Thursday, December 4, 2014

Touring J.L.Hudson's Home

Following one of my J.L. Hudson Department Store presentations, a lady approached me and asked if I'd like to tour J.L. Hudson's home on East Boston Blvd. in Detroit. Of course I said yes.  It took a while to get the tour scheduled, but my hubby and I went yesterday at 11:00 a.m.

Before I share the photos, here's a little history of the house:  It was built in 1907 by one of the neighborhood owners and developers, Joseph R. McLaughlin.  The first owner was Alex Malcomson, an early business partner of Henry Ford.  He sold the house to J.L. Hudson in 1911. Unfortunately Mr. Hudson only got to reside in the house a short time before his death in July of 1912, but his nephew, Robert H. Tannahill, and his widowed, youngest sister, Eliza Hudson Clay, continued living in the huge house until they sold it in 1926.

The house was then sold to the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit, who currently own it.  Over the years it has been used by at least three different groups.  The Home Visitors of Mary have occupied it since 1998.  Sister Rosemarie Abate was our first floor tour guide.

~ Entrance to the neighborhood off Woodward Avenue ~

Second house from the corner.

~ 121 East Boston Blvd. ~

The first floor has a big entry way, library, large parlor, dining room, butler's pantry, kitchen and two 1/2 bathrooms [one was added after the Hudson family occupied the home]. Originally the house had six family bedrooms on the second and third floors, four of which Sister Rosemarie described as suites since they included sitting rooms, and four bathrooms, plus servant's quarters at the back of the house with private entrance and staircase. The sister's bedrooms and offices are on the upper floors, and weren't included in the tour.  The house has 10,000 square feet and Sister Rosemarie said she once counted 50 rooms.

The front door is a Dutch divided door.

There is a lot of beautiful hand-carved oak woodwork in the house, which my hubby thoroughly enjoyed seeing. The table below is in the entryway.  The door to the right on the lower landing, was the rear entrance.  It isn't accessible now [hence the plastic covering].

The staircase off the entryway, leading to the upstairs.  The arched doorway to the left is a small lounge/powder room.

~ Lounge/Powder Room ~

Pictured below are 12-foot leaded glass windows on the first floor staircase.  The stained glass picture of Christ was given to the Sisters, and is not original to the house.

Staircase leading up to the second floor.

One end of the entryway leads to the formal dining room.

The other end leads to the library which the Sisters currently use as their chapel for daily mass.

~ Library fireplace ~

~ Book cases in the library ~

Eleanor Clay, J.L. Hudson's niece, married Edsel Ford, son of  automobile magnate, Henry Ford. The couple were married in the Hudson home on November 2, 1916, in the library. Special guests included Thomas Edison and his wife.

Throughout the house are tiles from Detroit's historic Pewabic Pottery - such as the tiles surrounding the fireplace.

Pictured below is the formal dining room.  

Below is a built-in sideboard in the dining room.  The light fixture isn't original.

The door in the dining room leads to a solarium, which is also accessible from the parlor.

~ Solarium ~

Sister Rosemarie [pictured below] prepared tea and pastries for us to enjoy in the dining room.  She told us her mother used to work at J.L. Hudson's Department Store. I'm sure she never imagined her daughter would one day be a resident in his house!

~ Butler's pantry just off the dining room ~

Kitchen next to the butler's pantry.  The stove cut-out is original but the stove is obviously new. The kitchen was modernized when the Capuchin Franciscan Brothers occupied the house.

One end of the large parlor/living room.  There are huge pocket doors at each end to close it off from the entryway.

Other end of the parlor/living room.  The two doors on each side of the fireplace lead to the solarium.

Sister Rosemarie said the Franciscan Brothers removed the original parlor fireplace mantle and replaced it with the current one when they were residents. She found the original stored in the garage and called Du Mouchelles Art Galleries, and they took it.

Original coat hooks near the back entrance.

Pictured below is the first floor half-bathroom near the rear entrance which hasn't been altered. The upstairs bathrooms have all been brought up to handicap code because children with special needs occupied the house at one time.

~ Original sink and wall tile ~

 The original toilet is enclosed in a small room with original floor tiles. 

That concludes the inside tour.  Now for some outside photos.   In the back of the house is a four car garage that at one time accommodated the chauffeur in an apartment above the garage. The main access to the garage was from the alley behind the garage. Sister Rosemarie showed us the revolving tracks in the floor that rotated so the cars could drive out since early automobiles didn't have a reverse gear to back out.

 Rear photos of the house.  The large first floor bow window is the library.

Back entrance to the large veranda porch.

Front of the porch with elaborately carved columns with carved faces on the cornices.  There are two arches at the entrance with carved rope design ending in corbels.

Detroit no longer has J.L. Hudson's magnificent Woodard Avenue department store, but fortunately it still has his home!

Hudson's next door neighbor was the John Dodge family.  John Dodge and his brother Horace founded the Dodge Motor Car Company.  John had the home [below photo] built in 1906. He lived there with his three children who were born during his marriage to his first wife, Ivy. [Ivy died in 1902.] In 1907 he married Matilda Rausch, and they had three children.  It was an active household with six children. John died in 1920 and Matilda and the children continued living there until she sold it in 1923. Matilda married Alfred Wilson in 1925 and together they built Meadow Brook Hall. The Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit also owns the Dodge mansion.

The Home Visitors of Mary were established in 1949.  Their ministry is focused on Detroit African-Americans and Hispanics [adults and children], the economically poor, and the elderly.  They personally help needy people by visiting their homes, hence their name "Home Visitors."  Their group has never exceeded 20, and currently there are five sisters who reside in the Hudson home. They have visited Nigeria, and extended their ministry in that country.

Sister Rosemarie said they do a fundraiser every February/March to help finance their work in Nigeria.  I volunteered to coordinate a tea for them at the Hudson home.  Stay tuned for more information as it becomes available.


  1. Thank goodness for the archdiocese who has preserved so much of the city history. Interesting post. I never realized the Clay family had a connection to the Hudson's.

  2. What an incredible tour! So glad you had the opportunity to experience this and share it with us! (And wow, that woodwork is amazing. Just gorgeous!)

  3. I remember volunteering at the Summer Vacation Bible School held at Madonna. It was that summer I met Fr. Cunningham! I so admired Sr. Elizabeth, HVM, and Sister Frances. I remember we sewed stoles for the priests at St. Frances de Sales. My memory must be failing me, but I thought the Motherhouse was originally on Arden Park. I remember being invited there to lunch. It was there, I was certain I would join this beautiful and most giving religious order. I remember Mother advising me to attend 1yr in college, experience the world, and if my vocation was still strong, I could enter the following September. I never made it! Mother Superior was very wise and insightful. She had a nice way of letting me down easily, as she probably knew I would have been a rabble rouser of a Nun! (LOL). The Home Visitors of Mary will always be near and dear to me. Now that I know where the convent is, I may call one day to arrange a brief visit and leave a donation to their ministry.

  4. I'm a huge fan of Hudson's and, as it turns out, have a bit of a family connection I hope you can help me with. Family lore has it that my maternal great grandmother was the lady's maid for Eliza Clay. I read that Eliza moved to her brother's (JL Hudson's) home after the death of her husband. I'm glad to see that she stayed in the house until 1926, but I'm trying to find out if she ever lived with her daughter Eleanor and her husband Edsel Ford. My mother remembers her grandmother working for "Mrs. Clay" in the Ford mansion in Grosse Pointe, but I can only find records of Mrs. Clay living in the Boston Bldv home, the previous Hudson's homes on Woodward Ave., and then with a nephew (not Tannahill) on Iroquois in Indian Village. Woodward came before Boston Blvd., but Iroquois came quite a bit later, according to the 1940 census. Any idea if she ever lived with Eleanor and Edsel? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  5. Thanks for a wonderful journey back in time. I worked as a Psyc. Diagnostician at the Archdiocese Child Appraisal Center housed in this house 1976 -1977. Sister Mary Solanus Ufford was the Director. My office was on the second floor. It was a great experience. I also lived in the carriage house above the garage.

  6. This blog was... how do I say it? Relevant!!
    Finally I've found something that helped me. Thank you!


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