J. Lockwood, a War of 1812 veteran, received the first land grant in Huntington Woods, signed by President James Monroe, in 1824. The area comprised some nine farms until 1916 when Fred Remole, owner, platted and recorded a part of the site as Banks Park. Other parts were the subdivisions of Huntington Woods, Manor, Bronx, and Huntington Park, and the unplatted fifty-acre tract called Hannan's West. These subdivisions were a part of Royal Oak Township until incorporated as the village of Huntington Woods in 1926. It was later incorporated as a city in 1932.
In 1821, the Territorial Governor Lewis Cass of Oakland County, concluded a treaty with the indigenous people whereby they ceded the rights of the lands in southern Michigan territory that included the present day City of Huntington Woods.
In 1832, the Township of Royal Oak was established,bounded by Eight Mile Road on the south, 14 Mile Road on the north and by Greenfield Road and Dequindre on the west and east respectively.
Between 1830 and 1837 the land that now constitutes the City of Huntington Woods was ceded to a dozen
landowners in parcels ranging from 40 to 320 acres. In January of 1834, Mr. Edward C. Mathews received a land grant in what is now the “The Hill” Historic District. That was followed by Mr. Nathaniel Dorr who received a grant of 80 acres in August of 1835, part of which is included within the district. Mr. Door subsequently received an additional grant of 160 acres in 1837, making him the second largest landholder of the time.
By 1872, the number of individual holdings had been reduced to ten, several of which now featured farmhouses. In addition, a hotel had been built on the J. Lewless property just north of the present Ten Mile Road on the west side of what is now Woodward Avenue primarily to service passengers on the stage coach line connecting Detroit and Pontiac.
A 1908 Atlas map from the Tract Index Office in Pontiac, Michigan shows ten houses existing in what is now the City of Huntington Woods, two of which were on the 320 acre Black Meadow Dairy Farm owned by prominent Detroit-area attorney and business leader Fred A. Baker. In 1916, two land developments were formed
in the area essentially to the east of present day Scotia. The Baker Land Company offered lots for sale in the 320-acre Black Meadow Dairy farm, referred to as the Bronx Subdivision. At approximately the same time, George Trowbridge Hendrie offered properties for sale on his 431 acre holding, having acquired the land from Mathews, Dorr, Lewless and others.
Hendrie’s land included what is now the Hill Historic District. Mr. Hendrie was a large landowner in Detroit. His holdings included properties along East Jefferson Avenue. A veteran of the Spanish-American War, Mr. Hendrie was associated with his father George Hendrie in business in Detroit beginning in 1896. He was secretary and treasurer for the Grosse Pointe Lands Co. Fairview Improvement Association and director of the Wyandotte Savings Bank.
Mr. Hendrie ultimately sold the majority of his property to developers Charles W. Burton and I.C. Freud who planned to subdivide the land and sell the lots. Excepted were 100 acres that had been pledged by Mr. Hendrie to the Detroit Zoological Society and on which much of the present zoo still stands.
Upon returning from a trip of Huntingdon, England, Mr. I.C. Freud brought the idea of patterning a meandering street layout on the ridge area of Huntington Woods after this quaint town of Huntingdon, England, our city’s namesake. He and partner Charles Burton, president of the Huntington Woods Company, agreed and submitted the plans for the new Huntington Woods Subdivision to its residents. The British influence extended to the design of many of the area’s houses and some of its original street names such as York, Hereford, Huntington, Salem and Dundee.
One early resident, Fred Hathaway, was a school superintendent and executive with the Michigan Sugar Company. He was the first to build a home in the new subdivision. In 1916, he enlisted the expertise of an architect from Huntingdon, England to build his home at the highest point on the city’s ridge.
Beginning in the early 1920s, the Huntington Woods Subdivision quickly became home to many of Detroit’s upper-level executives who were building elegant English-influenced homes in a style similar to two of Detroit’s established neighborhoods; Sherwood Forest and Palmer Park (both are now historic districts). The city was home to advertising executives, automobile designers, bankers, and architects along with other executives and business owners.
“Among the many subdivisions that have been marketed in Detroit during the past few months, few have deserved the characterization of ‘subdivision deluxe’. Among these is the famous Huntington Woods Subdivision,” wrote the Detroit Times, January 25, 1925.
As was common with many subdivisions, the residents of the Huntington Woods Subdivision were to adhere to certain building restrictions and conditions. Residences placed on the smaller lots were required to build at a cost of at least $6,000, while larger lots had a $7,500 minimum construction cost requirement.
All dwellings were required be single-family and built with pressed brick fronts or cement block covered with stucco. Flat roof dwellings were not to be erected on any lot in the subdivision. Garages could be erected, but only for the private use of the homeowner and only after the permanent residence was constructed. All garages were required to correspond in architecture and material to the main residence. Each street had specific stipulations as to the placement of buildings on the lots.
All boundary lines were to be designated by hedges or woven wire fences with iron posts of an approved pattern. None were to exceed four feet in height and had to be set back fifty feet from the front line. All lots were to be used for private residences.
The platting of the Huntington Woods Subdivision was completed by surveyor Sylvester N. Howard of Chicago, Illinois on July 12, 1916 and approved by the Oakland County Register’s Office on January 6, 1917. During this period, construction on the Fred and Harriet Hathaway home at 8736 Borgman was begun. Between 1924 and 1939, 65 more structures were erected.
In 1924, Detroit attorney Horace H. Rackham and his wife Mary acquired approximately 150 acres of land from the Baker Land Company. It was located north of 10 Mile Road, in what is now the City of Huntington Woods. They gave
22 acres to the Detroit Zoological Society and used the remaining land to develop the golf course. It was reportedly the first 18-hole public golf course constructed in the State of Michigan. Mr. and Mrs. Rackham were both avid golfers and members of the Detroit Golf Club. They built the course and donated it to the City of Detroit because in Mr. Rackham’s words, “we should give those who can’t afford to belong to private clubs, the same opportunity to play and have tournaments.”
When the Baker Land Company sold the land to the Rackhams there was but one restriction on the transfer of the land, “it … shall be used only as a public park or golf course or for other similar purpose.” When the Rackhams gave the golf course to the City of Detroit, they further restricted it by stating in the deed, “The said premises shall be perpetually maintained by said party of the second part (City of Detroit) exclusively as a golf course for the use of the public and reasonable rules, regulation and charges is established by the second party (City of Detroit).” The transfer of the property was made on November 4, 1924.
The golf course and clubhouse took over two years to complete. According to the Detroit Times, “no expense was spared in making it the finest links of its kind.” The course was actually finished in 1923 but Mr. Rackham did not allow it to be used until the turf could withstand the wear and tear of public play. The clubhouse had “all the conveniences of a modern country club including showers, lockers, lounge, lunch room, executive offices, employee’s quarters and a veranda across the front from which every hole of the course can be seen.” The entire cost of the gift was estimated to be over $500,000.
The golf course opened to the public on May 19, 1925 with Mr. and Mrs. Rackham, along with their close friends Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Guest, playing the first round. John C. Lodge, then a Detroit City Councilman and later Detroit Mayor, heralded it as “the most magnificent gift the city has ever received.” The Detroit News said the clubhouse was, “one of the most pretentious structures of the kind in the district.” The Detroit Times said it “is regarded by experts as the finest public links in the United States, if not the world.”
The greens fees to play were $1.00 for 18 holes, $1.50 for unlimited play or 50 cents for twilight golf. Before playing Rackham, players had to qualify at one of Detroit’s other courses. Horace Rackham’s caddy, William T. Merriweather Jr., is quoted as saying that on more than one occasion the Rackham manager gave a player his money back and told him to qualify at Palmer Woods before coming back. Horace Rackham was a stickler for etiquette as well as knowledge of the game. He wanted everyone to play the course but insisted on basic knowledge of the game and rules. Once that was established then all were welcome.
The Rackham Golf Course was designed by the leading golf architect of the time, Donald Ross. His designs are still in tournament play today. His designs include Inverness, Pinehurst, Seminole and of course Oakland Hills. Ross was a founder of the American Society of Golf Course Architects in 1946 and served as its president until his death in 1948.
Rackham Golf Course was pivotal in the development of Huntington Woods and its importance cannot be underplayed. The city literally grew up around the active and popular golf course. Lots were sold to prospective residents by realtors who touted the uniqueness of Huntington Woods with both a new zoological park and state-of-the-art municipal golf course. These amenities were, and continue to be, a significant inducement to reside in Huntington Woods, and have been reflected over the years in the premium prices prospective purchasers are willing to pay.
Looking to privatize the management of it courses, the City of Detroit entered into a ten-year contract with American Golf to manage four of the city’s municipal courses (Rackham, Chandler Park, Rouge Park and Palmer Park). Changes were immediate. American Golf quickly forged a partnership with local business leader, Detroit Piston and NBA Hall of Famer Dave Bing, and the company invested $2 million in the four courses. Improvements included planting trees, turf repair, bunker restoration and much, much more.
At the time American Golf assumed management of the course, Rackham had been maintained more as a lawn rather than a golf course, with many of Ross’ trademark rectangular- or square-shaped green’s sheared into a more standard round. Working with an architect and old aerial photographs of the course, American Golf’s Dave Hollens began to implement his plan to restore the famous course back to its original challenging splendor. In three short years, the restoration process was seeing its effect as Rackham was named as one of the top 10 municipal courses in the state by Michigan Golfer magazine. In 2002, it was named one of the top 10 public courses designed by Donald Ross in the United States by Travel and Leisure Golf magazine. With its new drainage system, defined and maintained tees and greens, Rackham has been restored and is currently the only one of the four courses to turn a profit.