Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Palmer Park Log Cabin

Located west of Woodward Avenue between Six and Seven Mile Roads, Palmer Park is a testament to the love of the Palmer family for the city of Detroit. Thomas Witherall Palmer was born in Detroit in 1830, and married Elizabeth “Lizzie” Merrill. He was successful in real estate and the lumber industry, and later became a U.S. Senator and ambassador to Spain.

Following his mother’s death in 1874, Thomas received the Witherall family land and took an interest in the science of farming and animal husbandry.  Palmer and his wife often had picnics under the trees there, and in 1884 Lizzie announced their plans to build a log cabin – a vacation retreat – for the purpose of entertaining guests and displaying family heirlooms.  The following year a 30 by 40 foot Log Cabin, designed by noted Detroit architects Mason & Rice, was completed using timber from the surrounding woods.  The Palmers filled the building with hundreds of their most prized family heirlooms and whimsical mementoes. Thomas had foliage and rocks brought in from his ancestral family homestead in Connecticut to landscape the cabin grounds, which included a small lake.

Ever the entertainers, the Palmers held parties ranging from small gatherings to large banquets.  Guests at these events often included Senator Palmer’s famous political colleagues and wealthy friends, as well as local farmers and small-business owners.  Guests would be given a tour of the Log Cabin for a look at the priceless family heirlooms, followed by a meal outside in the park.  Thomas Palmer found solace in bonfires, and they were a fixture at his Log Cabin gatherings. He once said, “I wonder if a man ever gets too old to enjoy a bonfire – to gloat and exult over one of them with a sort of childish glee?”

In 1893, Thomas made the first of several donations of land to the City of Detroit, giving 140 acres of land surrounding the Log Cabin for the creation of Log Cabin Park.  Palmer stipulated in the donation that neither the Log Cabin nor forest ever be destroyed.  He then authorized in 1895 that the Log Cabin would be turned over to the city on the death of he and his wife, and in 1897 the land was renamed Palmer Park in honor of its benefactor. 

Senator Palmer claimed in 1887 that “It is out here – amongst these peaceful shades – that the closing years of my life shall be spent.”  He had a house built adjacent to his namesake in 1897, where he died in 1913.  Sometime prior to 1900, a small lighthouse was constructed near the lake, and rowing boats were rented to park visitors. In 1909, the first mile of concrete highway in the nation was poured along Woodward Avenue, adjacent to the park. 1925 saw the Merrill Fountain – built in 1901 in Campus Martius at the bequest of Lizzie Merrill Palmer – moved to Palmer Park. Since that time, a golf course, swimming pool, tennis and handball courts, and walking trails have provided guests with a variety of recreational options.

Written by Brent Maynard 



Postcard showing Palmer Log Cabin, 1910 - 2008.082.021

Man in front of Palmer Park Log Cabin, 1923 - 2013.045.132

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