Brush with history

May 4, 2005 at 12:00 am

At first, the Abandoned Structure Squad gave this roofless wonder at 205 Alfred St., in Brush Park, our usual treatment — a few angry quotes from neighbors here, some sarcastic commentary there. In this town, we thought, there’s nothing all that remarkable about a beautiful mansion fallen into ruin.

We were wrong.

“The history of this house is unbelievable,” says Detroit-area expat John Kossik. Now living in Seattle, he returned home for a visit last year, saw the place while touring Brush Park, and became captivated by this skeleton he found there. So captivated, in fact, he decided to write a book about the place.

Kossik began his research and a Web log to document it ( According to the site, the house was built in 1876. Near-famous architect Henry T. Brush designed what came to be known as the Ransom Gillis house. “I don’t know why it’s called that,” Kossik says. “The Gillis family never lived there. They lived next door.”

In 1903, Kossik says, the now-demolished stable behind the home housed the headquarters of the new business being forged by Mary Chase Perry and Horace Caulkins — Pewabic Pottery.

In the 1920s, the wealthy residents of Brush Park began to move out. The Ransom Gillis house, like many of its neighbors, became a boarding house, with secretaries and autoworkers renting rooms there.

In the ’40s, a small grocery store took over the first floor, which explains the faded detergent ad painted on the west wall. This is where the picture begins to get a little fuzzier.

Kossik estimates that the house was vacated sometime before the early ’70’s, when its last active owners held the deed. He’s tried to find the owners’ surviving family, but has not yet had any luck.

Nowadays, for better or worse, this eyesore of a landmark is on the city’s emergency demolition list. It’s been there for the last 14 years.

Editor’s note: If you know of an abandoned home you would like to see featured in this spot, send a photo and pertinent information to News Hits, c/o Metro Times, 733 St. Antoine, Detroit, MI 48226 (or e-mail [email protected]).

Check out all of our Abandoned Shelters of the Week

Send comments to [email protected]