Barton Hills

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Ann Arbor, MI
United States
Barton Hills

In conjunction with the construction of Barton Dam, a hydroelectric project on the Huron River in 1913, Alex Dow, president of the Detroit Edison Company, acquired the surrounding land, which he devoted to a variety of purposes: a demonstration farm, a resort for the company’s women employees, a park, and a residential development centered on the steep ravines that were unsuitable for agriculture adjacent to the reservoir. Dow’s land manager, William Underdown, solicited the help of the Olmsted Brothers firm, and their agent, George Gibbs, Jr., visited the site in 1915, submitting a report on the proposed concept for the development several months later. The firm continued to refine the design over the next several years, with both John Charles Olmsted and Fredrick Law Olmsted, Jr. weighing in on various aspects of the project. In 1919 the first holes of an associated golf course and country club were opened, and an expansion followed in 1922; noted golf course designer Donald Ross contributed to the layout of the course.

Commanding views of the lake from the finger-like ridges guided the plan, with the most valuable lots sited on these high points. These significant vistas informed the platting, and as originally envisioned, plantings would have been carefully curated to frame the views; over time, however, natural succession has overtaken formerly open areas, diminishing the borrowed views. The lakeshore itself, and portions of the ravines, were reserved as parkland. Barton Shore Drive wraps along the water’s edge, with a single community boathouse sited along the beach as the only major intervention. Much of the development was realized by the mid-1920s, with the Olmsted firm continuing to consult throughout the decade; a set of stone entry gates, designed by Edward C. Whiting, was one of the firm’s last significant contributions.