Cherry Hill House – Focal Point of Canton, Michigan

Throughout most of its history, Canton Township, Michigan was primarily forests and farm land. The area’s earliest European settlers established two small crossroads villages in the township: Sheldon Corners and Cherry Hill. Cherry Hill, settled in 1825, was originally known as Ridge because it developed at a curve in a ridge that was once the shoreline of prehistoric Glacial Lake Whittelsey. The elevation of the ridge made it an excellent location for a trail for the Potawatomi Indians because it remained passable even in the rainy season. That trail is now known as Ridge Road.

Toward the end of the Civil War, Abner Hitchcock, a veteran hotelier from New York State, began constructing an inn in the town of Ridge on the southeastern corner of Ridge and Cherry Hill Roads. The hotel was designed to accommodate the many travelers that Mr. Hitchcock speculated would soon be coming through the village. He strongly believed that the planned Chicago Turnpike linking Chicago to Detroit would run along Cherry Hill Road, so he spared little expense on the lavish Italianate-style inn.

Mr. Hitchcock and his wife Helen E. Curtis Hitchcock opened their hotel on July 4, 1865 and named it Cherry Hill House in reference to the wild cherry trees growing in the area. The village of Ridge soon followed suit and changed its name to Cherry Hill.

Mr. Hitchcock became the first postmaster in the area in 1867 and operated a post office on first floor of the inn. In addition, the first floor housed the dining room and kitchen. The second floor contained the sleeping rooms and the basement was used to stable horses. To this day, the stairs going to the basement show signs of the horses chewing on the wood.

But things did not turn out quite the way Mr. Hitchcock had planned. The Chicago Turnpike was finally constructed along the old Sauk Indian Trail (now Michigan Avenue) instead of Cherry Hill Road and the hordes of travelers envisioned by Mr. Hitchcock never came. The hotel became known as “Hitchcock’s Folly” and it floundered. Mr. Hitchcock was unable to pay his debtors, who filed claims against him. In order to settle the lawsuits, the Cherry Hill House was sold at auction in 1870 for $998.

In 1872, the property was sold for $5,000 to a real estate speculator in Connecticut. However, beginning around 1873, there was a great depression that lasted for several years. As a result, the inn sat empty and the speculator finally sold it in 1877, at great loss, for $1,000.

The Cherry Hill House remained vacant until 1884, when James Gunn and his wife Catherine Gunn purchased the property for $300. Mr. Gunn added a new front portico to the structure and turned the east half of the first floor into a thriving general store where neighbors gathered to share news and trade their farm goods for store-bought items. The Gunn family had their living quarters on the west side of the first floor, so Mr. Gunn added a new entrance façade on the west side of the building.

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James and Catherine Gunn and their children pose in front of the Cherry Hill House in a tintype photo taken about 1885. From a photo on display in the building’s lobby.

In 1888, the second floor guest rooms were remodeled into a huge dance hall. Mr. Gunn hired Christopher Abelson of Plymouth to install a maple springboard dance floor in exchange for two years’ worth of dance passes for Mr. Abelson and his sister.

On Friday and Saturday nights, Gunn’s dance hall rocked with live music and country contra dancing. In addition to dances, the hall was used for banquets, meetings, and theatrical performances. For generations, Gunn’s general store and dance hall were the center of commerce and social events for the community.

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A masquerade party announcement at Gunn’s dance hall on Friday, April 12, 1889. Courtesy of Canton Historical Society.

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The Cherry Hill House in the 1890s. The sign above the general store’s door reads “Groceries & Provisions JAMES GUNN. Tobacco & Cigars”. There are also signs to the left of the door promoting “JELL-O for Dessert” and “Fels Naptha”. Courtesy of Canton Historical Society.

Catherine Gunn died in 1918. Soon after, in 1919, James Gunn sold the Cherry Hill House to William Henry West and his wife Louise B. West, who had been operating their own general store two houses down the street. James Gunn then died in 1924; he and Catherine are buried in Cherry Hill Cemetery behind Cherry Hill House.

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The gravesites of James and Catherine Gunn in Cherry Hill Cemetery behind Cherry Hill House. (September 2016)

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William H. West (left) and his associate Mr. Yost pose in front of the Cherry Hill House in 1915. From a photo on display in the building’s lobby.

Under William West’s ownership in the 1920s and ‘30s, the Cherry Hill House continued to serve as a hub of community life. The general store sold dry goods, clothing, patent medicines, greeting cards, and farm tools. When farmers passed through to purchase supplies or drop off milk at the creamery across the street on Ridge Road, they would gather around the store’s wood stove and share news.

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William H. West’s son Arthur Jerome (Jake) West, inside the general store. From a photo on display in the building’s lobby.

The second floor remained a dance hall and people would come from miles around to dance and eat chicken dinners. Many romances are said to have begun there. The second floor also served as a multi-function space for the community, housing assemblies of the National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry and other meetings. Legend has it that, because this was during prohibition, the northwest corner of the basement was used for gambling and selling liquor.

In the early 1930s, Henry Ford wanted to move the Cherry Hill House to Greenfield Village and, in return, he offered to build William H. West a brick building to replace it. Mr. West declined because the building, especially the second floor, was essential to Cherry Hill’s community life.

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The Cherry Hill House in 1936. The sign reads “W. West & Son”. From a photo on display in the building’s lobby.

After William H. West’s death in 1936, his son Arthur Jerome West took over the store. Better known to his friends and customers as “Jake”, he was the only one of his siblings to follow his father as proprietor of the general store.

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The Cherry Hill House in 1939. Notice that the front portico is now gone and sign reads “Clover Farm Stores”. From a photo on display in the building’s lobby.

At the time of World War II and construction of the Willow Run Bomber Plant in Ypsilanti in 1941, the old second floor dance hall was divided into four apartments to provide housing for the factory workers. After this, the Cherry Hill House was no longer a focal point in the community but the first floor continued to be operated as West’s General Store until 1968, when Jake West sold the building and moved to Florida.

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The Cherry Hill House in January 1967. From a photo on display in the building’s lobby.

Not much seems to be written about the Cherry Hill House during the period between the 1970s and 1990s. Perhaps some long-time Canton-area residents can recall the building’s story during that time. If can help fill in these blanks, please email me at kristina@kristinascarcelli.com or send me a message using the comment form below. I remember as a child that, in the 1960s and ‘70s, Canton Township was miles and miles of beautiful family farmland that I loved to visit. And then suddenly, with the completion of the I-275 bypass in the mid-1970s, Canton Township exploded with a tidal wave of residential and commercial development. “Canton” became known as the commercial center that grew along the Ford Road corridor west of the new bypass and the surrounding new residential subdivisions. The center of commerce and social life became focused on this area. The villages of Sheldon Corners and Cherry Hill were, sadly, mostly forgotten.

However, in 2000, construction began on the Cherry Hill Village residential development, and the village became Michigan’s first neo-traditional neighborhood. The project included over 750 houses, parks, a community theatre, and town center emphasizing traditional architecture and site plans to evoke a small town feel. Shortly thereafter in 2001, the Cherry Hill House was purchased by Scott and Denise Colf and the difficult process of restoring the building to its original glory began. Mr. Colf did most of the work himself. The porches were gone and exact replicas were re-built using old pictures. The windows were so big that they had to be special ordered and the new doors were constructed to match an original that Mr. Colf found in a debris piles in the building.

In 2003, the building re-opened and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places by the United States Department of the Interior. The Canton Township community will forever be grateful to Mr. Colf for his time, effort, and cost in preserving this historical treasure.

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The Cherry Hill House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Cherry Hill Historic District in Wayne County, Michigan. (September 2009)

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The Cherry Hill House in September 2009 after being completely renovated by Scott and Denise Colf. At this time, the first floor was occupied by a party store where the general store had been with a chiropractic clinic in the west side. A beauty salon and day spa occupied the second floor rooms.

At 4:00 a.m. on February 12, 2016, a fire broke out on the second floor of the Cherry Hill House in the beauty salon. Fortunately, the fire set off the fire alarm and sprinkler system. The sprinkler system had the fire out before the fire department arrived. The water damage that occurred has since been completely repaired.

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Motor Cities National Heritage Area (motorcities.org) and National Park Service marker for the Cherry Hill House. (September 2016)

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The entrance façade on the west side of the building added by James Gunn, later removed, and then recreated by Scott Colf. (September 2016)

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The Cherry Hill House in September 2016. Currently, the first floor is occupied by a boutique shop where the general store had been with a day spa in the west side. A beauty salon continues to operate in the second floor rooms.

The Cherry Hill Village neo-traditional community development continues to this day, making it in many ways the new “old town center” for Canton Township, Michigan. In the heart of Cherry Hill Village, the historic Cherry Hill Hotel has once again become the focal point of a growing and thriving community.  I think the Hitchcock, Gunn, and West families would be very proud!

Note: If anyone has photographs or other materials related to the Cherry Hill House that may be included in this article, please email me at kristina@kristinascarcelli.com or send me a message using the comment form below. Full credit will be provided. Thank you!

Works Cited:

Curtis, David. “The Cherry Hill House”. The Canton Historical Society, December 1, 2009.

Historical Canton. Canton Leisure Services.

Van Dusen, Gerald C. Canton Township, Michigan: Images of America Series. Charleston: Arcadia Publishing; first edition September 6, 2006: pp. 61-64.

Motor Cities National Heritage Area (motorcities.org) and National Park Service marker on site.

Online Sources:

Canton Historical Society: The History of Canton

Cherry Hill Homeowners Association

Cherry Hill Village: History

Facebook: Canton Historical Society (February 28, 2016)

Findagrave: Abner Hitchcock

Findagrave: Catherine Gunn

Findagrave: Helen E. Curtis Hitchcock

Findagrave: James Gunn

Findagrave: William Henry West

Geocaching: Cherry Hill

Old House Web: My New Project by S. Melissa (April 17, 2008)

usgwarchives.net: Cherry Hill Cemetery

Wikipedia: Cherry Hill, Michigan

One Response to “Cherry Hill House – Focal Point of Canton, Michigan

  • Thanks for the story. This is the first I’ve heard despite that:

    I grew up in Dearborn a mile north of Cherry Hill Street and attended a church of the same name just west of Telegraph Road. The eastern terminus of the street is at Dearborn’s Ford Field.

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