A Day as a Guest At Senator Palmer’s Font Hill Log House and Famous Log Cabin Farm…
The Palmer Log Cabin was built in 1885. The architects were George D. Mason and Zachariah Rice who later mentored famed Detroit Architect Albert Kahn. Rice eventually married Thomas Palmer’s adopted daughter, Grace.
The cabin is basically a balloon framed Victorian house wrapped in a log veneer. It is said that Mrs. Palmer asked her husband to build her a log house since she had lived in brick, stone and sided houses but had never lived in a log home.
According to a September 24, 1887 Detroit Free Press article, the Palmer Log Cabin was originally known as “Font Hill Log House.” Mr. and Mrs. Palmer were not ostentatious people, who enjoyed sharing their log house with their neighbors as well as friends and acquaintances from all over the nation.
There was a guest book kept in the front hall and many important politicians and businessmen had signed this book.
There was also a row of trees flanking the drive that led to the cabin (then called Surprise Avenue). When asked under what circumstances the trees were planted, Senator Palmer said: “Oh, whenever we caught a senator here, we made him plant a tree.
One guest, was Senator William Mahone of Virginia, a democrat, and confederate soldier. After the civil war, he helped to form the Readjuster party from a coalition of former slaves, conservative democrats and republicans. Mahone and the Readjuster party secured funds for an african American Teacher’s school and collegiate institute that eventually became known as Virginia State University. Another guest, Senator John Henniger Reagan of Texas (a moderate Democrat) had resigned from the US House of Rep. when Texas seceded from the Union at the commencement of the Civil war. During the war, he served in the cabinet of Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, as postmaster of the confederacy. Following the war, Reagan was imprisoned for two years in in Boston before being released and allowed to resume his political career.
Probably the most familiar name associated with the famous row of trees is that of Senator Justin Smith Morrill of Vermont. Morrill was a republican and it was his Morill Act of 1862 that allowed Michigan Agricultural College (now Michigan State University) to become the nation’s pioneer Land Grant Institution.
During a typical visit, Senator Palmer would show his guests his prized Percheron horses (50-60 in number) and the famous high-tech barn (with silo and steam power) that housed his Jersey cows. In the fall, after seeing the orchards, visitors were brought to the stoop of the cabin where several barrels of freshly-made cider stood. One of the barrels would be tapped for their enjoyment.
Inside the log house, there were many objects that recalled the “old days”. A tall clock on the stair landing, old-fashioned chairs and bedsteads, bureaus, lounges, settees, a set of tongs as well as a shovel and bellows to complement the large fireplaces. There was a spinning wheel, candle moulds, oil lamps, flatiron holders, a flintlock musket with powder horn, a horse pistol, decanters, a sword and a family bible. There was a rag carpet on the floor and numberless bunches of aromatic and medicinal herbs, as well as faux wooden hams, suspended from poles at the ceiling. Other effects included a birch bark canoe, an Indian buffalo rob and the antlers of a deer.
Before dinner, songs were sung, usually with accompaniment by the Piano. Two songs that have specifically been mentioned include “I’m the son of a Gambolier” and “The Old Oaken Bucket”.
Dinners were served in the dining room (also known as the “Keeping” room) with a blazing wood fire on the hearth and bright candles on the table. After supper, there were cigars and a bonfire outside the cabin near the lake. Senator Palmer enjoyed hosting parties late into the evening and he thoroughly enjoyed gathering around a large bonfire with his guests on the grounds in the vicinity of the cabin.
He once asked the question of his guests: “I wonder if a man ever gets too old to enjoy a bonfire — I’m sure I shall never grow too old for this sort of enjoyment.” “Avoid the man who takes no interest in bonfires as you would a contagion — he has no soul in him.” “By the way, what a splendid place that would be — say 20 feet above those flames-to roast one’s political enemies.”
Finally, when the bonfire had burned to embers, the senator and his guests would retreat to his parlor for more discussion before either departing or going upstairs to bed.