One afternoon, while on the hunt for some of our Centennial Homes, I drove past this house. I actually had to pull over to admire it. From amazing architectural detail to a lawn so well-manicured that it could be in a magazine, it reminded me of the homes in Detroit’s Indian Village neighborhood (just scaled down in size). I knew by looking at it that it wasn’t quite old enough to be a centennial home. But something was drawing me to it.
fast forward a week…
“Hi Mac, this is Perry Smith, you left a note on my door inquiring about my house?” (that’s right – I have no shame. I’ve left Redford Twp Historical Commission letters on quite a few doors, but this is the first time I got a response!). A few minutes into the conversation he mentioned a name that left me speechless. So, as we wrapped things up, he invited me over to check out the house and ask all 1 billion questions that I had been dying to know the answer to.
You see, Perry is the great great nephew of Volney Smith – a familiar name in Redford history. But we’ll have to go back one more generation to get the full picture.
Smith Family Roots
Perry’s great great grandparents are William A Smith, born in 1815, & Almira Phillips, born in 1820. They were born in New York and had 5 children together: Mary Augusta, Marshall, Volney, Nathaniel, and Harriet Ann. William was the first Justice of the Peace for the Township in 1847 and served for 11 years. He later became the Township Supervisor. On the 1876 map, William is shown as the landowner of a 207 acre parcel immediately south of 7 Mile and east of Inkster, as well as a 48 acre parcel on the other side of 7 Mile. By the 1883 map, we see land being handed down to his children. Eighty acres of William’s 207 acre farm now belongs to his son Marshall. William’s entire parcel on the north side of 7 Mile, plus an additional 88 acres, now belongs to Volney. Nathaniel now owns 20 acres at the northeast corner of 7 Mile & Beech. And Mary Augusta owns just over 77 acres to the northwest of Volney’s property.
The family line from William A. to Perry is as follows:
William had Marshall
Marshall had Perry
Perry had Wallace
Wallace had the Perry in our story.
Are you confused yet? I know, that’s not only a lot of generations, but A LOT of the same names. Stay with me, we’ll come full circle at the end.
Volney Smith Farm
The Volney Smith farm was 136 acres, bounded by present day Grand River Ave to the north, Beech Daly to the east, 7 Mile to the south, and Delaware to the west. When Josephine Lockwood married Volney in 1880, they moved into a modest farmhouse near Grand River & Beech. They had one son, George, who was born 1886. In 1901 they moved into a beautiful brick mcmansion, near the same location. The Smith’s sold the farm in 1923, keeping about an acre surrounding their house. Volney passed away in the home in 1926. Josephine passed away in the home in 1957, just 10 days before her 100th birthday. Both are buried at Grand Lawn Cemetery in Detroit.
The home was torn down in the 1960s to make way for a bowling alley, and eventually Aldi.
Volney Smith School
Not uncommon during this time, some of the Volney Smith property was given to family members as part of a dowry. Call me old-fashioned, but I’d much rather receive land as a wedding gift than a toaster oven – but that’s just me. In 1914 one of the family members that received a portion of the land deeded 10 sections to Redford Union School District #10.
The Volney Smith School, located at 26545 Vassar, was built in 1925, starting out as a five-room school. Throughout the years the school saw 3 additions, numerous renovations, and partial demolition. The building was also used for a variety of purposes – serving every grade level during its existence, as well as the Board of Education Administrative Office, an Adolescent Day Treatment Program, a storage facility, and lastly a day care. Final demolition began in 2003. The property was sold to a developer for $800,000, who built 56 houses. The development was appropriately named Volney Park Place.
The Perry Smith Home
1,748 sq ft
4 bed / 1 bath
2 car detached garage
I don’t imagine a lot of people can say they live in the home their grandfather built. But Perry has the unique opportunity to do just that. His grandfather, also named Perry, served as the Township Clerk in 1929. The home was finished the following year and was modeled after “The Russell-Bird”. The builder’s price at the time was $14,500. Check out this ad from 1925 that the family kept:
A few modifications were made to the home’s layout, which moved the fireplace (and chimney) to the front of the house.
The home is a treasure in itself, but the home’s furnishings and original pieces really make it a special place to be. Original dressers, headboards, light fixtures, doors, and woodwork fill the rooms.
The sunroom is one of those places you never want to leave – Wall to wall windows, french doors…what more do you need? It also happens to be where a special piece of furniture is displayed. The cabinet, which belonged to Perry’s great great Aunt Mary Augusta, is beautifully showcased by the natural light that pours into the room.
Notice the window reflection on the cabinet door compared to the window reflection on the french doors. The cabinet’s glass is wavy – a product of 19th century glass blowing.
Perry has truly loved this home. As the wood windows & doors faded from the sun, Perry refinished the woodwork by hand.
He also extended the original small rear porch into a covered deck. Arched doorways, glass doorknobs, phone nook, cove ceilings, large bedrooms, formal dining room, and a cozy entryway with arched front door make this an unbelievably charming home.
The original garage was built with wood from a barn on the family farm on the south side of 7 Mile. Unfortunately the garage had to be torn down due to the condition of the wood. When Perry had a new one constructed, he insisted it have wood siding to match the original structure.
Original garage (left) and the garage today (right)
Complete with a fountain and garden arbor, the backyard is like a private oasis.
Remember the Volney Park Place development on the Volney Smith School property? It sits directly across from Perry’s house.
Although the school no longer exists, the various farmhouses long gone, and acres of farmland redeveloped, the Smith family legacy will live on. A huge thank you to Mr. Perry Smith for welcoming myself and board member Regina Gilbert into his home and sharing his family’s history and photos. Stop by the museum to check out our growing collection on the Smith family.
*If you have a unique home that you would like to share with the Historical Commission, please let us know!
13 thoughts on “The Smith Family Legacy & Volney Smith School”
This home is nothing less than spectacular. Even though I am not related, the genealogy on this family is interesting. In the collection at the RTHC , is there also pictures of Mary Augusta’s home on Grand River/Indian? I have seen aerial pictures dating back to around 1950 of the area and of course, Volney’s home and Augusta’s still show. I grew up on Kinloch/St. Martins and my oldest sister remembers the Smith house being torn down, and my father later was in bowling leagues at Redford Lanes (I can still remember the scent of that place!). I went to VS from 1970 through 1977 and although I no longer live there, I am still very interested in the history. My mother still lives in the same house my father had built for her in 1950. (I have never seen a picture of Volney Smith – do any exist?)
Very interesting article. I lived just down the street from Perry’s house. It was always the grandest one on the block. Now I know what it looks like in the inside! I passed through last year and it was very strange to see all the new houses filling in what used to be a large field. We had the biggest snowball fights on the field during recess in the winter. There was a baseball diamond in the northwest corner of the field next to the school where Little League games were played. Sad to see my old elementary school totally gone (went there thru 1970). At least the little park across the road from it is still there. Lexington used to be a dirt road back then, too. Finally got paved, I see. Thanks for the memories.
Was doing a Google search on the name Volney Smith. There are more than one! I am the son of Volney Smith born in 1928 in Ames Iowa. Dad is currently 92 years old.