The Whitneys of Michigan

I just sold this boxed compass by Wilcox Crittendon.

What is a boxed compass or box compass?

It’s a small nautical craft antique compass fastened to the inside of a box via gimbal.

While handheld compasses are usually used for orienteering, boats needed a steady surface for the compass to offer accurate direction during navigation. The gimbal allows the compass to sit steadily though suspended inside the box. Such compasses come in all different sizes and styles. It is the full size binnacle or box compass that is a true nautical instrument.  The Wilcox Crittendon compass I am speaking of, however, had the name “David Whitney, 499 University Place, Grosse Pointe, Michigan” scrawled on the front.  How cool!

The most common question that gets asked in our antique store is “What’s the story behind this?” or “To whom did this belong?”.  The truth is, such items are not so often accompanied by a tale. I  mean, think about it; when they refit ships like the USS Constitution, back in the day, no one said “Someone is going to want this one day. Make sure you document it”. It does happen, just not as much as people might think. Seeking the most updated technology for our needs is how we live today and during previous centuries the behavior was the same. And while a story to accompany an object will often increase the value of a piece (if you intend to sell it, that is) a piece should not be viewed as devalued due to a lack of one. This compass, however, came with a story and we are so glad!!!

The Whitneys You Know


Because of the history of the elite yachting culture, I have been immersed in the Whitney lineage for nearly two decades, mainly because the Whitney family lineage crosses the Vanderbilt line and because the Vanderbilt line crosses nearly every other important family line in and around Boston, Rhode Island and New York. You have to know the Vanderbilts if you expect to learn anything about yachting and if you expect to know anything about yachting, you better get used to seeing the name Vanderbilt.

The New York Yacht Club is the most prestigious yacht club in the country. The Club started the America’s Cup event in 1851. It is the birth of modern competitive yachting.

Since Newport, Rhode Island is the satellite station of the New York Yacht Club and since the New York Yacht Club is the history of yachting, voila!; the Vanderbilts “bilt” Newport.  So when I see the compass with the name “Whitney” scrawled on it and because of my experience in genealogy, I can’t imagine that this Whitney is of no relation to the Whitneys of high society.

Those Newport mansions you’ve seen or heard about? Many of them were purchased or built by Vanderbilt’s. The Breakers mansion was the summer home of Gertrude Vanderbilt, who, by marriage, became a Whitney after marrying Harry Payne Whitney of New York in 1896. Although indisputably one of the more privileged socialites in the country at the time, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney walked an unconventional path among the elite. Showing artistic promise as a young child, Gertrude, though not supported in her artistic interests, was also not so discouraged that criticism kept her from seeking further study and practice. At a time when a young girl’s interests lead to their one option as the purpose of the proper marrying woman to the proper marrying man. It must have been strange for her drinking tea and doing needlepoint with the other woman of her status. Imagine the conversations.

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney

Her wealth provided ample means of travel and after visiting France in the early 1900s, Mrs. Whitney was inspired to take up sculpting. She worked under her own name, kept a studio in Greenwich Village and participated in many art exhibitions. After World War I, she donated money and time to establish a hospital for wounded veterans in France. While there, she made drawings of hospitalized soldiers. These drawings became the blueprint for many of her sculptures seen today in New York City. Aside from art, she is also notably marked as the sister of Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt who passed in 1925 leaving his fortune to his young wife, Gloria Morgan and their daughter of the same name. Gloria Morgan’s reputation as a mother was anything but responsible and Gertrude Whitney fought to gain custody of her niece. She eventually won and raised Gloria Morgan as her own child; the child we know today as artist and designer Gloria Vanderbilt and the mother of Anderson Cooper.

And I’ve mentioned little about yachting (wipes forehead)! And this is about the Whitneys, anyway.

The Whitneys you might not know (unless you’re Michigander)


Seems that all the US Whitneys descended from John Whitney (1592-1673) and wife Elinor Bray of (likely) Isleworth, England, UK. After coming to the US during the Great Migration, the Whitneys established farm life in Watertown, Massachusetts and as with the times had several children who had several children who had several children, a lot who share the same name. Most of the generations remained in the area though some took to the middle part of the state and onto the western part of Massachusetts and eventually New York.
8th generation Whitney, David Charles, jr. (1830-1900), somewhere between 1860 & 1870 was the first to settle in Detroit Michigan where, as the Detroit Free Press put it “he saw opportunity in the virgin timber of the new state”.

He owned an incredibly successful lumberyard, operating mills in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Canada. The proximity of Lake Superior allowed Jr. to transport iron ore from Canada to the states and the demand for both lumber and iron offered rich opportunity in the lake transport vessels and invested in steam powered barges. Having a reputation for being an honest and progressive businessman, David Charles Whitney, Jr. was well respected in and out of business by those who knew him and those who had only heard of him. During his lifetime, David Whitney Jr. kept the use of “jr.” even after his father passed. The suffix is always seen next to his name.
He married Flora McLaughlin of Ontario and after the birth of their first child, he built a stone mansion at 4421 Woodward Ave. on the corner of West

Whitney Mansion | 4421 Woodward Ave., Detroit, Michigan

Canfield St. in Detroit; today referred to as the David Whitney House. At the time the home was built, he was considered the largest lumber dealers in the country and therefore, the wealthiest man in Detroit.
The marriage produced 5 children, the only boy being David Charles Whitney III.  Before his passing, Jr. moved within the circles of real estate, buying up properties in Detroit and built upon it the first notable mercantile building. His wealth also spawned an interest in philanthropy and his family retained the charitable tradition after his passing. His epitaph read: “He coveted success but scorned to attain it except through industry and honest means. He acquired wealth without fraud or deceit and the results of his life are full of inspiration to the rising generation”.
David, III also worked in real estate and built the still-standing skyscraper David Whitney Building on Park Avenue in Detroit in 1914 in honor of his late father on the land where the first David Whitney building stood, built 24 years prior. He was an avid yachtsman and sailor belonging to several elite yacht clubs (what yacht clubs are not elite?). In 1905 he had the steam yacht

Whitney Yacht “Sumar”

Ridgemount and in 1912 he had a motor cruiser called the Voyager and sailed the Old Club of Detroit burgee. In 1926, naval architect Henry J. Gielow designed the “Sumar” for Whitney, a 160 foot steam powered yacht that all the big wigs had built during the day.

There is always a connection to find when researching families and artifacts. I wonder if the Whitneys of Michigan knew about their connection to the Whitneys of high society New York? Probably not, that’s why they need me!

Davis Collamore | 1820-1887

Passed through the colonial home where the we have opened the new Lannan Gallery were two prominent families of original Massachusetts settlers and builders of the towns surrounding the south shore of Boston. The Jacobs, sailing from England, settled the town of Hingham and after two generations migrated to another waterfront enclave, Scituate. Dr. Joseph Jacob built his ancestral homestead on the land, that is the present day Lannan Gallery, in the 1700s. Upon his passing, the house was purchased in 1794 by Col Enoch Collamore (1745-1824), a Minuteman during the relief of Boston at the Lexington alarm. It was here that a stagecoach was operated on the Boston-Plymouth lines. The home remained in the Collamore family for two generations, during which time Scituate became incorporated as the town of Norwell, when it passed to son John Collamore and he raised his family on these grounds.

Among the children produced by John Collamore and wife Michal Curtis was Davis Collamore (1820-1887). After a typical elite education in Massachusetts, Davis moved to New York City to assist his brother in the pottery importing business. After two short years, Collamore branched out on his own and grew to be not only one of the most successful retailers of porcelain and cut glass, competing with giants such as Tiffany & Co. and Black, Starr & Frost, he became one of the most sought after marketing minds in the business revered by employees and contemporaries alike.



Jacobs | Collamore Homstead | Norwell, Massachusetts pt. 2

Continued from the Dr. Joseph Jacobs & J. Collamore Homstead

Following the death of Revolutionary Capt. Enoch Collamore and his wife Hannah Cushing, the homestead at Gilman Plain in Scituate was willed to the surviving sons John, Enoch and Horace Collamore. The property remains in the Collamore family for the next two generations. 

Col. John Collamore (1775-1859), eldest son of Capt. Enoch, once labeled “a stern old Puritan type”, inherited the military instinct receiving his first commission of ensign by the Hon Samuel Adams. He also served as selectman, justice of the peace, assessor, county commissioner and served as a committee member of the State Constitutional Convention of 1820.  One of Col. Collamore’s 16 children settled in New York City and embarked on a successful trade in porcelain and china resale.

Located at 403 Broadway in New York, Ebenezer Collamore (1809-1884) imported china from France, India and England and supplied stoneware, Brooklyn Flint Glass, and Wedgewood for wholesale and retail. In 1836, at the age of 16, younger brother Davis (1820-1887) left the Collamore homestead for his brother’s Broadway shop. Apprenticing for six years with his brother, Davis mastered the details of the business and the study of ceramics. On his own, he incorporated Davis Collamore at 595 Broadway in 1842 specializing in china, cut glass and Rockwood pottery. 

During the 1850s, younger brother Gilman Collamore (1834-1888) came to join the company and the name changed to Davis Collamore & Co. 

Gilman also branched out on his own occupying spaces in Union Square and a large several story building on 5th Avenue under the name Gilman Collamore & Co.

Davis Collamore commissioned designs from Copeland Spode and Thomas Minton that featured hand-painted details over transfer-printed outlines and often rich gilding. The company was known to rival the high end institutions in Tiffany & Co. and Black, Starr & Frost.

Davis was a brilliant tradesman in that he stayed steadfastly invested in the manufacture and cultivation of porcelain esthetics. He was considered one of the finest purveyors by the European markets and whose marketing opinions were sought after by his contemporaries. Davis was regarded as the epitome of integrity and his sharp business acumen enabled him to withstand all the financial crises. 

During the 1860s Davis Collamore summered in West Orange, NJ eventually purchasing 70 acres on the eastern slope of Orange Mountain. Collamore named the estate Bellhurst and the acreage was comprised of apple orchards and a pasture for breeding Jersey cattle. A seventh generation first settler of New England became an original member of the New England Society of Orange and is credited as one of the original builders of the Oranges of New Jersey. 

Jacobs | Collamore Homestead | Norwell, Massachusetts pt. 1

The south shore of Boston, an assemblage of colonial waterfront communities sharing a robust seafaring history, to this day hosts a lasting representation of the first settlers. This house, known as the Jacobs Collamore Estate, stands in the semirural town of Norwell, until 1888 known as Scituate (Satuit a Wampanoag word meaning “cold brook”), approx 18 miles south of Boston. Massachusetts Bay, Cape Cod Bay and a hardy river system provided a reliable means for shipbuilding, advancing the economies of Quincy, Weymouth (birthplace of Abigail Adams), Hingham (settled by notable families including Samuel Lincoln, 4th great-grandfather to 16th United States President and abolitionist Abraham Lincoln), Scituate and Marshfield that lasted for centuries. 

While meandering the towns surrounding Massachusetts Bay one will notice each community bearing streets named Cushing, Whiting, Lincoln, Hobart, Hersey, Loring, Turner, Otis, Thaxter, Jacobs & Hancock; all descendant surnames of the early settlers and all directly link to the Jacobs.

Along with Samuel Lincoln, Nicholas Jacobs (1597?1604-1657) sailed from Hingham, Norfolk England during the Great Puritan Migration in 1633. One of the early colonists to incorporate Bare Cove as the town of Hingham in 1635 Jacobs, a man of influence and authority in the town as innkeeper and deputy to the Hingham General Court, is the direct ancestor to all the families bearing his name on the south shore.  The Jacob bloodline produced several heirs of significance to the vitality of Colonial Massachusetts and inspiring the establishment of important American institutions.

John Jacobs (1630-1693), eldest son of Nicholas, was militia captain during King Philip’s War during which his eldest son John was killed in 1676 at their homestead by natives.  He was an elected official and contributor to the construction of the Old Ship Church of Hingham the oldest church in the United States to be used continuously for worship. 

Old Ship Church, Hingham | built c. 1681

Dr. Joseph Jacobs (1707-1780), great-grandson of Nicholas Jacobs, and first cousin to John Hancock, is a first generation Jacob from Scituate. Schooled at Harvard, Jacobs was a substantial landowner, deacon of the 2nd Church and proprietor of Jacob’s Mill, both a saw and grist mill on Jacob’s Pond. He built the ancestral homestead in Assinippi on the Kings Highway, listed in the “History of the Town of Hanover” as “partly in Norwell, partly in Hanover”,  in the mid 1700s. Jacob “was a skillful physician, a man of good talents, successful in his practice, and of respectable standing”. What structure remains of this Jacobs’ estate is now a colonial housing the nautical antiques and ship models of the Lannan Gallery on 483 Washington St. in Norwell. 

Gravesite of Dr. Joseph Jacobs (1707-1780)

Dr. Joseph Jacobs resides in the main home with his wife and children until his death in 1780. The estate is divided between his wife Mary, the heirs of his late and eldest son Elisha, and sons Nathaniel and Joseph. Dr. Jacobs, his wife, son Elisha, daughter in law and granddaughter are buried nearby the main home in the Jacobs Collamore Cemetery on Jacob’s Trial just a few steps from the door of our Gallery. 

The house passed through the Jacobs family until Jacob’s wife Mary died in 1794. The purchase of the 1/8th portions of property willed to the heirs of Elisha Jacob were purchased by Revolutionary Capt. Enoch Collamore. Collamore served as sergeant in Capt. John Clapp’s company of Minutemen “for the relief of Boston” at the Lexington Alarm. He was a member of the Committee of Correspondence, and also member of the General Court. Collamore was married to Hannah Cushing, a direct descendant of two prominent and important first settler families of Hingham. On her paternal side were the Cushings, a long line of high court justices including the Hon. William (1732-1810), one of the original six associate Supreme Court justices appointed by General Washington in 1789. Hannah Cushing’s maternal side are the Lincolns where she shares 5th generation great-grandfather with Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), 16th President of the United States.

Historical accounts pertaining to Enoch Collamore suggests he was a proprietor of a tavern on the property of his home. “The History of Ridge Hill, Norwell, Massachusetts” contains the most substantial evidence of the Tavern: “With the beginning of the Old Colony Stage Coach Lines in 1800, we find the Collamore Tavern listed as one of the regular stops on route which ran from Roxbury to the Cape and the Islands” on the Boston-Plymouth Stage Road.
Also in the “History of Scituate, Massachusetts: From Its First Settlement to 1831” it is noted that “Capt. Enoch kept a well known tavern there for many years” on the Boston-Plymouth Stage Road.

Enoch and Hannah reside at the estate until their deaths in 1824, upon which the estate is divided between their three living sons John, Horace and Enoch. The homestead remains in the Collamore family for the next two generations where they referred to the property as Gilman Plain. 

483 Washington St. | Norwell | Formerly Jacobs Collamore Homstead | Currently Lannan Gallery, antiques & ship models

Our Hidden Shoes

It was some weekend evening in May, 2013 and there was a terrible rainstorm, nor’easter something something. Just above my front door, the ceiling began to stain quickly. I didn’t want to deal with it. “Really? I gotta deal with a leak?”. I protested and ignored, protested and ignored. At the time it just seemed like the worst thing. As the night wore on and the rain intensified, the ceiling stain grew, like an octopus. And then the ceiling began to bow and the wall next to the spot was dripping. I was going to have to do some repair work, for sure.

When the rain stopped, the ceiling looked like a steel drum, a pregnant belly, the meniscus. So I poked the center. It took nothing for the ceiling to open up and the water came down. The ceiling felt thin and there was horsehair insulation stuck to it. I’ve never seen that before. Emotional, feeling burdened and angry, I peeled off parts of the sopping ceiling in sheets. It felt like wall paper or like wet clothing – not like a ceiling. Inside I was surprised to find strong tongue and grove bracing with very little rot or water damage. Bonus! There were wires I needed to be careful of and so I grabbed step stool to complete the job.

My house was built in 1919. The land was purchased in 1909 from Elizabeth Hersey Corthell widow of Wilmot Cleverly a Norfolk County representative in the state legislature of the 5th district, and her living children. These families come from a long line of first settlers; Hersey & Fearing who include Cushing and Lincoln of Hingham. Also Pratt, Bicknell, Humphrey and Bayley who I JUST wrote about the other day. Back in this day, you had to be someone to own land and these people were the people.

“Bungalow Day” in Lake Shore Park, Whitman’s Pond, Weymouth, Massachusetts. From the Boston Sunday Post; April 15 1917

6 days before she passed away and suffering from senility, Elizabeth Cleverly signed 7 acres of land away to D. Arthur Brown, a developer from Winthrop, Massachusetts for “one dollar and other valuable considerations”.  She was 86 and her cause of death was a stroke. Brown bought the land around Whitman’s pond and it took him 10 years to organize a development plan and have have it registered with the county. Year 1919, plan 4475 shows the area of “Lakewood Grove” also referred to as the Birches or Lake Shore Park; a multi acre village surrounding Whitman’s Pond in East Weymouth. In the subsequent years, Brown would advertise his new bungalows for sale in local newspapers. He offered mortgages as low as $865 and as high as $1500 with 6% interest.

The first family to live in the house were the Wilkie’s of Portland, Maine. Fred Leslie Wilkie was born in 1895 in Nova Scotia, Canada and wife Ruth G. Mason born in 1897 of East Boston mortgaged the bungalow on a 6000 square foot lot in Lakewood Grove from D. Arthur Brown for $1324.00 in 1924.

It is likely that prior to this purchase, the bungalow was rented as a lake cottage. When the Wilkie’s mortgaged it, they still had an address in Portland, Maine which indicates they may have used the home as a vacation home until they were ready to move in permanently.

As I inspected the inside of the ceiling I saw something sitting inside the framing. It was dark brown and full of dust. I reached up and pulled it down. It was a cobbler-made leather shoe. A boy’s shoe. The pins in the soles were visible and the laces well intact. It was amazing! What is this shoe doing up here? I looked back up and saw another one sitting next to the place where the first shoe was. Full of dust, I pulled it down. This one was a girl’s shoe. A black, leather Mary Jane with a buckle. This shoe had more wear to it than the boy’s. When it was clear these were the only two shoes up there, I sat them on the towels I placed on the floor.

How. Totally. Cool! These shoes made the ceiling leak and threatening storm well worth it. What a surprise for a history lover. But why were they there? And whose shoes were they?