Saturday, June 9, 2012

"Brookby House" Residence of John W. Blodgett, Esq., East Grand Rapids, Michigan

"Brookby House" estate of John Wood Blodgett Sr. - East Grand Rapids, Michigan - Designed by Walker & Gillette with landscaping by the Olmsted Brothers.

In 1993 'The Brookby Estate: A Grand Design was held benefiting the Grand Rapids Symphony. Most of the text and color photos are from this time period. Other information as noted.

"Brookby House" under construction c. 1926.
Scaffolding covers most of the front of "Brookby House" except for the north wing which can be seen in the far right of the photo.
"Gibson's" was a local fine-dining establishment that provided the food during the event. 

This shows a view of south wing at the right with decorative leaded glass visible in the first-floor window. The entrance is partially hidden by scaffolding at the left. One workman is on the roof and several others are at the rear of the house on the right with a gentleman in a topcoat and hat. Wooden planks provide a walkway, and stacks of building materials are seen in front of the house as well as a draftman's bench for blueprints. 

Scaffolding covers the entire east side of "Brookby House" and a few workmen can be seen on the roof. The north wing of the house is at the right. A piece of equipment, possibly used for tilling, is at the left of the photo. 

The east side or rear of "Brookby House" that faced Fisk Lake. On the right is the north wing and on the left scaffolding covers part of the structure. 

The central entrance at the front of the house is reached by a circular drive. Decorative stone pillars topped with urns frame the entrance and the front of the estate is bordered with a wrought iron fence. The north wing which is balanced by the south wing is visible at the left of the photo. White shutters frame the windows. Taken 1980. 

In January 1928 John Wood Blodgett(financier, lumberman, and philanthropist) moved into his new home at 250 Plymouth SE. in East Grand Rapids, Michigan. Minnie Cumnock Blodgett, his wife(nationally known for her work in public health and welfare) had worked closely with architect Stewart Walker of the New York firm of Walker & Gillette, to design one of the finest examples of Georgian Revival architecture in the Midwest. 
Entrance front in 1993. Note the switch to black painted shutters.

The formal garden at "Brookby House" looking from the south toward the south wing of the house which has a roofed porch. The front entrance, at the left center of the photo, is hidden by foliage. A sundial can be seen in the garden at the lower left. Taken 1940.

Cut stone blocks line the brook that bisects the property. 

Named "Brookby House" by Mrs. Blodgett because of the small stream which runs through the site, the walled estate contains formal gardens and naturally kept grounds designed by the Olmstead Brothers. Scores of men were at work for months transforming the estate's eight acres into an established lawn and gardens. Seven large elm trees were transplanted onto the grounds during December 1926. The largest specimen, being hauled by five large trucks, measured 24" in diameter with a root ball weighing 30 tons. Several smaller maple trees were also transplanted. The use of these mature trees gave an immediate impression of age to the property. 
Mature landscape c. 1993. It took the Olmsted  Brothers eight years to complete project.
The Georgian style was imported from England to America by the colonists. The restoration of Colonial Williamsburg, the opening of the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the growth of an active movement in 
New England concerned with the preservation of colonial architecture inspired an interest in recreating this style across the country during the first two decades of this century. 

While the architectural statement made by the Georgian style is readily evident there are other design influences worthy of mention. The house has a few features reminiscent of Palladian lines from the French including Palladian windows, elegant limestone columns and elaborately 
carved pediment doorway, double wood entrance doors and leaded glass transom. 
Library - Note the cockleshell carving over "secret" door leading to Breakfast Room. Matching  door on opposite side led to the phone room.
The richness of a Queen Anne interior is hinted at in the library. The furniture-finished solid white pine paneled walls and hand carved pine cockleshell, which is set here within an arch, are typical. 

Mrs. Blodgett, working with New York interior designer, Miss Gheen, bought Georgian fireplace mantels, Georgian chandeliers and light fixtures, Chippendale and Hepplewhite furniture, tapestries, oriental rugs, antique fabrics, and English and Chinese accessories to create a setting which appeared to have been transported intact from colonial Virginia. 
Ladies Reception Room 
In a deviation from authenticity Mrs. Blodgett requested that, as for gentlemen, a ladies' room be constructed on the main level so that it would not be necessary for them to climb the stairs to the second floor. The ladies' receiving room, which included a small powder room, was given an oriental design. Three wall panels are from 18th century China and were painted by hand on silk before the invention of the printing press. 
Breakfast Room
Breakfast Room - Sunrise view overlooking the lawn down to the lake.
The breakfast room, which opens off a small serving kitchen, was rarely used. During the season when the weather was suitable for its use the family was at its Harbor Springs residence. 

When guests arrived for an extended visit it was commonplace for them to travel with several large trunks. The elevator was installed to facilitate moving those trunks to the guest rooms on the second floor.  

Unfortunately, Mrs. Blodgett was able to enjoy her beautiful home for only three years. She died unexpectedly while in New York in 1931. John Wood Blodgett lived on alone at Brookby until his death in 1951, when John Wood Blodgett, Jr. took up residence until his death in 1987. His widow, Edith, continued to make "Brookby  House"her home until 1988. Edith Blodgett recently passed away.

***When "Brookby House" was for sale(1987)  text from a sales brochure***
"Brookby House" 250 Plymouth SE East Grand Rapids, Michigan 
Arched gate opened to the main street. To the right of gate was a vegetable garden. In 1943 Mr. Blodgett's  Victory Garden was given top honors by the Michigan Horticultural Society.
THE John W. Blodgett Estate, "Brookby", listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is significant not only for its historic interest as the home of John W. Blodgett, Grand Rapids financier, but also as one of Michigan's outstanding monuments of Georgian Revival domestic architecture. 
Another view of the front entrance.

Compare this garden side view to the 1940 photo above. Gardens were well maintained throughout the decades.
Located on approximately eight fully landscaped acres on Fisk Lake, East Grand Rapids, and enclosed with a six-foot high brick wall, the site improvements, designed by Walker & Gillette, Architects of New York City, and built in 1927 by Owen Ames Kimball, includes: the English Palladian-styled Main Residence, three substantial all-brick Servants' Homes, a Tennis Court, and stone bridge over a stream running through the lakeside property, all of which is enhanced by open expanses of lawn, mature shade trees, ornamental plantings, and English style formal gardens. 
Beginning of brook for which "Brookby House" was named. Stone arched bridge designed by the Olmsted Brothers.
MAIN RESIDENCE: A two-story structure of monumental design and proportions (11,372sq. ft. finished living area), made of brick with limestone coping, and slate and copper roofing. 
View from terrace - Fisk Lake.

Looking west to the house.

A curved walkway from the garden to the lake allowed for a ever changing perspective of the house and landscaping.

From left to right - Library windows, Breakfast Room - Dining Room.  Scrolled ironwork frames a bedroom balcony above.
The lakeside front has open Veranda, limestone railing and ballisters, on the South facade is a covered porch overlooking the sculptured shrubs and gardens centered with a circular fountain area. 
Garden Plan. 

South Facade.

View to west.

Clipped hedges frame the formal garden.
***Walking thru the double entranced doorways you step into a dramatic 2-story hall. Behind you the stairway curves, ascending to the 2nd story hall.***  

Sketch showing entrance hall . 
Door at center opens to library. To the right is a men's cloak room with a  barrel-vaulted ceiling. 
Within, the 2-story dome-ceilinged Grand Foyer has a marble floor, elaborate ornamentation and a winding staircase with wrought iron rail. 

Decorative plaster-work, paint and gilding over door to living room. 

The space could be cleared and used as a ballroom.
The living room is huge. This alcove within it allowed for cozy conversations overlooking the lake. 
First Floor Rooms: DRAWING ROOM (25' x 40') with a five-sided alcove has a 13' ceiling, parquet flooring, ornate moldings, marble fireplace and crystal chandelier. French doors open to the South Veranda. 

Library. The purple curtains were lined with contrasting gold fabric.
LIBRARY (19' x 22') with wide pegged oak flooring, paneling of solid white pine, ceiling to floor wall shelving, marble-faced fireplace. A telephone room adjoins.

Ladies Reception Room  - Chinese mural reflected in the mirror.
LADIES RECEPTION ROOM/POWDER ROOM in an oriental motif with fireplace, hand painted mural and concealed door to half Bath and coat closet. A family cloak room with half Bath opens from the Foyer. 

Dining Room - One of the embedded Chinese lacquer screens can be seen in the background to the right.
DINING ROOM (22.5' x 27') has oak floor, marble fireplace, crystal chandelier and four scenic wall murals. (The D.R. wall sconces are reserved; the Chinese lacquer screen is included.) French doors open to the Garden Veranda, as does the nearby Breakfast Room with high ceiling and trellised interior. A Bar/Serving Room adjoins. 
Breakfast Room.

Butler's Pantry.
KITCHEN, original, large, divided into Butler's Pantry with glass doored cupboards, main food preparation area, pastry room with marble counter top, freezer-room and flower room. Servants' Lounge, Dining Room, Office and Bath. 

Trellised Service Porch.
An enclosed, windowed service porch opens to the private drive.
Master Bedroom.

Master bedroom spanned the whole of the 2nd-story's south wing with lake and garden views. 
Second Floor: Master Suite has two Bedrooms, each with fireplace and separate Bath and Dressing Room, with detailed wood cabinetry. 
During the showcase Mr. Blodgett's bedroom was turned into a office/study. Besides the tub in his private bathroom  there was a  beautifully tiled walk-in shower.
Family sleeping quarters also include three Guest Rooms, two with fireplaces, each with private Bath. Several furniture items in these areas are included. A Service Wing includes an Office, Linen/Sewing room, four small Bedrooms (each with lavatory) and a full Bath. 
A beautifully crafted cedar closet still perfumes the air. Mr. Blodgett's Gun Room was a private oasis for him were he was known to take target practice on the critters the crossed his lawn. Gorgeous varnished woodwork reminiscent of a camp with a unique urinal closet. 
Third Level: Full attic with poured concrete floor, large cedar closet, several enclosed storage rooms, and a handsomely finished Trophy Room with dormered alcove, beamed ceiling, closeted half bath. 
Boiler is the size of a boxcar. Other rooms on this level were for laundry and storage.
Full Basement: Unfinished, with windowed Utility Room, drying room, wine cellar, lavatory, various storage areas, boiler room and duct area. The boiler is new, gas fired, and the duct work services a humidifier system. A passenger elevator (Otis) with painted wood interior and brass accordion-style doors has automatic controls and stops on all floors. Walk-in, room-size safe. 

GATEKEEPER'S HOUSE: Trellised entrance - new asphalt 
roof. LR w/FP, DR w/French doors to screened Porch, Kitchen, 2 Bedrooms, Bath, UP: Studio Room.(not pictured) 
Chauffeur's home - Gardeners home.

CHAUFFEUR'S HOME: All brick, LR, DR, Kitchen, 2 stair- 
ways, 3 Bedrooms, 2 Baths (tile), hardwood floors. 

GARDENER'S HOME: LR w/FP, DR, Kitchen, 2 Bedrooms, 
Bath, Office or UR. (greenhouse originally attached to the Gardener's Home was dismantled and given to Windmill Island in Holland, Michigan by Mrs. Blodgett.)
7-car garage for Mr. Blodgett's Packards.
7-STALL GARAGE and equipment/tool area.  

Taxes; $30,000(1987) 
Assessed Valuation: $435,500 
Heat: $9,500(yearly)  
Price: $2,250,000 

The property languished on the market until 1993 when a fundraiser benefiting the Grand Rapids Symphony was held. Unique for a showcase house tour, designers were given the opportunity to select furniture and fabrics of their choice, carte blanche, from the entire Baker Furniture collection(valued at half-a-million). 

Purchased by Grand Rapids developer Sam Cummings, the outbuildings were separated from the main estate and now are private residences. After fourteen years at "Brookby House" Mr. Cummings donated property to Aquinas College

"Brookby House" at Wikimapia. 

Google Earth Street View

Finding Aid for the Blodgett Family Papers.

Click HERE - 1971 interview with John W. Blodgett Jr.

Blodgett Pool at Harvard.

ANOTHER post on "Brookby House".


  1. Can more be said on the talents of Walker & Gillette? I toured this property twice during the Grand Design open house. On my second visit I was asked if I would be interested in being a docent for one of the designers rooms. The living room had been claimed so I took the library. My main duty was to reset the video-disc for the latest album from Natalie Cole - the whole experience was "Unforgetable"

  2. HPHS -
    This is a great find! The entrance facade is perfect and the living room - so beautiful. & Floor Plans too! One thing I don't really like on the floor plan is the entrance to the breakfast room - either through the library or the service kitchen - doesn't seem ideal but I guess it's workable. Overall though this as a whole is unforgettable! Thanks.

  3. Same DNA as Frost Mill Lodge. I see it