10 of the Coolest Homes—with the Coolest Histories—in Michigan

By Elizabeth Jackson

May 8, 2023

MICHIGAN—The Mitten is best known for its natural beauty, sports culture, and automotive history. But the state is also home to a wealth of grand historic properties, ranging from stately mansions built by well-to-do industrialists to charming cottages along the shores of the Great Lakes.

These homes represent Michigan’s rich history and architectural heritage and offer a glimpse into the lives of some of the state’s most influential residents. From the opulent Meyer May House in Grand Rapids to the Alden B. Dow Home and Studio in Midland, Michigan’s historic homes are diverse in style, character, and the unique stories they tell.

Take a look at 10 of the grandest homes in Michigan with the coolest histories.

The Edsel and Eleanor Ford House

(https://www.fordhouse.org/)

Located in Grosse Pointe Shores, this stunning mansion was built in the 1920s by Edsel Ford, the son of Henry Ford. The property spans 87 acres and features beautiful gardens, fountains, and a reflecting pool. Edsel and his wife, Eleanor Ford, lived in the house with their four children. Edsel died in 1943 and Eleanor continued to live in the house until her death in 1976. The house was then donated to a non-profit organization, the Ford House, which operates the property as a museum and cultural center.

The Whitney Mansion

(http://detroithistorical.pastperfectonline.com/photo/464746CE-6324-4D6C-8441-751839473622)

Construction on this 21,000-square-foot mansion began in 1890 and concluded in 1894. The mansion was built by David Whitney Jr., one of Detroit’s most affluent citizens. Whitney Jr. lived in the mansion with his second wife, Sara, until he died in 1900. His family remained at the luxurious property for over 20 years following his death. In the early 1930s, the Wayne County Medical Society took up residence in the mansion. Roughly 10 years later, the Whitneys gave the Medical Society the mansion, and the Society remained there until the 1950s. During the 1980s, the home was converted into a fine-dining restaurant called The Whitney. The Whitney’s third floor is home to the Ghostbar. The lounge is named after the alleged ghost hauntings (reportedly by Whitney himself) at the property.

The James Scott Mansion

(https://www.apartmenthomeliving.com)

This castle-like home in Detroit was built in 1897 for James Scott, a wealthy bachelor and controversial figure whose father had been a real estate investor. Scott reportedly built the mansion to spite another property owner who refused to sell nearby land to him. Scott lived in the mansion for only a few years before his death in 1910. 15 years after his death, a memorial fountain was constructed in Scott’s honor in nearby Belle Isle, per his request and bequeathal of funds. The mansion was turned into a boarding house and a rooming house in later years before being abandoned for several decades. More recently, it was completely rehabbed and transformed into an apartment building with 26 units.

The Cranbrook House

(https://www.instagram.com/p/Ce4kFqrMGEa/)

Located in Bloomfield Hills, the Cranbrook House was occupied from 1908 to 1949 by George Gough Booth and his wife, Ellen Warren Booth (née Scripps). Ellen’s father, James Scripps, founded the Detroit News. The property includes 40 acres of gardens, woods, and lakes, in addition to the historic mansion. While residing at the property, the Booths, who advocated the growing arts and crafts movement, built six institutes on their land. They established the Cranbrook Foundation in 1944. After their deaths (Ellen in 1948 and George in 1949), the mansion went largely unused as the Foundation struggled to maintain the vast property. However, in the 1970s, the mansion experienced a renaissance thanks to the Cranbrook Educational Community, which still operates the Cranbrook House to this day.

The Alden B. Dow Home and Studio

(https://www.abdow.org/home-studio/)

This mid-century modern home in Midland was designed by architect Alden B. Dow for his family. The main house is an example of Dow’s distinctive style, which combines modernist design with traditional materials and motifs. The house features a variety of innovative elements, including a glass-walled living room and a circular fireplace. Dow lived in the home and studio for over 50 years until his death in 1983.

Meadow Brook Hall

(https://meadowbrookhall.org/history-at-the-hall/)

Located in Rochester, Michigan, Meadow Brook Hall was built between 1926 and 1929 for Matilda Dodge Wilson, the widow of John Dodge, who founded Dodge Motor Company. Matilda resided in the home until her death in 1967. The home includes 110 rooms spread across 88,000 square feet, making it one of the largest historic homes in the U.S. Meadow Brook Hall was designed to be opulent, with ornate details like Tiffany stained glass, elaborately carved stone and woodwork, and a dining room ceiling designed by noted sculptor Corrado Paducci.

The Meyer May House

(https://meyermayhouse.steelcase.com/)

Designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, this Grand Rapids home was built between 1908 and 1909 for businessman Meyer May. It features many of Wright’s signature design elements, including a cantilevered roof and art glass windows. The house is considered one of Wright’s most important Prairie-style designs, emphasizing horizontal lines and integration with the surrounding landscape. Today, the Meyer May House is one of the best-preserved examples of Wright’s Prairie style. It has been designated as both a Michigan State Historic Site and a national historic place.

The Schwarz Castle

(Valerie Bomberger, RE/MAX Harbor Country)

The Schwarz Castle is a unique home in Holland built in the 1890s. It was created by Michael Schwarz to resemble a feudal castle from his native Germany. The exterior includes a distinctive tower with a copper roof. Inside, Schwarz Castle is filled with ornate Victorian details and includes a large family room designed for Schwarz’s six daughters. Despite these personal touches, the Schwarz family only lived there for approximately two years before abandoning the castle, never to return. It’s said that the property partly inspired the castle in “The Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum.

Did you know that Michigan’s L. Frank Baum was called “Father Goose?”

The Henderson Castle

(https://hendersoncastle.com/about/)

This Kalamazoo mansion was built in 1895 by Frank Henderson, a wealthy businessman. Today, the castle is rumored to be haunted. There have been several reported sightings of ghostly figures in the mansion, including the ghost of a woman in a Victorian-style dress believed to be the apparition of Frank’s wife, Mary Henderson. The Southern Michigan ParaNormals have investigated the property several times over the years. Many members have reported sightings and audible paranormal activity on site.

The Grand Hotel

(https://www.grandhotel.com/our-story/galleries/history/)

This historic hotel on Mackinac Island has been welcoming guests since 1887. The hotel was originally built by the Michigan Central Railroad, the Detroit and Cleveland Steamship Navigation Company, and the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad as a summer retreat for wealthy travelers from Chicago, Detroit, and other cities. Over the years, the Grand Hotel has hosted several notable guests, including several U.S. presidents, Hollywood celebrities, and other famous individuals.

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