Albion Interactive History / Norton Cottage

Albion Interactive History

Albion Interactive History / Buildings / Starr Commonwealth

Norton Cottage, 1957

As Mrs. Brueckner was providing an art complex and the Candler family was urging a new home for the Commonwealth’s president, the C.H. Norton family of Ann Arbor wassearching ways and means for donating a new cottage. Earlier the family had deeded property to the Commonwealth, and subsequently several thousand dollars had accumulated from textbookloyalties, but a considerable sum was still needed before construction could start.

Although Marcus Burrowes, the campus architect for many years was engrossed in chapel details, Starr persuaded him “to go ahead and draw the plans for the Norton Family Cottage.” Thy both realized that further expansion of the cottage system wouldrequire double the units if the state persisted in its recommendations.

Acting upon Starr’s suggestion, Burrowes sent a copy of the blueprints for Norton Cottage to Dr. Gunnar Dybwad, Director of the Children’s Division of the State Department of Social Welfare, for his approval. It was a fortunate move, for on July 16, 1953, Marcus Burrowes died at the age of seventy-nine. Thanks to his industry,the chapel was nearing completion, the museum was at an advanced planning stage, Candler Hall blueprints were complete, and the “perfect plan” for Norton Cottageand the North Campus was awaiting funds.

Norton Cottage was dedicated along with Candler Hall and the Brueckner Museum on Founders Day October 6, 1957.

More by coincidence than by design, the Norton Family Cottage played a larger role in Commonwealth history than might have been anticipated. Over a reasonable span of years, it promised to settle a long time disagreement with the state licensing agency over the use of farm cottages for off-campus housing. In Starr’s opinion the rehabilitated farmhouses were ideal for his purposes. In particular, they were admirably situated for the older boys assigned to work on the farms. Always there were chickens to feed, cows to be milked – all the daily chores on the farm a generation ago.

The primary concern of the licensing agency, however, was the isolation of the farm cottages. As one worker phrased it, “The practice of placing both housemothers and boys in those remote cottages was simply untenable. You’ve got things going onout there, and who knows what happened. This simple answer came to Starr on November 3, 1949, when theslaying of housemother Mrs. Estelle Tusch by fourteen-year old Kenneth Miller made front page news in the Detroit Free Press.

Source: Keith Fennimore. Faith Made Visible: The History of Floyd Starr and His School. Albion, Michigan: Starr Commonwealth. 1988.

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