood Murray in Edinburgh. The next year, Helen and her children left Scotland for New York. George Murray, Lilly, and their son George came in July 1858. In the 1860 U.S. Census, taken on June 5th, Helen and her three sons were living in New York City. George and James were clerks and Alfred was a compositor (a typesetter). Next to Helen lived her son-in-law George W. Murray, his sons George (4 years old) and James Alan (11 months), and Helen’s daughter Margaret. Sadly, Lilly Ann had died the previous month.

On October 21, 1866, James Gourlay married Jean F. Craig in Manhattan. On August 9, 1868, they placed membership at the Plum Street Church of Christ in Detroit. On January 15, 1869, George Gourlay married Maria Stanbery in New York. In the 1870 U.S. Census, Helen and her children Margaret and Alfred were still living in New York City. James and Jean were living in Detroit where James worked in a tailor shop. In the May 8, 1870 Detroit Free Press, an advertisement for Baxter & Gourlay, “fashionable merchant tailors” from New York, stated that they had just opened a store at 156 Jefferson Avenue. On May 1, 1873, Baxter & Gourlay dissolved. Baxter stayed at the Jefferson Ave. store and James occupied a store next to the Detroit Opera House. In 1875, Alfred Gourlay (who had married Laura Andruss in 1872) joined his brother in Detroit and Gourlay Brothers was formed. Their brother George joined them in Detroit in 1878 (I think his wife Maria never joined him in Detroit and stayed in New York with her parents until George divorced her for desertion in 1893). The brothers all joined the Plum Street Church of Christ and were “noted for their musical ability.” According to Boyd, William B. Thompson, ex-mayor of Detroit, used to stand outside the church building and listen to the singing (p. 106).

In 1875, James’ wife Jean went to Scotland with a bunch of her lady friends. According to the Paw Paw, Michigan newspaper The True Northerner for May 7, 1875, “A party of Detroit ladies will shortly leave their hubands, and unaccompanied by any male protector, will proceed to Scotland to see their relatives and recruit their health. The names of the party are: Mrs. A. R. Linn [Jeanette Craig, Jean’s sister], Mrs. John Harvey [Jessie G. Campbell, daughter of Colin Campbell & Caroline Linn], Mrs. James Gourlay [Jean F. Craig], Mrs. C. A. Lorman [Janette Linn, Caroline’s sister], and Miss Emma Haywood [Emma Hayward, John S. Gray’s sister-in-law].” In October 1875, the Plum Street Church of Christ’s Literary Society elected John S. Gray as president, James Gourlay as vice-president, and Alfred Gourlay as secretary.

According to the Detroit Free Press (8-14-1904), in 1876 at the Gourlay Brothers store, “one of the first illuminated signs in Detroit appeared, formed of gas jets. Of course, it attracted a good deal of attention, and, curiously enough, on the first night the jets were lighted, the sign did not work well and it read as follows: ‘Gourlay’s Shirt tore.'”

John Gourlay, nephew of the Gourlay Brothers

John was the son of William Gourlay, the half-brother of James, George, and Alfred. He became an actor and comedian like his father, beginning at 4 years old. He went with his father to Australia in 1866. He joined a group called The Salsbury Troubadours in America and toured with them in Australia and New Zealand in 1878. Later he joined with comedian Louis Harrison and toured with him for five years. He often visited his uncles in Detroit in the 1870s and 1880s. He married his Australian wife Hannah Lambert in August 1884 in Detroit. The reception was held at Alfred Gourlay’s home at 647 2nd Avenue. In 1887, they returned to Australia, where John continued his career.

In an 1893 article featuring John’s reminiscences, he recounted a story about him and his brother Robert: “We had been separated from childhood, for 16 years. When I was in Chicago I received a telegram from an uncle in business in Detroit, saying that Bob was with him, but was just then in Chicago on business. I took train from Chicago, and Bob sat beside me in the carriage. Neither of us know the other, and Bob proved to be a young man of very taking proclivities. He smoked most of my cigars, and, as the weather was cold, took my overcoat, and wound up by borrowing fifty cents. I found he was well known to the police, for when we arrived at a station near Detroit a policeman called out, ‘Hello, Gourlay!’ I got up and looked out of the carriage window, and he did the same. ‘What,’ I said, ‘is your name Gourlay?’ ‘It is,’ he said. Business, fraternal embrace. As Bob and I are both Scotch, I made him return the fifty cents.”

Of George, James, and Alfred Gourlay, only Alfred had children. He and Laura had a daughter and a son – Helen Lawson Gourlay (1873-1960), who married Vernon C. Fry, and Charles A. Gourlay (1879-1963). In the 1880 census, James and Jean were boarding with Alexander R. Linn and his family. James’ mother Helen died September 15, 1880 in Detroit and was buried in Woodmere Cemetery. In 1884, James Gourlay became a deacon at Plum Street Church of Christ and an elder in 1897.

Advertisements for Gourlay Bros., Linn Bros., and Lorman’s ice company from the “Report of Proceedings of the Michigan Christian Missionary Association at the 16th Annual Meeting held in Detroit, October 4-5, 1884”

In the June 1, 1900 U.S. Census, James and Jean Gourlay were living at 649 (now 3747) 2nd Avenue with George Gourlay and a servant named Anna Mitchell. James’ and George’s occupation was “gents furnisher.” Alfred (also a “gents furnisher”), Laura and their children Helen and Charles were living in the two-family house at 647 (now 3745) 2nd Avenue. Margaret Gourlay, Alfred’s sister, was also living with him. Around this time, the store moved to 153 Woodward Avenue (now 1059).

James Gourlay built this house in Detroit, now at 3745-3747 2nd Ave., in 1880
Gourlay Brothers sign on the left, at 153 (1059) Woodward Avenue in 1909, between Michigan and State Streets – from Burton Historical Collection at the Detroit Public Library

George Gourlay, who acted as manager of Gourlay Brothers, died on Saturday, December 8, 1900 at 7 AM at his brother James’ house, where he had been living. The 12/9/1900 Free Press said that George “had left the store in unusual spirits Friday evening, and his jovial and splendid disposition was in evidence, as with his usual pleasantry he joked with the men in the store.” He had been a president of the Detroit Musical Society and had sung before President Lincoln. His funeral was at Plum Street Church of Christ and he was buried in Woodmere Cemetery.

george gourlay
George Gourlay

In 1901, James Gourlay declared bankruptcy with a debt of $23,096.97 and assets of $15,582. His house and $216 in personal assets were exempt. He stated that his petition had nothing to do with Gourlay Brothers (Detroit Free Press, 3/9/1901). In August 1904, James retired from Gourlay Brothers, while his brother Alfred continued the company at 153 Woodward Avenue.

In the 1910 census, James and Alfred and their wives were living at 647 2nd Ave. Margaret, their sister, was living with Alfred and Laura. Laura died on December 8, 1911 at the age of 59 of mitral regurgitation. Jean Gourlay died on July 18, 1916 of hemipligia, which is paralysis on one side of the body. Margaret died on March 8, 1918 at the age of 88 of senility and old age.

Alfred Gourlay remarried on September 3, 1919 in London, Ontario to Mary Talbot. James died November 19, 1919 after six months of “senility of cerebral arteries.” His funeral was held at Plum Street and he was buried in Woodmere Cemetery. He was an elder at Plum Street for many years and was a choir leader. In the 1920 census, Alfred was still living at 647 2nd Avenue. He was listed as married, but Mary was not enumerated with him. His niece, Sara Gourlay, who was his half-brother William’s youngest child. She was 64, while Alfred was 75. Sara had been a nurse in Battle Creek, Michigan for many years. Alfred, at the time living at 1494 Virginia Park in Detroit, died on March 5, 1930 of cerebral apoplexy at the age of 84. His wife Mary was the informant on the death certificate. He was buried in Woodmere Cemetery with his first wife Laura.


[George Gourlay obituary]. (January 10, 1901). The Christian Evangelist, v. 38(2), page 50.

Boyd, R. Vernon. A History of the Stone-Campbell Churches in Michigan, 2009.

“Thirty-six years on the stage.” Star (Christchurch), Issue 4750, September 16, 1893, page 1.

Plum Street Series

Vernon C. Fry

Vernon Charles Fry was born on August 29, 1865 at Selkirk, Haldimand County, Ontario to John Fry and Caroline Overholt. His siblings were Frank Dewitt Fry (born July 15, 1868) and twin sisters Lillie and Minnie (born September 17, 1870). In the 1871 Canadian census, the Fry family was living in Rainham Township, Haldimand County, Ontario. Caroline and John, who was a medical doctor, were aged 34. Vernon was 5, Frank was 3, and the twins were 6 months old. Caroline’s father, Aaron Overholt, was living there, too. In 1881, they were living in the same place and their religion was listed as Disciples of Christ. Vernon’s mother Caroline died on March 11, 1891. In the 1891 census, John and the children were still living in Rainham. Vernon was 24 and a dry goods clerk, while Frank was 22 and a student. Lillie, a schoolteacher, and Minnie were 20.

Sometime between 1891 and 1895, Vernon moved to Detroit. He married Frances Anna Louise “Birdie” Colby on June 5, 1896 in Toronto. Their son Stanley was born in Detroit on October 30, 1896. Their next son Colby was born June 28, 1900. Sadly, Birdie died of pneumonia on May 6, 1901. They were living at 121 Bethune Avenue at the time. Her funeral took place at Plum Street Church of Christ.

Vernon Fry - Ford Investor Photo
From the Detroit Free Press, 6/16/1963 issue
(60th anniversary of Ford Motor Co.)

In June 1903, Vernon invested in Ford Motor Company along with other Plum Street church members Alexander Malcomson and John S. Gray, among others. Some sources say he was Malcomson’s cousin, which I haven’t been able to confirm. He bought 50 shares for $5000. According to a May 25, 1953 LIFE magazine article by Sidney Olson, he “paid $3,000 in cash after a struggle of many months with Malcomson and many a jouncing ride in Henry’s car, and pledged another $2,000, which he later paid out of dividends.” He paid the $3000 on June 26, 1903, $1000 in December 1903, and another $1000 in January 1904. After Malcomson was bought out in 1906, Vernon sold his stock to Ford on September 1, 1907 for $25,000. Woodall and Bennett also sold out at that time. If he would’ve waited 12 years, he could have made millions.

Vernon married again on July 15, 1903 in Detroit to Helen Lawson Gourlay, the daughter of Alfred and Laura Gourlay (more about the Gourlay Brothers in another post).

The newspaper account of their wedding sounds impressive:

“The wedding of Miss Helen Gourlay, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. A.L. Gourlay, to Mr. Vernon C. Fry, took place at her home, 647 Second Avenue [now 3745 2nd Ave.], Wednesday afternoon at three o’clock, Rev. Arthur Jackson of the Church of Christ, performing the ceremony. Miss Walton, of Cleveland, was maid of honor, the groom being assisted by Mr. Charles Gourlay, brother of the bride. The bride was gowned in Brussels net over white taffeta, elaborately trimmed with cluny, her only jewels being a diamond necklace, the gift of the groom. A shower bouquet of stephenatis and bridal roses completed a beautiful costume. Miss Walton wore a dove-colored mousseline de soie over pink, trimmed with pointe l’ire lace, and carried a shower bouquet of Madame cusen roses. A reception followed for upwards of 100 guests. The color scheme of the decorating was confined to pink and white, roses and carnations being most in evidence among the hanging vines. In the dining room the table was covered with a white lace spread and decorated with spirea, ferns and la France roses… . The young couple left for an extended trip to Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Toronto, Montreal, Quebec, Nova Scotia, Boston, by steamer, and thence to New York where they will be extensively entertained. The trip will last about 5 or 6 weeks. The gifts were numerous and costly, many from abroad. Krolik & Co., with whom Mr. Fry is is associated, sent a magnificent bowl and standard of cut glass. Miss Gourlay is a musician of rare merit, having received a foreign education, is a member of the Tuesday Musicale and other musical societies in the city.”

Detroit Free Press, July 19, 1903
Vernon and Helen, photo from Vernon’s 1925 passport application at

Their daughter Grace Ethelwyn Fry was born on April 21, 1904 in Detroit. Their next child Margaret Jean Fry was born November 13, 1905. Their third child, John, was born February 1, 1908.

Children of Vernon C. Fry

STANLEY EVAN FRY – born Oct. 30, 1896 in Detroit to Vernon and his first wife Birdie. In 1918, he was employed by the Detroit Twist Drill Company. He joined the army later in 1918. He married Agnes Gringle in Springfield, Ohio on Oct. 31, 1925. They had a son, Stanley, Jr., on Jan. 18, 1929. Sadly, he lived only 3 days. Agnes filed for divorce on Apr. 29, 1930. It was granted on Mar. 30, 1931. Stanley married Gladys Brazil Chambers on Nov. 9, 1950 in Ohio. He died Jan. 14, 1971.
COLBY BARKLEY FRY – born Jun. 28, 1900 in Detroit to Vernon and Birdie. In 1918-20, he farmed in Wayne and Macomb Counties. He married Beulah M. Martin on Aug. 15, 1936 in Detroit. In 1940, they lived at 19817 Roselawn. Colby was employed by an armored car company, and Beulah was a secretary. They had a daughter Madalyn in 1945. Colby died Mar. 16, 1983 in Harrison, Macomb County, Michigan.
GRACE ETHELWYN FRY – born Apr. 21, 1904 in Detroit to Vernon and his 2nd wife Helen. She married Alexander D. Dickie on Jan. 2, 1932 in Birmingham, Michigan. They lived in London, Ontario, where Alexander was a salesman at a rubber company. He died Aug. 27, 1947 of coronary thrombosis. Grace died in Florida on Dec. 3, 2001 at the age of 97.
MARGARET JEAN FRY – born Nov. 13, 1905 to Vernon and Helen. She graduated from National Park College in Washington, D.C. Margaret married Charles Momberg (1907-1991) on Feb. 8, 1930 in Lucas Co., Ohio. They had 2 sons (George Charles, born 1930, and John Vernon, 1938-2019). In 1940, they lived at 20110 Santa Rosa. After Charles’ death, she moved to Jacksonville, Florida. Margaret died Sept. 7, 2011 at the age of 105.
JOHN G. FRY – born Feb. 1, 1908 to Vernon and Helen. On Jan. 10, 1931, he died of a skull fracture and internal injuries due to a car accident. The Detroit Free Press said he “was found crushed to death beside his overturned automobile in a ditch on Northwestern highway Saturday morning… . The body was discovered at 2:30 a.m. by a passing motorist. The car…was more than 75 feet from the body. It had gone into a ditch and rolled over several times. It is believed Fry fell asleep at the wheel while returning from Detroit” to his home on W. Maple Rd. in Bloomfield Hills. He was buried in Woodmere Cemetery.

In the April 1910 U.S. census, Vernon and family lived at 94 Hazelwood Avenue (now would be 604 Hazelwood). Vernon was 44, Helen was 37, Stanley was 13, Colby was 9, Grace was 5, Margaret was 4, and John was 2. A servant named Pauline Kuhnile, aged 22, also lived there. Vernon’s occupation was listed as a manufacturer in the automobile industry. Later in 1910, Vernon, “representing a syndicate of gentlemen,” purchased the plant and materials of the Detroit Dearborn Auto Company for $14,800. The plan was to move the equipment to Detroit “and that a new car may be manufactured” (Detroit Free Press, Dec. 18, 1910).

In 1916, Vernon and his real estate partner began selling properties in the new Sherwood Forest subdivision at Woodward and the “newly paved” Seven Mile Road, which their advertisement announced was “destined to be the Grosse Pointe of the North Woodward section.” (Detroit Free Press, Dec. 9, 1916). In 1918, Fry donated the land at Hamilton and Tuxedo for a new Plum Street Church of Christ building. In 1920, he was part of “The Citizens’ Committee on Street Railway Service” – against the mayor’s proposal. In 1922, Fry supported the extension of Livernois Avenue to the site of the future zoo at Woodward Avenue and 10-mile road.

“Ferndale [Church of Christ] began around the fall of 1923. They dedicated a building on Paxton and Academy in 1925. It was a wooden building in Ferndale built by Vernon Fry of Hamilton [Church of Christ] out of reclaimed lumber. He had all this stuff torn down and had it laying around so built a church building. He was a builder and real estate man. At one time he owned practically the entire area around Livernois and Six Mile… .”

Harmon Black, interviewed by Vernon Boyd on Nov. 14, 1986 (from Rochester Univ.’s MI Churches of Christ collection –

The society pages of the Detroit Free Press were full of the travels of the upper crust, including the Fry’s – especially during the cold winter months. In April 1924, Vernon and Helen returned home after a six-week-long trip to Florida, Cuba, and Panama. In late January 1925, they and their daughter Grace left for Florida, with some time spent in Cuba and Jamaica, returning at the beginning of April. In the summer of 1925, Vernon and Helen took their daughters to Europe. In 1926, they again spent January – April in Florida. In 1927, they went to Seattle for a real estate convention, then traveled to Alaska, Banff, Lake Louise, and the Canadian Rockies. During the summers, the family spent time at their summer home called Woodcliff Lodge at Menesetung Park in Goderich, Ontario.

In 1930, Dearborn Church of Christ bought lots at the corner of Chase and Gould roads and a building paid for by Vernon Fry was put there.

Hamilton Blvd. (Plum Street) Church of Christ preachers and officers.
Photo taken October 24, 1936. Vernon Fry is circled.
(from Rochester University –

Vernon Fry died at Victoria Hospital in London, Ontario on September 6, 1948 at the age of 83 from osteogenic sarcoma which began in his right pelvis bone. Helen died December 17, 1960 in Florida where she was living with her daughter Grace.

Plum Street Series

John Simpson Gray

John Simpson Gray was born in Edinburgh, Scotland to Philip C. Gray and Amelia (Tasker) Gray on October 5, 1841. He had one sister, Isabella, born February 19, 1834 and one brother, David, born November 8, 1836. Philip C. Gray was a Scotch Baptist but started reading the writings of Alexander Campbell in the Millenial Harbinger journal. He started a congregation of like-minded people in Edinburgh. The family, along with 11 others from the congregation, left Liverpool on April 9, 1849 and arrived in New York on April 30, 1849. The Grays stopped at Buffalo, New York where John’s uncle William Gray was living. Philip and his family continued on to Wisconsin and farmed until 1857 when the family moved to Detroit. There Philip established a toy business. He and his wife joined the Church of Christ. John attended high school in Detroit in 1858 and, upon graduation, became a teacher in Algonac, Michigan. In the Spring of 1859, he returned to Detroit and joining his father’s business. He also joined the church that year, and his sister Isabella and her husband Walter Sanderson joined when they arrived in Detroit that year.

Philip, Amelia, Isabella, David, and John Gray on the ship Constitution in 1849.

Isabella Gray married Walter Sanderson (who had accompanied them from Scotland in 1849) in Wisconsin on April 6, 1856 and they joined her parents in Detroit in 1858. In the 1860 U.S. Census, Walter, Isabella, and their 3-year-old son James (who had been born in Wisconsin) were living with Isabella’s parents and brother John in Detroit. Walter and John were listed as “clerks in fancy store,” while Philip owned the “fancy store.” Isabella’s next child was Amelia, born April 22, 1862 in Sandwich, Ontario. Their son, Philip Gray Sanderson, was born in August 1866 in Detroit (he later became a physician) and their daughter Grace was born December 14, 1868 in Detroit. In the 1870 U.S. Census, Isabella’s family lived next to her parents and her husband’s occupation was “dealer in land.” Their last child, Edmond Lindsay Sanderson, was born on May 7, 1872. In the 1880 census, they still lived next to Isabella’s parents. Walter was in real estate, while son James was a civil engineer. Walter was apponted an elder at Plum Street in 1880. In February 1883, their daughter Amelia married George I. Lindsay. The Sandersons were old friends of the Lindsay family from Wisconsin times. Grace married a nephew of George Lindsay’s, Walter E. Lindsay, on November 20, 1901 in Detroit. James died by suicide on September 18, 1885 in Bay City at the age of 28. His funeral was at Plum Street. Walter Sanderson, who also served as the church clerk and kept great records, died on May 18, 1888 of blood poisoning.

George Townsend, Mark Twain, and David Gray in 1871
from the Library of Congress –

From Wisconsin, John Gray’s brother David moved onto Buffalo in 1856 and became the secretary/librarian of the Young Men’s Christian Union. In 1859, he started working for the Buffalo Courier newspaper, eventually becoming editor. He often wrote his family in Detroit and visited them there. John sometimes visited him in Buffalo. Between 1865 and 1868, David traveled through Europe and the Middle East and wrote a series of letters for the Courier. By April 1868, he was back in Buffalo and met his future wife, Martha Guthrie, in September. On June 2, 1869, they were married in New Orleans. Their first child David was born August 8, 1870 (between 1940-1947, he served as the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland and died in 1968 at the age of 97). David and Martha’s next son, Guthrie, was born in March 1874. His was an electrical engineer. He died August 26, 1905 at the age of 31 of sarcoma of the pelvis, having gone to the Muskoka area of Canada for his health. Their last child, a daughter named Emily, was born on January 23, 1882. She married Chauncey J. Hamlin and through their son Chauncey Jr., she became the grandmother of actor Harry Hamlin. Emily died in 1933. In September 1882, David Sr. and his family went back to Europe for David’s health. They stayed in Montreaux, Switzerland until April 1884. They returned to Buffalo in June. In ill health again in 1888, it was proposed that David go to Cuba accompanied by his brother John. There was a blizzard on March 12, so their train from Buffalo was delayed until the 15th. Their train derailed around 2:45 AM on March 16th, according to John, and David was badly injured. He never regained consciousness and died on March 18, 1888. Martha died in August 1931.

Philip and John ran the toy company until 1861, when they partnered with a Mr. Pelgrim to form a candy company called Pelgrim, Gray, & Co. Unfortunately, their store and stock were lost in a fire in January 1862. Philip retired soon after. John and Mr. Pelgrim added Joseph Toynton to the partnership. In 1865, Mr. Pelgrim retired from the candy company, now named Gray & Toynton. In 1870, the name changed again to Gray, Toynton, & Fox when J. B. Fox was added as a partner. Both Toynton and Fox died in 1881. John continued running the company and eventually employed 200 people during busy season.

Gray & Toynton’s business card, c1865.
From the Burton Historical Collection at Detroit Public Library

James Mitchell’s 1891 “Detroit in History and Commerce,” he described Gray, Toynton & Fox like this: “the factory at 20 to 26 Woodbridge east is five stories above a commodious basement…and is fully equipped with the latest and most improved machinery and appliances for manufacturing by its extensive operations” (p. 109). It employed 150 people and earned $400,000 a year.

Gray, Toynton & Fox listing in the 1895 Detroit City Directory

Meanwhile, in October 1864, John married Anna E. Hayward in Wisconsin. Their first son Philip Hayward Gray was born in October 1865. Another son, Paul Robert Gray was born July 24, 1867. A third son, David, was born January 20, 1870. Their last child, a daughter named Alice, was born August 6, 1875. In the 1870 U.S. Census, John’s family was living in Detroit in the 5th ward. His occupation was “confectioner.” His real estate was valued at $4,000 and his personal estate was $2,000. Philip was 5, Paul was 2, and David was 4 months. Anna’s 18-year-old sister Sarah was boarding with them and a 20-year-old servant named Mary Wilson was also living there.

Children of John S. Gray and Anna E. Hayward

Philip H. Gray married Mary A. Studley on May 6, 1890 in Ann Arbor. They had 4 children: Harold (1894-1972, married Laura Ley), Evelyn (1899-1974, married Richard M. Cameron), Almena (1903-1990, married John E. Wilde), and Philip II (1906-1978, married Margaret Day). Philip died November 25, 1922 in Boston. Mary died in 1939.

Paul Robert Gray married Frances Noble on January 23, 1900 in Detroit. They had 3 daughters: Frances (1901-1982, married 1st Waldo H. Brown who died in a 1939 naval reserve training flight crash; married 2nd Dr. Charles Merkel. See April 11, 1983 Detroit Free Press article “Glimpses of a Lavish Life”), Elizabeth (1902-1998, married Dr. Nelson B. Sackett), and Ann (1908-1994, married Joseph Scherer, Jr.). Paul Robert died September 27, 1929. Frances died in 1945.

David Gray married Martha L. Platt on January 16, 1894 in Detroit. They had a daughter, Sylvia Alger Gray (born January 15, 1902, died July 15, 1903 of nephritis), and a son David Gray, Jr. (1908-1966, married Helen “Nancy” Maxwell). David Sr. died on May 9, 1928. Martha died Sept. 16, 1946. The Montecito Journal has as article about David and Martha and their home life in California in the Winter/Spring 2012/13 edition (Moguls & Mansions by Hattie Beresford, v. 5, issue 2)

Alice Gray married William R. Kales on October 1, 1895 in Detroit. They had 5 children: Margaret (1896-1975, married Neil McMath – their daughter Margaret was kidnapped on May 2, 1933 and returned 2 days later. The Boston Globe ran a story on it recently: “Kidnapped on Cape Cod” by Alex Kingsbury), John Gray (born Dec. 4, 1899, died Jan. 2, 1902 of acute nephritis and uraemia), Robert (1904-1992, married Jane Webster), Alice (1909-1989, married Robert Hartwick), and Ellen (1914-1997, married Hugo Huettig). Alice died in 1960, and William died in 1942.

On John’s passport application dated February 2, 1872, he was 30 years old and 5′ 10″ tall with dark brown eyes and hair. He was described as having a medium forehead, a larger than medium nose, a large mouth with a rather sharply defined chin, high cheekbones, and a sallow complexion. Walter Sanderson, his brother-in-law, was the notary public that signed his name to Gray’s statement on January 26, 1872.

Portrait of John Simpson Gray, later in life
From Rochester University’s Michigan Churches of Christ collection

By the 1880 census, the family was living at 41 E. Forest Avenue (which would become 87 after the 1921 city renumbering) in Detroit. John actually bought this property in September 1874. The Detroit Free Press on 9/20/1874 stated this real estate transaction, “Caroline M. Weed to John S. Gray, lot on the north side of Forest Avenue, in Carlisle & Brooks’ section of park lots 34 and 35 for $1800.” This was located between John R and Woodward. In May 1875, Gray and others from the street petitioned the city council to pave Forest Ave east between those two streets.

In the June 10, 1880 census, John was 39 and still a confectioner. Anna, his wife, was 40 and sick with “female weakness.” Philip, Paul, and David were 14, 12, and 10 and all attended school. Their daughter Alice was 4. Anna’s 2 sisters Sarah and Emma were living with them. Sarah was 28 and a schoolteacher. Emma was 29 and was “at home.” The servant Mary Wilson, aged 29, was still working for them. They also had another female servant, 24-year-old Anna Taylor and a 21-year-old coachman named Theodore Bear. By the 1900 U.S. census, Gray’s kids were out of the house. He (aged 58), his wife Anna (aged 59), and sisters-in-law Sarah (aged 48, private teacher) and Emma (aged 49, stenographer) were living at 41 E. Forest with servants Bertha Dufke and Margaret Wren.

Detroit Free Press, August 12, 1883. On 10/18/1882, the newspaper covered the St. Louis Excursion Train taken by the Grays and the Linn’s, starting from Detroit, stopping in Adrian, and traveling on to St. Louis.

John Gray was very involved in the philanthropic, spiritual, and intellectual life of Detroit society. As early as 1875, Gray was elected president of the Literary Society of the Church of Christ on Plum Street, along with James Gourlay as vice-president and A. L. Gourlay as secretary (Detroit Free Press, 10/9/1875). In 1884, John was elected as a deacon of Plum Street Church of Christ, along with C. Lorman, W.F. Linn, A.A. Trout, and James Gourlay. His brother-in-law Walter Sanderson was elected elder at the same time. In February 1892, Gray was appointed treasurer of the Russian Family Relief Fund created by the governor (Detroit Free Press, 2/27/1892). At the same time, he was the president of the Merchants’ and Manufacturers’ Exchange of Detroit. In 1894, Gray was on the executive committee of the Wayne County Bible Society (Detroit Free Press, 3/7/1894). In January 1895, John Gray was elected president of the German-American Bank of Detroit. In December 1896, he was elected as a member of the Board of Library Commissioners of the Detroit Public Library for a 6-year-term, and in February 1900 was elected president of the board. He was also a member of the Detroit Archaeological Society, becoming its president in January 1905.

In 1903, Gray sold his company Gray, Toynton & Fox to the National Candy Company and became its vice-president. Also in 1903, Gray’s involvement in the future Ford Motor Company began. Alexander Malcomson, a business associate of and in debt to Gray, asked him to invest in a company being formed by Henry Ford. Many sources claim that Gray was Malcomson’s uncle, but I have been unable to find the original source of this, nor any vital records or documents proving it. According to Boyd, Gray thought this investment was “asinine folly” (p. 326). John met with Ford and agreed to invest $10,500 with the option to back out with full reimbursement (from Malcomson) within a year. Since he invested the most cash, John was made President of the Ford Motor Company, which was incorporated on June 16, 1903. Other investors besides Ford and Malcomson were James Couzens, Albert Strelow, the Dodge Brothers, John W. Anderson, Horace H. Rackham, Vernon Fry, Charles Bennett, and Charles J. Woodall. Most had some connection to Malcomson. Within a few years, Malcomson and Ford fell out over the direction of the company (high-end vehicles vs. vehicles for the masses), and Malcomson sold out his shares to Ford in May 1906. More about the early years in the Ford Motor Company will be in another post.

Detroit Free Press, Feb. 12, 1905. They often traveled to California for Gray’s health. Gray and his wife Anna traveled extensively in Europe as well. In 1896, the Grays had even been in Athens for the Olympic Games.

The Gray’s seem to have made annual trips to California during Michigan winters for John’s health. He often had heart trouble. In February 1906, in Los Angeles, John suffered an attack. They stayed there for nearly two months. When he was planning to return home in April, his doctor advised against it “saying that the least excitement would kill [him].” They later headed for San Francisco, but stopped at Pacific Grove (about 115 miles south of San Francisco) for a visit. They stayed there on the night of April 17 instead of moving on. This was fortunate for them because around 5 AM on April 18, San Francisco was hit by a 7.9 magnitude earthquake. On April 19, 1906, the Detroit Free Press reported that the couple was due to arrive in San Francisco on the evening of the 17th and “their friends are greatly alarmed and fear that the tour took them to the city just in time for the disaster.”

Detroit Free Press, April 27, 1906

In the May 7, 1906 issue, the Detroit Free Press ran a narrative by Gray describing what happened. In Pacific Grove, “the shock was very severe” but “the place is small and the buildings are nearly all of frame construction, so that the property loss was comparatively small.” They had to wait a week for the railroad tracks to be fixed, but eventually they reached Oakland after a 13 hour trip (which usually took 3 hours). He stated, “The trains and stations were filled with wouned and poverty-stricken people.” The Gray’s made it back to Detroit by early May. John died due to his heart trouble on July 6, 1906, likely exacerbated by his California adventure. John left behind his wife Anna and four adult children, 1) Philip Hayward, who pursued a career in insurance and stayed with the Central Christian Church. He funded a dormitory at Hiram College, 2) Paul Robert, represented the Gray Estate in Ford Motor Company along with his brother David. Paul stayed with the Plum Street Church of Christ. He funded the building of Fairview Church of Christ and donated $50,000 to Freed-Hardeman College, 3) David, who was a member of the Ford Motor Company board in 1913. In 1919, Ford bought out all other investors, and the Gray heirs received $26,250,000 from their father’s 1903 investment of $10,500, and 4) Alice, wife of William R. Kales of the Whitehead & Kales Iron Works.

Gray’s funeral took place July 9, 1906 at the Plum Street Church of Christ. William D. Campbell conducted the service, G.G. Taylor delivered the prayer, and Charles Loos pronounced the benediction. James Gourlay directed the choir. Pallbearers included Vernon Fry, Alexander Malcomson, William G. Malcomson, and Charles Gourlay, among others. Henry Ford was an honorary pallbearer. Gray was buried at Woodmere Cemetery. On the day of the funeral, the Detroit Public Library and its branches were closed until 11:30 out of respect for Gray.

According to a brochure produced by the Detroit Public Library in 1914, the John S. Gray branch of the Detroit Public Library was built in 1906 and remodeled in 1913. It was built at the corner of Field and Agnes Streets and designed by architects William G. Malcomson and William E. Higginbotham. Other photographs of the interior of the branch from the early 20th century are here. 2015 photographs from a Detroit urban explorer are at this website. The portrait above the fireplace was unveiled at the library’s rededication in 1914.

Children’s Room at the John S. Gray Branch, 1914 (portrait of Gray above fireplace). From Burton Historical Collection at DPL


Plum Street Series

Beginnings of the Church of Christ/Disciples of Christ/Christian Church in Detroit


Thomas Hawley (originally Scotch Baptist) and his family, including son Richard, had come to the United States in 1815. Between 1815 and 1835, they lived in Cambridge, MA, Germantown, PA, Wheeling, WV, and Cleveland, OH. In 1835, Alexander Campbell preached at the Cleveland courthouse. The next year, Richard was baptized. Thomas and the family (except for Richard) joined the Disciples of Christ. In 1840, they moved to Detroit.

Meanwhile in Scotland in 1838, Philip C. Gray, also Scotch Baptist, joined with others in Edinburgh to start a congregation. He had been influenced by Alexander Campbell’s writings in the Millennial Harbinger. In the same year in Paisley, Alexander Linn and his sister Caroline became friends with Helen Lambie and began attending services at the Methodist church with Helen. In 1839, Alexander Linn became a member of the Scotch Baptist church because they didn’t sprinkle for baptism and didn’t require belief in Calvinist doctrine. The whole Linn family also joined. In 1840, however, Caroline Linn joined with the Disciples of Christ meeting in Glasgow (Colin Campbell was already meeting with them).

In Fall 1841, six Hawley family members started meeting for worship at Thomas Hawley’s home in Detroit. Alexander Linn, now married to Helen Lambie, and his sister Caroline, now married to Colin Campbell, arrived in Detroit in 1842 and began meeting with the Hawley family. Their parents William and Jean (Ralston) Linn also moved to Detroit and joined. In 1843, Thomas Hawley’s son Richard settled in Detroit with his own family. Between 1844 and 1853, the congregation meeting at the Hawley home moved to a few different places – a schoolhouse on the corner of Randolph and Congress streets, Fireman’s Hall on Woodward between Congress and Larned, and the Detroit Institute on Jefferson near Antoine.

Meanwhile in 1849, the Gray family settled in Wisconsin.


In 1853, Thomas Hawley’s wife Rebecca died and he returned to England the next year. Also in 1854, Charles A. Lorman was baptized by Alexander Linn. The church moved to the Detroit Court House, east of Campus Martius. Isaac Errett, leader of the so-called “New Interest,” visited and preached in Detroit often. He was a big influence on Colin Campbell and Richard Hawley. The “New Interest” group supported instrumental music in worship, missionary societies, and some other ideas that other members disagreed with. In the spring of 1856, the congregation bought a lot on the southwest corner of Miami Avenue and State Street, and Hawley and Campbell were appointed trustees. The building, however, was never built, perhaps due to the friction between the congregation and Campbell and Hawley. The group continued to meet at the Court House until the Spring of 1863. In 1857, Philip C. Gray and his family moved to Detroit from Wisconsin. On December 24, 1858, Alexander Linn’s sister Janet married Charles Lorman. In 1859, Walter and Isabella (Gray) Sanderson also moved to Detroit, and John S. Gray joined the church.


In 1862, Richard Hawley, Colin Campbell, and fourteen others withdrew from the congregation meeting at the Court House and started meeting independently at a building on the corner of Jefferson and Beaubien. They adopted Isaac Errett’s “Synopsis of Faith and Practice” as their by-laws. This seemed a lot like a creed to the Linns and other men in the other congregation. In Spring 1863, the Court House congregation bought and moved into the old Tabernacle Baptist Meetinghouse on the north side of Howard Street between 2nd and 3rd streets. They call themselves the Howard Street Church of Christ, Charles Lorman, Philip C. Gray, Alexander Linn and 2 others were chosen as trustees. In 1865, Errett left Detroit for Cleveland to start the journal “Christian Standard.” He left W.T. Moore in charge who wanted to repair the rift between the congregations. In October of that year, the two groups met at Howard Street and adopted resolutions for merging (Walter Sanderson, P.C. Gray’s son-in-law, was the secretary at the meeting). On November 16, 1865, the churches joined together for worship again at the Jefferson and Beaubien building. The organ was used even though the Howard Street people didn’t want to. In 1866-1867, Moore left for Kentucky and a man named Hobbs was voted to replace him (Hobbs was called Pastor, another problem to the Linn group). The group tried to elect officers again (which had failed in 1865). Hawley and Campbell nominated each other for elders, as well as Alexander Linn and four others for deacons. Alexander protested the whole thing and withdrew his name. Hawley and Campbell were elected as elders, and P.C. Gray, Charles Lorman, and two others were elected as deacons. Lorman and Gray declined since they hadn’t received a majority vote. Alexander lead protests so often that Hawley and Campbell charged him with unruly and disorderly conduct and considered excluding him from the congregation. Hobbs resigned and a man named Berry replaced him. Alexander Linn resigned his membership, and Hawley and his family and some others withdrew and began another “faction.” There were now 3 groups: the Howard Street group (Linn), the original “new interest” group (Campbell), and the new “new interest group (Hawley).” Charles Lorman, Linn’s brother-in-law, opposed Campbell and Berry about by-laws and 19 members sign a petition. Campbell and his clerk son, John M.L. Campbell, sent a letter out that upset many. Finally, on December 15, 1867, Berry and Campbell excommunicated 11 of the 19 petition signers, including Helen Linn (Alexander’s wife), Philip C. Gray and his wife Amelia, Charles Lorman, and Walter Sanderson and his wife. Starting in 1868, Colin Campbell’s group met at St. Andrew’s Hall on Woodward and State street for awhile. Eventually Campbell’s group and Hawley’s group combined and met at 41 Washington Avenue until 1884 as the Central Christian Church. In January 1868, Linn and Lorman’s group started meeting at the Detroit Ice Company (owned by Lorman) while they sold the Howard Street property. In February 1868, the Church of Christ bought two lots at the southwest corner of Fourth and Plum streets for $1800. They formed a committee to build a meeting house for $2000. During construction, the congregation met at the Celtic Historical Society Hall on Michigan Avenue and Cass. Their first service at Fourth and Plum was on July 26, 1868, with Alexander Linn preaching about “The aims of the church in maintaining a distinctive existence” and Philip C. Gray presiding over the Lord’s Supper. On August 9, James and Jean Gourlay placed membership and by September 6, there were sixty members.

Meeting – The Disciples of Christ meeting on the corner of Fourth and Plum streets, hold public worship on Lord’s Day morning at the usual hour and at 3 1/2 o’clock in the afternoon. Bren, Black and Beatty, of Toronto, Ontario, will address the meeting on this occasion. A cordial invitation is extended to all.

Detroit Free Press, August 23, 1868

From the Burton Historical Collection at Detroit Public Library: “Disciples of Christ Church (Christian), 4th & Plum St., 1882”. Prior to 1906, the terms “Disciples of Christ” and “Church of Christ” were interchangeable.


Christian Church
In 1871, Colin and Caroline (Linn) Campbell founded the Orchard Lake Community Church for a summer chapel (Colin had bought Apple Island in 1856 for $3050). Its original building was dedicated on July 18, 1874. In the 1879 Detroit City Directory, Colin Campbell’s church was named the Central Christian Church and was located at Washington Avenue between State and Grand River with Colin Campbell and Asa Sears as elders. Colin Campbell died in September 1883. In 1884, the church moved to Second and Ledyard Streets.

The Christian Church on Washington Avenue. From the Burton Historical Collection at Detroit Public Library. This photo was owned by Colin Campbell’s daughter who inscribed on the back, “Father and Uncle Thomas Linn bought this building from the Scotch Presbyterian Church and paid for its removal from the eastern side of Woodward Ave. to its site on Washington Blvd. This was before 1870 or about that time.”

Church of Christ
In 1871-1873, the church on Plum Street held several multi-day meetings and raised money for various causes like the victims of the fire in the Thumb in 1871 and an 1873 yellow fever epidemic in Memphis. In the 1879 Detroit City Directory, the Plum Street church was referred to as the Disciples of Christ at the corner of 4th and Plum with elders A. Linn and P.C. Gray. At Plum Street, Philip C. Gray served as an elder from 1875-1892, while Alexander served as one from 1875-1882. Walter Sanderson was an elder from 1880 until his death in 1888. In December 1882, a committee including Lorman, J.S. Gray, James Gourlay, W.F. Linn, W.G. Malcomson, A.A. Trout (Alexander Linn’s son-in-law) and James Sanderson was formed to buy a lot at 14th and Ash Streets and build a meeting house. The first service at 14th and Ash occurred on May 6, 1883. Alexander A. Trout was appointed the leader there with W.G. Malcomson and James Sanderson as his assistants (these appointments apparently lasted a year).

Note on back: “Mission Chapel – Disciples of Christ, 14th Ave & Ash St., 1883.” From the Burton Historical Collection at Detroit Public Library.

In 1885, Ella F. Linn (daughter-in-law of Alexander Linn) started a Sunday school between Fort and Dix in a store building on what is now W. Vernor near Lansing Ave. Sarah Malcomson (Alexander Malcomson’s wife) helped her. In 1887, the church bought a lot at Vinewood and Dix for $3250. This new congregation grew to 100 members. Alex Y. Malcomson was an early member at Vinewood. In 1888, both Alexander Trout and Walter Sanderson died.

Vinewood Church of Christ, c1900, during building updates. From


In 1891, Plum Street hired W. D. Campbell as their full-time preacher. Many members at 14th and Ash left to help at Vinewood and also to go back to Plum Street because they liked W.D. Campbell. After 10 years, the 14th and Ash mission was abandoned. In 1894, W. D. Campbell baptized Otoshige Fujimori at Plum Street. In 1898, Fujimori started a mission in Takahagi, Japan. John S. Gray paid half the balance for the purchase of the land. On December 26, 1905, there was a celebration of the anniversary of the Bible school of the Plum Street Church of Christ and architect W.G. Malcomson was the school’s superintendent. Also in 1895, Plum Street established a Cameron Avenue mission. After meeting in various places, John S. Gray paid to build a meetinghouse for that congregation on a lot at Clay and Cameron Avenues. The first service was held on June 7, 1903. Gray’s death on July 6, 1906 was a “severe blow to church efforts.” (Boyd, 112).


On August 1, 1912, Claud F. Witty became the preacher at Plum Street. In 1914-1916, the Fairview Church of Christ began by meeting in a remodeled dwelling at the northwest corner of Waterloo and Lemay Avenues in a section of Detroit called Fairview. In 1916, John S. Gray’s son Paul Robert Gray contributed the money for Fairview’s permanent building (Fairview later became Lemay). In 1918, the Plum Street congregation moved to Hamilton and Tuxedo to land donated by Vernon C. Fry. Then, according to a history of the Westside Central Church of Christ written by Claud Witty,

…an evil hour came upon us… . Upon hearing of this move, Brother A. Y. Malcomson, one of the Plum Street members, decided to take over the building on Plum Street and assemble another congregation, which would retain the historic name of “Plum Street Church of Christ”… . His first move was to employ Fred Cowan…as the minister. The second move was to go before the Cameron Avenue congregation… .

Malcomson went before Cameron Avenue to offer Cowan as preacher (supported financially by Malcomson). A church in Harlan, Kentucky church sent out a call for help and Malcomson asked the Wittys if they would go and he would pay their expenses. While they were gone, Malcomson wanted to combine the Gratiot Avenue mission and the Cameron Avenue church under Cowan. Some agreed and some didn’t. Malcomson sent two of his trucks to the Warren Avenue church (which became Westside Central) to load up their furniture and returned their key to the owner, without the congregation or Witty’s knowledge. His plan was to combine the enlarged Cameron Avenue church with the new congregation on Plum Street, as well as the Warren Avenue congregation.

The final move was to close the Warren Avenue church, as well as Gratiot Avenue and Cameron Avenue. This would make the new congregation consist of a goodly number of the Plum Street members, many from Vinewood, all from Warren Avenue, all from Cameron Avenue, and all from Gratiot Avenue… . Leading members were invited to the home of Brother Malcomson on different occasions for secret meetings.

The plan was not very successful. Twenty-three members of Warren Avenue did go over to the new congregation, but the congregation as a whole did not. This also happened at Cameron Avenue. In fact,

…many of the members, including all that went from Warren Avenue and Brother Malcomson himself withdrew from the effort and Brother Cowan and those loyal to him went in a body to the Central Christian Church, where Brother Cowan was made co-pastor with Edgar DeWitt Jones.

In 1925, the Central Christian Church and the Woodward Avenue Christian Church merged.

A final congregation I wanted to discuss is the Dearborn Church of Christ, which I have some personal connections to. The group first gathered on August 4, 1929 at the Robert Oakman school. W.G. Malcomson spoke at the service. In 1930, they bought lots at the corner of Chase Road and Gould and a temporary building paid for by Vernon C. Fry was put there.

Dearborn Church of Christ building from 1930-1937
– from

On November 13, 1936, ground was broken for a permanent Dearborn building designed by W.G. Malcomson. The building was not completed until 1942, but they occupied the basement beginning on August 5, 1937.

Dearborn Church of Christ building and congregation in June 1942. The building was designed by W. G. Malcomson. From


Plum Street Series

Plum Street and the Ford Motor Company

Sometimes I like to take little side adventures into the family histories of people that aren’t related to me at all. Through my work at Rochester University and their “Michigan Churches of Christ” collection, I became acquainted with John S. Gray and Alexander Malcomson – two men who helped Henry Ford found his company in 1903 and who were members of the church of Christ. In trying to connect Gray and Malcomson genealogically (various sources mention that Malcomson was Gray’s nephew), I created a family tree. As the tree grew more and more, their connection to the Plum Street Church of Christ and the Ford Motor Company (though not the uncle/nephew connection) grew clearer. Many of the prominent businessmen of the day attended Plum Street and its associated congregations, and married women from other prominent families in the city that also attended. Individually, these families contributed to the business scene of the city, but through marriages they solidified their social status. Hopefully this series will show the fascinating interconnectedness between the families belonging to what became the Plum Street church of Christ and the involvement of these families in the social and business life of the City of Detroit, not only with Ford Motor Company, but also with ice and coal companies, general stores, and the great architecture firm of Malcomson & Higginbotham.

Topics I hope to cover in this series: