An elementary school and boarding home for black women workers are among four Wayne County sites added to the National Register of Historic Places this summer.
The Samuel D. Holcomb School on the northwest side of Detroit, the Francis Harper Inn on the north end of Detroit and the First Congregational Church of Wyandotte were added to the registry in July. Immaculata High School and Convent on Detroit’s west side was added on August 1.
The Samuel D. Holcomb School opened in 1926. It is named after Dr. Samuel Drayton Holcomb, who was one of the first physicians to practice in Redford Township. The school was a single-storey 13-room building that housed a library and kindergarten while offering vocational and “domestic arts” courses to the community. Although Holcomb was constructed by the Redford Union School District, it became part of the Detroit Public Schools system shortly after it opened in 1926. It served as an elementary school for more than 80 years, but when Detroiters began to move out of town, it began Holcomb lost students, and DPS Schools closed the school in 2010.
Nearly a decade after its closure, in 2018 a $6 million renovation project aimed at transforming the school into a 32-unit senior residential co-op was announced. Construction was scheduled to begin in the summer of 2019, but the project never became a reality.
Now, a new redevelopment project is planned for Holcomb School. Communities First Inc., based in Flint, plans to redevelop the vacant school into 23 residential units for seniors, with an early childhood care development center set to occupy approximately 20,000 square feet of the building. Communities First Inc. Many of the redevelopment projects are in Flint, where they are based, and set up an office in Detroit about five to six years ago as the main base for the redevelopment project. It is the premier community redevelopment project in Detroit.
Glenn Wilson, CEO and co-founder of Communities First, said the Holcomb project is in its early stages.
“Right now, we’re going through the approval process, and we’re applying for some additional funding,” Wilson said. “We are only working on a capital package at the moment, so nothing is 100% certain but we are working on what we can do to get there.”
The Frances Harper Inn’s journey to the National Register of Historic Places began with a master’s degree project.
“When I retired, I went on to graduate school and got a master’s degree in general history from Wayne State, and that was my master’s project,” said Karin Yorgalit.
The lodge opened in 1915 and was run by the Christian Industrial Club, a women’s club in the Detroit Black. The club wanted to create a safe and clean place to stay for young black women who had come to Detroit to work during the Great Migration. Named after abolitionist and educator Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, the lodge housed about 10 women working in domestic jobs and the service industry in a two-and-a-half-story, Queen Anne-style structure built in 1893 as a single-family home. Over time, fewer residents stayed home as a result of the Great Depression and the influence of the sorority waned. The house was sold in 1963.
Karen Yorgalit said the Frances Harper Inn is of great importance to the history of the Detroit club and black women.
“The Frances Harbor Inn was the first home we could find for black women in Detroit,” she said. “The house marks an important milestone in the Detroit Black Women’s Club movement. It is a testament to the Black Women’s Clubs, their perseverance, and their willingness to help one another.”
The first congregational church in Wyandotte was organized on June 2, 1892, with 29 members. The establishment of the church began with a meeting held at Sylvester Bray’s residence on Tuesday to discuss what it would take to organize a collegiate church in the city. The church is of brick with a tiled roof, with a tower on the east side, and an entrance vestibule on the west side. The church continues worship and Sunday School on Sundays at 10:30 am
Immaculata High School and Convent was an all-girls Catholic high school. The school opened in 1941 and was run by the Sisters Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The three-storey school building is designed in a modern vernacular style with Art Deco influences and is clad in sand-coloured brick with some stone detailing. The convent is also a three storey building in the same style as the high school. Immaculata closed in 1983.
The high school building is now the primary school for Marygrove School. Marygrove officials say the building now represents the nation’s leading practice in student- and family-centered building design while still honoring the historic legacy of the 1940s building that once housed Immaculata High School and Bates Academy. It sat vacant for more than a decade before being refurbished.
The National Register of Historic Places is the official listing of preservation-worthy places in the country. Earning a spot on the list does not protect the building from demolition, but it does make certain redevelopment projects eligible for federal historic tax credits. To be considered for inclusion in the National Register, a property must generally be at least 50 years old and also be significant when appraised in relation to major historical events or trends in the history of a community, state, or nation.