If you’ve ever driven on 6 Mile Rd, between Beech Daly and Inkster, you have likely seen The Methodist Children’s Home Society, commonly referred to as Children’s Village. A short brick wall carrying the name separates the continuous traffic flow of this busy road from this peaceful, park-like property. One of the few buildings visible from the main road is the Administration Building, which spans the length of the half-circle drive. This enormous building houses most of the staff offices, a meeting room, and some awesome architectural details. But this is just a small glimpse of what the rest of the property holds.
In the Beginning
The Methodist Children’s Home Society wasn’t always located in Redford. MCHS got its start 100 years ago in a 2-story house in Highland Park, founded by a group of Methodist women (largely organized by Sophie Sprague and Anna Kresge) who wanted to care for orphaned children. The building housed 10 children, but the need for more space became quickly evident. Just 3 years after opening, the organization purchased 42.5 acres in Farmington. In 1922, a much larger home was built on the land, with the capacity for 28 children. Frances Knight was appointed Director. (Sadly, neither of these homes are still standing)
The Move to Redford
Mrs. Knight felt the Farmington home was too institutionalized. She envisioned a special place for children who needed the love and security of a normal home life. This ‘Village’ would house groups of 8 children who would live as families in small cottages with a houseparent for each unit. Soon, she gained the attention of Sebastian S. Kresge, who provided the initial funding for the construction in Redford. Construction for the new Village began in 1927 after a $725,000 gift from Sebastian S. Kresge, as well as additional gifts from the Webber, Holcroft, Ford, & Hanley families. The 28-acre campus was being built to house 60 children.
Designed by Detroit architect J. Ivan Dise in authentic 16th century English Tudor style, the campus included 6 cottages, a residence for the director, and a large administration building for staff offices, as well as medical & dental clinics. After the new campus was completed, a dedication ceremony was held on June 2, 1929, led by Bishop Theodore Henderson.
In 1931, Mrs. Phillip Gray donated $15,000 to begin a school program in one of the cottages. The following year another cottage was added to the campus. A more formal school building was soon needed, so with nearly $111,000 provided by the Kresge Foundation, a fully equipped elementary school, complete with gymnasium, was added. This building was named Kresge Hall, and was dedicated in 1938.
As you might guess, the trend of needing more space continued. In 1943 MCHS bought 50 adjoining acres. Three years later, construction began on The Children’s Chapel, also designed by Architect J. Ivan Dise, and it was dedicated in 1951. Two more cottages were built in 1947, one gifted by the Shaffer family, and another gifted by the daughter of Mrs. Phillip Gray.
Besides for an addition to Kresge Hall in 1967, over 4 decades passed without any major construction on the property. Building and renovations ramped up in 1995-97 with 7 new cottages that had space for 10 children each. During this time, renovations were also taking place in the Administration Building, where an original mural, painted in 1929 by Arthur Lavinger, was discovered.
Director Frances Knight
Frances Knight was the Director of MCHS from 1922-1948. Before becoming the director in 1922, Mrs. Knight was the Chief Probation Officer for Recorder’s Court, working with women as an investigator in domestic relations cases. As she handled the adult side of these issues, Mrs. Knight wanted the opportunity to design a program for children that would keep them from getting into trouble later on.
“I believe so thoroughly in the quality of goodness that I am sure if we pour good into children, good must come out.” -Frances Knight
Frances definitely made a name for herself, as she was the only woman invited to President Roosevelt’s 1933 White House Conference on Children.
Click HERE to read the 1942 Detroit Free Press article where Mrs. Knight is featured in their Woman of the Week write-up (includes a photo of her).
The Village Today
With forward-thinking Board of Directors, MCHS has been able to grow and adapt to the needs of the area. They provide a broad range of services to children and families in crisis, including an all-boys residential program, educational & clinical services, transitional living, and foster care & adoption programs. Major campus renovations are underway thanks to a capital improvements project.
The original wood & brick buildings still sport their slate roofs and leaded glass windows. Interestingly enough, the asphalt shingles on the newer cottages resemble slate shingles. It’s definitely a nice touch in tying in with the older buildings.
After donating 10 acres to the church (now New Beginnings United Methodist Church), The Methodist Children’s Home Society now sits on 69.75 acres.
One of the most impressive buildings is the Administration Building. Every single element is stunning. Yes, even the orange carpet…..which somehow ties everything together. The MASSIVE brick and tile fireplace in the meeting room is stunning, as is the plasterwork, woodwork (check out the window seats, creatively hiding the radiators), and windows. Featured in this room is also a table and 2 benches – original furniture of MCHS.
As you’ll notice, all of the cottages are named after MCHS donors: Burnham, Cotcher, Fairman, Frothingham, Gray, Hanley, Harrison, Henderson-McManus, Holcroft, Juhnke, Nichols, Ott, Shaffer, Stoner, & Webber. The 7 new brick cottages are identical to each other.
Additional Buildings & Areas
Several additional buildings on the property are used for various purposes. The original Director’s Residence is now named after the 1st MCHS Director, Knight. The original medical clinic is Hanley. There are also some maintenance & storage buildings. Kresge Hall, which is MCHS’s formal school building, will be renovated this year to provide specialized learning areas for the kids.
The grounds also include a playground, basketball courts, and a baseball diamond.
The Children’s Chapel
Built 22 years after the original campus, The Children’s Chapel also has unique characteristics. During construction, several art glass windows were to be installed, following the theme of ‘The Children of the World’. Donors who were giving the windows as a memorial or in honor of someone “chose the window that typified most the sentiment they wished to express”. Images of 3 girls & 3 boys represent different nationalities, each displayed on a single window.
The Methodist Children’s Home Society will be celebrating their centennial year on Saturday, October 21, 2017 at Laurel Manor in Livonia. Please consider purchasing a ticket (or 2) to support this great organization. View event information HERE.
*A big thank you to the staff at MCHS for all their help & kindness, an amazing tour of the campus, and the opportunity to photograph this special place. You guys rock!
*Please note that this is a private campus. No public access is permitted past the Administration Building.