Over the Fourth of July weekend, a piece of Detroit history burned. A piece that a dedicated group of neighbors was trying to save.
On the evening of Sunday, July 3 the Nortown Community Development Corporation got a call that there was a fire at the Philetus W. Norris House at 17815 Mount Elliot in Detroit. It was heartbreaking for the group, as years of hard work and passion went up in flames for the people who were involved with trying to renovate historic the house.
“I’m heartbroken, and it is hard to see. It feels like a family member has died,” said Pat Bosch, the Nortown CDC Executive Director.
A little background. The house was built in 1873 and was the home of Colonel Philetus W. Norris. Before starting the Village of Norris he made a name for himself as a spy for the North in the Civil War.
He became the second superintendent of Yellowstone National Park in 1877. Norris was responsible for exploring the park and provided geographical maps of the park, hiring the first gamekeepers, and also built the first park headquarters at Mammoth Hot Springs.
The house was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. It was designated a city of Detroit historic district in 1995.
Before the fire occurred, Nortown CDC was in the process of taking bids for a new roof of what use to be the real estate office. They were also planning on having another fundraiser at the Two Way Inn to raise funds for a new roof on the main house – we reported previously about one they did last year.
It is still unclear if the fire was caused by fireworks and the dry conditions, or if the fire was an act of arson. Bosch said that the Detroit Fire Department had an arson investigation, but the results have not been released yet. We tried reaching out to the Detroit Fire Department for confirmation, but they did not get back to me as of this writing. No one was physically injured in the fire.
Bosch had a meeting with the City’s historic preservation department this afternoon, but they have not heard back from the Building, Safety, Engineering and Environmental Department so it is still unclear if they will have a selective demolition or if they will have to have a total demolition.
Nortown CDC is hoping that they will be able to save the portion of the house that was not destroyed by the fire. The foundation, north wall, east facade, staircase, living room and the real estate office are still standing.