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Eloise, Michigan: A Brief History




The history of Eloise actually begins in Detroit where a vote of the people on March 8, 1832, under the name of Wayne County Poor House, named the institution County House Infirmary. It was then located on Gratiot and Mt Elliott Avenues. After the county purchased The Black Horse Tavern, a Detroit-Chicago Stagecoach stop in 1839. This became the location of the second County Poor House. Of the 146 people living in the original Poor House, only 35 transferred to the new location. The other 111 refused to go into what was than mostly wilderness. Eloise is often referred to as Eloise Sanatorium, Eloise Hospital or even The Crazy Hospital. The Sanatorium was applied when the hospital opened a out-door treatment center for tubercular patients. The name Eloise Hospital was adopted by the Board of Superintendents of the Poor on August 18, 1911. It would later become, again, The Wayne County Asylum. The term "Eloise" was originally used because the United States Government set the Post Office located in the general office building and it was named Eloise. Later the name Eloise was applied to the Michigan Central Railroad depot here, the American Express Company located here, and the Detroit, Ypsilanti & Ann Arbor road, all became known with the name Eloise attached.

By 1880 the Institution Consisted of two main buildings, the Third County House, the Wayne County Asylum; and a barnyard was situated between the two buildings. The picture above illusrtates the appearance of the complex at that time.

But Why Eloise?

Prior to the year 1894, there were no post offices, express offices, or railroad offices, located at any institutions. This slowed deliveries in the Wayne, Westland, and Detroit areas and the Superintendent motioned for a post office located at the County House May 1, 1894. The Postmaster General at that time, approved for the location, however to avoid any annoyance to his Department, he established the order that all newly established post offices would have only short names, or names of one word, and none could resemble closely to any other within the State. Freeman B. Dickerson, recent postmaster of Detroit, was then President of the Board. He was largely responsible for getting the new County House Center built and was very interested in the establishment of the post office. His only living child, a daughter who was four years old was called Eloise. Members of the Board submitted the name Eloise, which was than sent to Washington and approved. On July 20, 1894, the post office was established under the name Eloise. (Eloise Dickerson, later married and became the wife of Harlow N. Davock of Detroit. She died in 1982 at the age of 93.)

Eloise evolved over time and expanded and by the 1930's there were 78 building on almost 1,000 acres of land. It was a self-sufficent community within Westland Township. It had it's own dairy farm, piggery (or pig farm), greenhouses, a fire department, power plants, bakeries, and its own Post Office. The main building called "N Building" was over 380,000 square feet and housed 7,000 indigent persons. Over 3,000 of them working throughout the large complex.


The photograph above was taken in 1893, whih shows for the first time the first artificial lake to the left; the new "F" Building in the extreme left; and to the right, the Asylum Building, the Adminstration and Chapel Building, the Third County House, the Carpenter's Shop and the County House Barn. In the foreground is the windmill and the pump house. Michigan Avenue appears as a one-lane dirt road transversing the Institution.

What Else did Eloise Have?

Eloise was not only a General Hospital and housing unit for the poor of Wayne County, but it is commonly referred to as the "Crazy Hospital." Eloise was a facility for mentally disturbed patients. In the small Eloise Museum located inside of the Kay Beard Building still standing on Michigan Avenue are artifacts including leather arm restraints. Eloise also had a section for a morgue. There is said to be 7,145 former Eloise residents buried in the old Eloise Cemetery, which is located on the South side of Michigan Avenue, just across from the Kay Beard Building. The last burial is said to have occured in January 1948.
The Keeper's residence had originally been located in the west end of the main building. However in 1865 it a new structure was approved to be built for the keeper and his family. The building was drawn up by James Anderson and built by Henry Metz by contract. The building had a frontage of 46 feet and was 37 feet wide and also two stories high. The first keeper to live here was A.L. Chase. This building was also used by the Board for meetings and office space, located on the second floor. The previous portion of the main building that had been used by the keeper and his family was turned into bedrooms, a dispensary, and nursery.

By 1876, there were buildings for the Insane Asylum. The name used for these buildings was the Third County House.

In 1839, there was also a school district with a school house located on the property. There were several children in the County House at the time it was first opened in Detroit who's parents had died from cholera, and the County House was their only home. In Section 52 of Chapter 2 of the Laws of 1838, it stated that the Superintendent of the Poor in every county were obligated to look after the education of all children between the ages of five and sixteen. Therefore a room was set aside and apart where the children would assemble for school. In 1859, an old building that had been used during a small pox epidemic, was made into a schoolhouse. The next year the Board erected a schoolhouse along Plank Road. Legislature later passed a bill stating that the Wayne County Farm, used for the benefit of the poor, would be named a school district, and should be numbered by the School Inspector of Nankin. This would later be named School District No 10 of Nankin, and entitled to the school money provided to all the other school districts. The first teacher here was Chloe Walker. She was replaced in October of 1862 by Harriet Chase. The building however was destroyed in a fire, and the school had to be run again from the main building. The Board elected to not erect a new schoolhouse located on the property as another was being built in the area. The children on Eloise property began to attend the State Public School in May of 1874. The number of children inside the community here outnumbered the limit to be excepted by the Public School and by 1880, they had to erect a separate school building . The last recorded money recieved for school purposed was in 1887. There were at times after 1887 that the State School could not take in the extra number of children from Eloise, and the Superintendent was in charge of educating those children that could not be placed or adopted out. The Board approved a $5,000 appropration for a seperate "cottage" to be used for the children. They were to be completely seperated from any of the inhabitants of the main hospital area. The cottage was never built because massive and quick steps were taken to place every child in other institutions. The State Public School and State Institutions were from then established to take care of these existing children and those that would become orphaned or outcast.

The schoolhouse built in 1880 was later used for special cases of male patients in the County House and later as a laundry for the Asylum. The building was located on the north side of Michigan Avenue at Merriman Road.

In 1825, the grounds in and around the Wayne County Poor House (or Eloise) were almost completely covered by trees of all types. Many of the older white oak trees stood over 130 feet high. These woods of course housed many wild animals such as fox, lynx, deer, bear, and wolves as well as other smaller animals and birds. Joseph Moss surveyed this property for the Government for the laying of Military Road. It would extend from Detroit to Chicago and was then an old Indian trail.

The Torbert family built a log house along this "road", cleared the land, and cultivated a small farm. In 1839, the County purchased the Torbert cabin, which Torbert had named and used as the Black Horse Tavern. They also purchased the 280 acres, four cows, a yoke of oxen, and vegetables seeds from Torbert to run a farm for the County. In June of 1840, 2 horses and a harness were added and that August, 3 plows, a fanning mill, and other farm tools were purchased. The first farm report to the County Commissioners produced the following:

600 bushels of corn, 35 bushels of beets, 180 bushels of rutabagas, 28 bushels of peas, 55 bushels of oats, 14 bushels of onions, and 2 bushels of pickles.

At the time the County purchased this property, there is said to have been 2 log buildings located north of the log house (or Black Horse Tavern). One was a barn and stable and the other was a shed for teams of animals. There is some indication that the shed would later become a mental health institution. The barn remained standing until 1886 and then was sold for its lumber and hay. In 1875 a grain barn was built south of the Michigan Central RailRoad, which was 56 feet long and 46 feet wide. Another barn was built in 1886 for hay, grain, stock, and other tools. It also had a horse and cow stable, and a wagon shed. This structure was 144 feet long and 36 feel wide. In 1886 an addition was added for a dairy, and a silo was added in 1904.

In 1896 the County built another barn northwest of the County House originally intended for use by the Asylum farm. In 1884 a new root cellar was constructed and was built between the bakery building and the gas house. It was 52 feet long and 20 feet wide and divided into seperate bins for vegetables and fruit. Another root cellar was built to house tubers in 1895. It stood on a small hill. It was torn down in 1922 to make room for a small street. In 1935, an underground root cellar was completed east of the farmhouse and South of Michigan Avenue. This was 40 feet wide and 100 feet long, housing almost 5,000 bushels of produce. A second underground root cellar was built in 1942.

At the beginning of the County House's existence, the farmers were the keepers. In 1842, T.T. Lyon was offered the position as keeper and farmer but claimed he would starve to death on the salary of $300 a year.

An investigative committee was formed during the Civil War period to establish the need and importance of the County House. The farm embraced 280 acres of land of which 180 were good for cultivation.

Another 60 acres were cleared, well-fenced, and useful for pasturage and 40 acres in timber land. They reported it to be a good arrangement for farming with a house and out buildings situated in the center on the south side of the Rouge River. The River was reported to be a valuable supply of water to the stock and to the house and washrooms. They also found, however, that the population of the paupers was not sufficient to run the entire farm and that renting or leasing out work on shares of the land would be advantageous. In short, the committee felt to take away any of the farm would injure the value of the surrounded community.

In 1872, they purchased 157 acres adjacent to the land which was owned by the Cady family for use of the Asylum. There were at this time two seperate keepers. One was the Keeper of the Asylum and one was the Keeper of the County House. There was a competitive feeling between the two Institutions and the Keeper of the Asylum felt there would be a more leveling of administration if this farm was placed under their direction. In 1893, Dr. E.O. Bennett took charge of the Asylum and the Cady Farmland was placed under his jurisdiciton. In 1897 a new wire fence was built around both farms and all fields, and a deep well was sunk as well as a windmill and large tank. The two farms remained seperate and distinct from one another for several years. It wasn't until 1908 when they discontinued this, and both became a single unit and remained so until the function of farmkeeper was discontinued in 1955.

Other additions and enlargements were made after the purchase of the Cady farmland. 2 henneries were constructed; a blacksmith shop was installed in 1915; and several piggeries were built. In 1889 a County piggery was built north of the County House barn, but had to be removed in 1913 to make room for a railroad trestle. In 1895 an Asylum piggery was built north of the Keepers residence, but was dismantled in 1917. Cement piggeries with also constructed in 1917, a half of a mile south of Michigan Avenue.

This panoramic view of the Institution was taken in 1907. It was taken opposite of the Administration and Chapel Building, with the Fourth County House and the County barn to the right; to the left are the Asylum Building and Building "F" and "G." The road in the immediate foreground leading to the farm area on the south side of Michigan Avenue was the forerunner of theroad which ran under the viaduct of the Michigan Central Railroad tracks.


When Did Eloise Become the Wayne County Psychiatric Hospital?

There was no distinction between the rational and the insane inmates in the County House until March 22, 1841. It was this date, that the first of five patients were registered as insane, her name was Bridget Hughes, an Irish immigrant. She remained a patient here until her death on March 8, 1895. It is likely that she is buried among the indigent in Eloise Cemetery.

During these first years, there was at least one and possibly two building located northeast of building "C". They were constructed to house the psychiatrically disturbed. The County House was at this time the home of the criminally insane who were sent from the Detroit House of Corrections. For several years, the County House was the only place for an asylum in the State of Michigan. The only division of patients in the County House was by sex. Other than that, babies, old men, the blind, as well as the insane, were all housed together.

Finally with the assistance of the Wayne County Board of Supervisors, insistant on legislation regarding the insane, an act was passed creating a State Asylum in 1848. The first asylum was planned on ten acres of land in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The County House never showed an interest in having a seperate psychiatric asylum on the property. However, they did continue to care for the insane and house them as best they could. In 1859, the Michigan Asylum in Kalamazoo was ready to receive a limited number of female patients. However, they indicated that only the "curable" patients would be housed here.

Over the years the number of insane people housed at the County Poor Farm increased until it was so intolerable that the Hospital Board, determined to make an effort to provide a seperate building for the insane patients, approved the establishment in 1867 of a seperate building.

In 1868, a two-story brick building was erected which was 42 feet long, 35 feet deep, with 57 feet of frontage. It was located 290 feet west of the Main County House. East and West wings were added in 1876 and in 1881 the management of the Asylum was transferred to a professional physician. Dr. E.O. Bennett and his wife were employed as Medical Superintendent and Matron. After serving 19 years Dr. Bennett retired, and was replaced by Dr. John J. Marker.

Marker's first act, was to erect a second Asylum Building. It was the year 1900.

In 1882, the population of the Asylum was 307 patients, 224 of them resident patients. In 1887, a special building was contructed which combined the insane wards, the adminstrative headquarters, and the chapel. In 1885, the State of Michigan passed a law for the insane which basically stated any insane person continuously housed by the county of two years or more would became a State charged patient thereafter. This law was amended in 1891, stating that any insane person committed by a judge could be commit directly to the Wayne County Asylum. However, none would be confined there, if there was room in the State Asylum. But the State Asylum, could return patients to the County when their beds were full.

There was a devasting fire in 1892 at the Eastern Michigan Asylum located in Ypsilanti, and a large number of patients were moved to Eloise. The following year was the purchase of the Cady farmland and a "Women's Building" was erected west of the First Asylum Building. Over the years there were additions, updates, and more buildings added to the Main Asylum area. By 1907, alcoholics and drug addicts were maintained in State and County Hospitals. The population in 1913 was 576, with an employment of 22 males and 44 female attendents. By 1923, the population had grown to 1,700 patients, and additional buildings were erected. The first in 1921, another in 1923 with a new dairy barn and enlargment of the power plant, one in 1925, one in 1928 and one in 1929.

The last psychiatric patient to leave Eloise was in 1979. Inside of the Kay Beard Building still standing on Eloise property is a small museum run by Frank Rembisz, the director of the Wayne County Office on Aging.

This view was taken in 1919, which shows Michigan Avenue paved for the first time, the enlargement of the artificial lake, the water tower behind "E" Building, the Power Plant smokestacks to the right behind "E" Building, and the trolley station just south of Michigan Avenue. The Asylum Laundry may be seen to the left between the Asylum Building and "F" Building. The double residence building also stands out. Part of the County barn may be seen through the two trees on the extreme right; the pumping station may be seen in the left foreground.

Written History Courtesy of : [ Wayne County, MI Local History and Genealogy ]

[ These pictures presented from "A History of the Wayne County Infirmary, Psychiatric, and General Hospital Complex at Eloise, Michigan" by Alvin C. Clark; pages 122-124.]