Preservation Magazine, Spring 2018

Cabin in the Park: Detroit's Only Log Cabin Is Revived and Reopened

The exterior of Palmer Park Cabin.

photo by: Barbara Barefield/People for Palmer Park

The Palmer Park Cabin reopened in June of 2017. On the front porch: stained glass artist Andrea Sevonty and People for Palmer Park board members Rochelle Lento, Amy Lebowsky, Angella Durkin, and Jason Fligger.

Detroit is not the first place you’d expect to see a 19th-century log cabin, but that’s exactly what you’ll find at Palmer Park—with newly restored stained-glass windows, to boot.

Commissioned in 1885 by Sen. Thomas Palmer of Michigan as a gift for his wife, who sought a retreat from the bustle of city life, the Palmer Park Cabin is the only log cabin in Detroit. While it appears to be an ordinary cabin from the outside, its original interior (designed by architects George Mason and Zachariah Rice) more closely resembled a Victorian-era house, complete with a brick fireplace and period furnishings from wall to wall. The Palmers donated it to the city in 1893, along with 140 acres of land that would become part of today’s Palmer Park. The home served as a popular tourist attraction before closing in 1979 and quickly falling into disrepair.

However, the people of Detroit weren’t ready to give up their beloved cabin without a fight. The People for Palmer Park (PFPP) nonprofit formed in 2012 and, with help from the city, repaired its logs, roof, and foundation.

Their attention soon turned to its 33 stained-glass windows, which had deteriorated in the intervening years. PFPP raised $70,000 to fund the restoration of the windows and the front door, completing the projects this past winter. More preservation work on the cabin remains to be done, but PFPP is able to use it as an event space for weddings, concerts, and other activities.

“Through the work of PFPP and the city, we’ve been able to garner a lot of support for this project,” says Barbara Barefield, a PFPP board member and the events committee chair. “People are really starting to recognize how important it is to preserve these architectural treasures.”

Nicholas Som is a former assistant editor at Preservation magazine. He enjoys museums of all kinds, Philadelphia sports, and tracking down great restaurants.

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