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The History of the Brookby Estate and Holmdene Manor

Delos A. Blodgett was a successful business owner who lived at various times across the United States, with interests in lumber, banking and real estate. Moving to the Upper Peninsula in 1848, Blodgett became a sawmill foreman, from which much of his early success extended into larger and larger ventures. Blodgett’s impact, and that of his children, is a story intrinsically linked to the history of Michigan, as their success was used for the good of those around them. A vital part of this story is found in the history of two buildings still standing in Grand Rapids, testaments to the legacy of Delos’ fortunes and the work of his offspring.

The children of Delos and his wife Jennie, John Wood Blodgett and Susan Richmond Lowe, carried on the legacy of their father through their own ambitious ventures. John became president of the Muskegon Boom Company - a lumbering operation that was among the world’s most successful - and eventually chairman of Blodgett Company, Ltd., after the passing of his father. John would later establish Blodgett Hospital of Grand Rapids. His sister Susan was herself passionate about healthcare, establishing Butterworth Hospital with her husband Edward.

Among the contributions of the Blodgett family to Grand Rapids stands two manors of historic significance, built to evoke the architectural styles of classical kings and English elegance. These buildings, once homes - John and his wife at one, and Susan and her husband at another - are a timeless part of Grand Rapids lore, and details of their lengthy construction have been pored over by historians local and otherwise.

At what is often seen as the “head” of the Aquinas College campus stands a stately manor, preserved for many years and currently housing the College’s administrative offices. It is the former home of Susan Richmond Lowe and her husband Edward. Edward, then a member of the successful logging business of Susan’s father Delos, purchased in 1905 the 69-acre dairy farm upon which the building would eventually sit.

This property became Holmdene, one of the most widely recognized buildings of the Aquinas campus, but once a home for the Lowes. Construction on the property began in 1906, in what would become a two-year undertaking. The estate was funded through a gift given to Susan by her father—exactly one-third of his entire business fortune upon retirement, the other portions divided between himself and his son John.

Nearly twenty years later, John Wood Blodgett - brother to Susan and son to Delos - would begin work with his wife Minnie on the Brookby Estate, on the corner of Robinson Road and Plymouth. At the completion of construction on their eight-acre estate in winter 1928, the Blodgett family moved into their home, which stands as a testament to a time of resurgent interest in European architecture from the period between the mid 1700s and early 1800s.

Known as Georgian architecture, the style is most often associated with four Monarchs of England - George I, II, III, and IV - all who reigned during the height of its popularity. With the revival of this royally esteemed architecture, and the transplant of seven elm trees to be placed at the grounds of the estate, the property was dubbed “Brookby” after the small steam that ran through the grounds. The couple’s home at Brookby, closely designed in tandem with architects from New York, was one of their last achievements together, as Minnie died three years later.

The Brookby Estate has been a recognized Michigan State Historic Site since the late 70’s and was listed on the National Register in 1983. The Lowe Estate was eventually sold to house first the University of Grand Rapids, then Aquinas College in 1945. Wrapped up in these institutions is a family history of success and philanthropy that is as much a personal history as it is a narrative of the growth and development of the city. As Aquinas College celebrates its 125th anniversary, it is pleased to bring Brookby and Holmdene back together in recognition of the vital contributions of the Blodgett and Lowe families to the people of Grand Rapids.

>Press Release: Historic Brookby Estate Donated to Aquinas College

>More on the History of Aquinas College