Old County Building and Mary V. Elkins

Henry Cleage 1955

When I saw the prompt, I immediately thought of some photos of a building in Detroit that my uncle Henry Cleage took.  I found them in the first place I looked (amazingly). They aren’t labeled or dated but looking at a few old Detroit buildings I found they are of the old County Building. I would date them around 1950 from the people and cars.  These are only a few of the many.  Court was held in the building and Henry was a lawyer. Perhaps he had some cases there.

Old Detroit County Building
Old Detroit County Building

“The cornerstone was laid Oct. 20, 1897, in a ceremony that the Detroit Free Press called at the time “simple but impressive.” Under a headline in capital letters proclaiming, “It is laid!”, the Free Press wrote that it had rained all morning the day of the ceremony, but just at 2 p.m., as officials were gathering at Old City Hall, the sun broke and the clouds parted. A band led the procession down Cadillac Square to a platform decked out in American flags in front of the county building, where Judge Edgar O. Durfee had the honor of laying the cornerstone. Judge Robert E. Frazer gave what the Free Press called a “stirring address,” and Mayor William C. Maybury also participated.”   Go to Old Wayne County Building  – Historic Detroit to read a detailed history of the Old County Building.


“One of the building’s most prominent features is the pair of large sculptures flanking its center tower and portico. The copper sculptures are known as quadrigae, a Roman chariot drawn by four horses. The pieces were done by New York sculptor J. Massey Rhind, who intended the quadrigae to symbolize progress. They feature a woman standing in a chariot led by four horses with two smaller figures on either side.”  From Old Wayne County Building – Historic Detroit

Mary Vee 1940 - In front of Plymouth Congregational Church.
Mary Vee 1940 – In front of Plymouth Congregational Church.

My mother’s sister, Mary V. Elkins, got a job at the County Building in 1940.

“June 10, 1940 — Mary Virginia has just gotten (through Jim and May) a good job at the County Bldg — God is so good to us. M.V. won high honor in her business Institute for typing and short hand.”  Fannie Mae Turner Graham’s little diary.

Mary V. attended business school after she graduated from Eastern High School, then worked for awhile at her cousin’s Newspaper office until he helped her get a job in the old county building.  She held the job for many years and received  a proclamation from the City of Detroit for her service to the city during a Family Reunion when she was in her 80s.

seasons greetings
Wayne County Courthouse (2)
Wayne County Courthouse

Old Wayne County Building could soon be allowed to seek buyers.  “A Wayne County Commission committee approved a nonbinding agreement today that would settle a nearly 3-year-old lawsuit against the owners of the Old Wayne County Building and allow the owners to seek potential buyers.”  From an April, 2013 article in the Detroit Free Press.

27 thoughts on “Old County Building and Mary V. Elkins

  1. i love seeing these historic photos! and comparing them today – who would uy such a building? who could afford it? crazy to sell it! but i lived outside of detroit for a bit – they are kinda crazy, aren’t they!

    visiting from the a to z challenge – looking forward to your posts!

    1. I wonder who would buy such a building and why the government would refurbish it and then sell it. I grew up in Detroit and what’s happening there now is definitely hard to understand.

      Thank you for reminding me that today is the REVEAL for the A-Z Challenge! I just posted mine.

  2. It’s such a handsome building. I hope someone will buy it with the intention of doing something worthwhile with it, though it’s hard to imagine what? Those old buildings are drafty & hard to heat & cool. Still . . . it could be turned into a mall of some sort, maybe?

    1. It does. There was a sort of matching building that was the City Hall that was torn down some years ago. I hate the way everything gets torn down.

  3. What! I was really surprised to get to the end of the post only to learn the building is for sale. It’s hard to believe it has outgrown its use or whatever happened. Such a big and impressive building. I guess the symbolism of “Progress” no longer applies?? Or maybe they just progressed right out of the building.

    I signed up for AtoZ too.

  4. What a beautiful building. So flamboyant So Self confident. That building could take on the world. It really has character. I love the portico too. Melbourne Town Hall has a similar one. I wish they still built buildings like that.

  5. I’ve learned a new word – quadrigae! I’d use that in my next scrabble game if it wasn’t a letter or two too long. And I wonder how they are meant to symbolise progress.

  6. I’m glad that Minneapolis still has its old county courthouse in good condition. There is a quadriga at the Minnesota state capitol–I didn’t know what the name meant before.

  7. Very interesting to see the history of the Old Wayne County Court Building. My daughter is an Attorney in Detroit so I know she will be interested. Great photos of the building.

  8. Even before I scrolled down, I was dreading what was coming with that last photo (you know how it is, one hears the name Detroit and immediately the words abandoned/derelict spring to mind), and hope it will find a new life in some other disguise. The alternative, being torn down, is just too depressing to contemplate.

  9. What a wonderful picture of your aunt, so beautiful and happy. That is just another wonderful old building, fine structure, that is such a shame, how so many buildings are left empty and turn decay or worse. It’s just a shame. What so many cities, especially in Michigan (I know and still have relatives living there)they need is a village of folks to take back what once was.

  10. American public buildings often have a short life. They were constructed without modern electric wiring, heating/air conditioning, and computer networking, not to mention accommodations for the handicapped. We think they should last for centuries but as your family photos show sometimes it’s only three generations or so.

  11. Fascinating on so many levels. First the idea that the place is for sale. Such a grand place hunting for new owners. And fascinating that there would be chariots on it. A time when progress was still viewed through European ancestry. Doubt any chariots would be put on buildings today. First off they’d slide right off the steel and glass.

    A very stylish hat your aunt was wearing.

  12. Sad that such a ‘statuesque’ building is no longer in public use. I certainly hope some company will buy and restore it sympathetically! Great to be able to connect it with your family member.

  13. How sad that a building that opened to such a fanfare should now found itself no longer fit for its original purpose. It’s certainly grand and imposing – all those steps must have kept Mary Vee fit – or did she take the elevator I see signposted?

  14. I had offices in that building for years when I served as Chief of Staff to the Wayne County Commission 91 and as Assistant Wayne County Executive thru 1997. The building is vacant now. Wayne County bought another building, the Guardian Building downtown which no serves as the “County building”

    1. Warren! Good to see you here. I would have added your connection if I had realized. Thank you for adding it in a comment.

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