William C. Boydell and the development of Detroit industry


Adjoined to the venerable Cass Café is another relic from the area’s Gilded Age halcyon days. It is the home of William C. Boydell, one half of the Boydell Brothers.

Born in Stafford, England in 1849, the Boydell family relocated to London, Ontario before finally settling in Detroit five years later. In 1876, William and older brother John formed the Boydell Brothers White Lead & Color Works, manufacturers of paints, leads, zincs, brushes and painters’ supplies. William served as vice-president. During this time, Detroit was beginning to come into its own as an industrial powerhouse. Long before the automobile, Detroit was home to a variety of industries, including stove making, for which it became the “Stove Capital of the World” and tobacco, for which it was known as “The Tampa of the North,” because it was second in the country, in terms of production, behind…Tampa, Florida.

Mr. Boydell built an impressive three-story double home on Cass Avenue. The Boydell residence is a Beaux-Arts structure, featuring one of the city’s greatest rooflines as far as residential architecture is concerned. And it was designed by none other than Almon C. Varney, who, as some of you may know, was the architect of the El Moore, along with so many other properties in the Cass Corridor.

After Mr. Boydell’s death in 1902, the home remained a residence until the 1960s, when it was chopped up into multi-unit housing. Over the last several years, a local landlord and developer has been working to restore the Boydell home, albeit with modern amenities. He is planning a restaurant on the first floor and apartments above.