Charles Trombly/Beaubien House
Michigan Chapter of the American Institute of Architects

553 East Jefferson Avenue in downtown Detroit just across Jefferson from
the Renaissance Center

The Eminem movie, Eight Mile, presented a realistic view of a gritty industrial Detroit. But in this city there are also exceptionally beautiful homes and buildings—some of them constructed decades before MIT and Ecole des Beaux Arts started credentialing architects.

This is known as the Beaubien Home, although no Beaubiens lived here.  In the early 1700s in France, Marie Catherine Trotier de Beaubien, the widow of Jean Cuillerier, married François Marie Pecoté de Belestre.  The French king appointed him Governor of Detroit in about 1720.  The children from this marriage, following the French tradition of that era, used as their surname Beaubien dit Cuillerier.  One of their children, known as Jean Baptist Beaubien, obtained a grant from the French crown for a ribbon farm on May 30, 1745.  The farm included a one-quarter mile stretch of the riverfront and then continued inland for three miles.  The home you see is located on the land of that farm.  Jean Baptist Beaubien died in 1793.  His two sons, Lambert and Antoine, inherited the property and they divided it.  One property line of the divided farm is now Beaubien Street and another is named after Antoine's patron saint.

Shortly before his death in 1850, Antoine Beaubien sold the property on which this house sits to a cousin, Charles Trombly, for $2,000.  Trombly had the home you see constructed in 1851 for himself and the woman he married, Elizabeth Knaggs. Surprisingly, this is somewhat of a development or tract home.  The name of the architect or builder is unknown to me.  However, he apparently built 15 other similar homes in this downtown area of Detroit in the 1850s.  The Beaubien or Trombly home is the only one that survives.

This is one of fewer than two dozen buildings in Detroit that survive from the pre-Civil War era.  It is a brick home built upon a substantial fieldstone foundation.  This home, similar to the 15 others constructed at about the same time, is an Italianate townhouse.  There is a full basement.  The first floor includes a parlor with a marble fireplace and two smaller rooms, one of them a dining room.  There are only two rooms on the second floor: a sitting room and a bedroom.  The third floor also has two rooms that might have been used as bedrooms for children or a living space for a servant.  By the standards of its time, this is a home for a prosperous family, but is not a mansion.  A mansion would have included a library room and, perhaps, a room or rooms for music.  To minimize the risk of fire, the kitchen was an attached structure to the rear of a home such as this one.

This home was used as a residence from its construction until the late 1960s or 1970s when it was converted to offices.  In 1977, the Detroit chapter of the American Institute of Architects and the Michigan Society of Architects rented the home.  Later they refurbished it to its original status. 

This home is a very attractive reminder of the homes prosperous Detroit residents built for their families in the city's pre-industrial era.  There are a few other examples of such homes within walking distance, including the Alexander Chapoton home at 511 Beaubien, and the Christopher and Emily Cicotte Moross home at 1406 East Jefferson.  The residential structure to the left of the Beaubien home at 547-549 East Jefferson with the impressive bay windows is known as the Double House and was built in about 1876.

Architect and builder: Unknown
Architectural style: Italianate townhouse
Date of Completion: 1851
Building Material: Red brick
Use in 2009: Offices of the Detroit Chapter of the American Institute or Architects and the Michigan Society of Architects.
City of Detroit Designated Historic District: Not Listed
Michigan Register of Historic Sites: P25266, Listed August 15, 1975
National Register of Historic Sites: Listed: August 13, 1979
Photo: Ren Farley, October 2002
Description updated: February 15, 2009


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