- Associated Press - Monday, February 29, 2016

DETROIT (AP) - Detroit’s oldest cabin sits largely unknown and partly hidden in a west side neighborhood dotted with abandoned homes, disguised under layers of renovations, with only a small historical plaque to identify its significance.

The small, one-and-a-half story James Smith farmhouse, built between the 1820s and 1850s, also is city’s second-oldest house, the Detroit Free Press (https://on.freep.com/1KXz4f2 ) reported. But unlike the well-preserved Trowbridge House, built in 1826, the James Smith farmhouse hasn’t been treated as a historic treasure.

For many years, the cabin was occupied by people who made no effort to preserve it.

After falling into foreclosure and abandonment, it now sits empty and open to trespassers, including vandals, squatters and stray dogs. A layer of white vinyl siding, which covers the cabin’s original logs, is marred with bright red graffiti.

“The best thing that can happen to the future of the house is for people to know its story,” said Amy Elliott Bragg, president of Preservation Detroit, an organization dedicated to preserving the city’s architectural and cultural heritage. “It’s been hiding for however long, and once people know how old this house is and what a great story it tells about the history of Detroit, it’s got a much better chance of survival.”

James Smith was one of the first settlers to buy land in the area formerly known as Greenfield Township.

In 1829, Smith first appeared in the area and bought a plot of land outside of the city limits at the time, leading some to believe the cabin was built as early as 1830, according to State Historic Preservation Office records.

After he died, Smith’s land was sold off in small parcels, and then annexed by Detroit in 1916 along with the rest of Greenfield Township. The city cleared everything but the cabin to make way for the new neighborhood.

The Detroit Land Bank Authority took ownership of the cabin a couple of years ago. Although the city still trying to determine its future, officials have said the cabin won’t be demolished.

“Given the historic nature of the home, we’d love to find a solution,” said Craig Fahle, director of public affairs for the city’s Land Bank Authority.

The James Smith farmhouse likely will be put up for sale in a future auction. But there won’t be many restrictions on its use, meaning someone could buy the cabin and raze it, because it’s not located in a historic district.

“It’s going to be a special-type person that’s going to want to take on this project,” Fahle said. “Obviously, that’s something that we would love to see, someone do something really great with (it).”

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Information from: Detroit Free Press, https://www.freep.com


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