Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Burton, Clarence Monroe

Clarence Monroe Burton was an author, historian, and collector of significant historical documents related to Detroit’s history that today form the core of the Burton Historical Collection of the Detroit Public Library. He was born in Whiskey Diggins, California on November 18, 1853, the son of a doctor-turned-gold prospector and his wife. In 1855, the Burton family returned east, eventually settling in Hastings, Michigan. Burton attended the University of Michigan and was accepted into its law school in 1872. In December of the same year, Burton married Harriet Jane Nye. The couple had eight children.

Graduating with a law degree in 1874, Burton also obtained his penchant for collecting at the University when a speaker advocated the importance of a hobby. Burton determined he would acquire a book a day that dealt with history.

Working for the Detroit firm of Ward and Palmer, real estate attorneys, Burton’s position immersed him in researching old records, reinforcing his interest in original documents. After taking over the day-to-day administration of Ward’s title abstract firm, Burton purchased the firm’s co-partner’s shares in 1881 and Ward’s shares in 1891, changing the name of the company to Burton Abstract & Title Co.

His wife died in 1896, and in 1897 on Christmas Day he married Linda O. Shoemaker Grant. A year later, Linda passed away from complications during surgery and in 1900 Burton married for the third time, to Anna Monroe Knox. The couple had a daughter in 1901.

Appointed City Historiographer in 1908, Burton created a library of tens of thousands of books, pamphlets and manuscripts related to the history of Detroit, of Michigan and the old Northwest. He often scoured unlikely places for discarded papers, such as those of William Woodbridge, found in an outbuilding. He made trips to Europe seeking documents related to Detroit’s founder, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac.

In 1914, with his house on Brainard filled to capacity, Burton donated his collection to the Detroit Public Library, including the house and land. The collection, which opened to the public in 1915, contained 30,000 volumes, 40,000 pamphlets and 500,000 unpublished papers. In 1921 he established an endowment for the Burton Collection, to which he gave more than $50,000.

Burton also authored several books and pamphlets on history topics including The City of Detroit, Michigan, 1701-1922; A Sketch of the Life of Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, Founder of Detroit; and In the Footsteps of Cadillac.

In 1930 Burton retired and left his business to his son, Louis. Two years later Burton suddenly became ill, and on October 23, 1932 died of a cerebral hemorrhage. He is buried in Grand Lawn Cemetery in Detroit.



Clarence Burton on the cover of "Pioneering" magazine

Portrait photograph of Clarence Burton

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