|Tag(s):||P.W. Norris, Detroit|
|Course:||“Environmental History in Detroit,” University of Michigan|
Philetus W. Norris is best known for his work as Yellowstone’s second superintendent, but he played a major role in the Midwest before following his wanderlust to the west. Specifically, P.W. Norris helped develop what would later become North East Detroit with the founding of a village in his own name. Norris took it upon himself to promote the “Village of Norris,” and even posted advertisements in local newspapers. One such advertisement, published in the Detroit Free Press on January 1, 1875, reported that the village was flourishing, with “large dry business, residence and suburban lots.”
Norris was not altruistically advocating for the development of land that would later become Detroit; he had a personal stake in the matter as a primary real estate agent of the area. Norris’ motivation to sell is captured in the ad’s laconic declaration of “Title perfect. Terms easy.” This advertisement ran multiple times and was one of many similar ads, according to Norris biographer Don Binkowski. Binkowski describes Norris as “a superb salesman," and suggests that the village may have floundered had Norris lacked business prowess.
The ads Norris authored brought great publicity to the village, which, in turn, brought publicity to Norris himself. Perhaps unfortunately, the anamnesis of Norris’ accolades center on his work at Yellowstone. Norris was only in Detroit for twelve years, and there are few extant accounts from the settlers that knew him personally. These facts serve to highlight the importance of any artifacts linking Norris, a crucial figure in the rise of Detroit, to the city—artifacts like the Norris house, which is now dilapidated and in danger of collapse, but serves as a vital point to local community groups eager to revive the neighborhood.