And change had oft succeeded change.

This just in from George Washington Stark! An astonishing poem about the poignancy of tearing down a neglected old property — in this case, the former home of General Lewis Cass. Rumor had it that the Chevalier Cadillac himself (the “shrewd lord of Mont Desert” ) had the house built for the chief of the Hurons in 1703. The poem was written, according to Stark, around the time that they tore the house down — in the early 1880s.

Puts today’s feral houses — and the city’s right-sizing plans — into perspective.

Half hid beside the noisy street,
Gray with old storms and summer’s heat,
The ancient house seemed all alone,
Hemmed in by walls of brick and stone,
But straight its roof, its frame was sound
From gable peak to level ground,
Of sturdy beams so square and stout
That time could never wear them out,
For many a frigate safely rides
With lighter keel and frailer sides.
Strangers would pause to ponder o’er
The low-browed eaves and deep-set door,
And wondering, ask what freakish fate
Had saved that humble pile so late,
When all beside was new and strange
And change had oft succeeded change.
But men are hurrying to and fro,
Intent to lay its glories low;
Thick through the air the shingles fly,
The roof no more shuts out the sky.
But vain each furious effort seems
To wrench apart the seasoned beams,
The oaks that lent them largest stood
Of all the giants of the wood,
That towered aloft, serenely great,
When bold Champlain sailed down the strait.
And not a withered bough was seen
Or blemish on their crowns of green,
When the shrewd lord of Mont Desert
First spoiled them of their branches fair,
And bade his artisans to bring
And shape them for the Huron King.
Well-mortised joints with bolt and brace
Held the broad timbers in their place,
Unmoved by storm or earthquake shock
As buttresses of living rock,
Now ax and lever, day by day,
Wear slow the stubborn logs away;
And deep-sunk balls and hatchet cars
Give token of long-ended wars,
When rival tribes came prowling ’round
And made each spot a battle-ground
And day by day a curious throng
Marks the dull task and tarries long,
Well-pleased to find some relic slight,
Memorial of its former plight —
Perchance a hammered bolt or key
Brought hither from beyond the sea
When great King Louis held the throne
And claimed this region as his own.

It looks like Stark got this from Farmer, who attributes the poem (“not written for public eye”) to Judge James V. Campbell. Stark published a (mercifully) abridged version of the poem.

Today I sat on the porch and read the first chapter of City of Destiny straight through while I drank a beer. It’s flowery and fanciful and regrettably dated. But its grand prose swept me away; it was like holding a lush, too-generous little biopic in my hands. What makes it imperfect as a work of scholarship make it an ideal summer swashbuckle. About Detroit! I’ll be swooning on my porch if you need me.

#cadillac#feral houses#george washington stark#judge james v. campbell#poetry#silas farmer